Coast Guard captain retires after 27 years: shadow cast in Kodiak seen throughout nation

By Lt. j.g. Jacob Hauser, Coast Guard Cutter Munro

Since time immemorial, when a sailor lays ashore at the end of a long career it has been considered bad luck if a sailor’s shadow touched land before his or her feet. While the possibility could be guarded against with a little timing of sidereal transits, no hard task for a mariner or anyone with a good chronometer, crews and sailors the world over have found it simpler to lock their shadows in a box. A shadow box, as it has come to be known, is a keepsake of every retiree. Generally prepared on their behalf by his or her shipmates, made with the finest materials to contain the souvenirs and decorations of a career. Also included in every shadow box is a national ensign representing a lifetime of value and faithful service. Substituting only their respective colors, it is a tradition upheld in virtually every Western countries’ afloat services.

Capt. Mark Cawthorn retires

Lt. j.g Evan Richter presents Capt. Mark Cawthorn, former commanding officer, Coast Guard Cutter Munro, with his retirement certificate in Kodiak, Alaska, June 18, 2013. Cawthorn retired after 27 years of service and tours aboard multiple cutters. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.

With his own shadow put safely away in a box constructed and presented by his last crew, a ship captain of America’s oldest continuous seagoing service laid ashore on Wednesday evening for the last time his career. Four bells were struck when he stepped onto the brow, a centuries-old courtesy afforded to his rank, and the gangway petty officer of the watch called out on the ship’s announcement system, called the 1MC, “Captain, United States Coast Guard, departing”.

The captain paused over the water between the gunwale and the pier, faced west towards the stern of Coast Guard Cutter Munro and saluted the colors that flew on the fantail against the backdrop of mountains surrounding Womens Bay in Kodiak, Alaska. He pivoted again and proceeded to the companion at the end of the brow.

Though he had crossed 10,000 gangways, this time was different. When he stepped ashore, a chapter of his life, one that began in the summer of 1982 when Cadet Mark Cawthorn of South Carolina took the oath at the Coast Guard Academy, had come to an honorable finish. With the last step, the voice on the 1MC announced, throughout the ship, “Captain, United States Coast Guard retired, ashore”.

Coast Guard Cutter Munro

The Coast Guard Cutter Munro displays full dress colors in honor of the change of command held in Kodiak, Alaska, June 18, 2013. Capt. Jeff Thomas relieved Capt. Mark Cawthorn as commanding officer of Munro, the only 378-foot high endurance cutter permanently stationed in Alaska. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.

While in command of Munro, Cawthorn led his ship’s crew in four highly successful patrols reaching from the waters of Tokyo Bay in Japan to the Arctic Circle to Honolulu touching Kodiak and Attu, Adak, Unalaska and Nome. He and his crew weathered two typhoons, 30-foot seas, dozens of search and rescue operations, boardings, medical evacuations, hundreds of drills, miles of sea ice and the pursuit of international high drift net violators, with 10 miles of driftnet hung from their decks in the Pacific Ocean. Under Cawthorn’s tenure Munro performed superbly in all inspections and performance evaluations, earning praise from Afloat Training Group Middle Pacific, a joint team of Coast Guard and Navy evaluators.

It was without any elaborate ceremony or fanfare, other then his shipmates gathered on the flight deck, that Cawthorn walked the base Kodiak pier to return home to his family and his Husky Akela. Also waiting for him was a tall stack of collected books and every fishing and hunting season on the calendar, without the logistical hurdle of another long patrol at sea to preclude them.

Coast Guard Cutter Seneca

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Seneca gets underway from the Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after taking on fuel and stores. Seneca is deployed to the U.S. 4th Fleet Caribbean area conducting counter-narco-terrorism and migrant operations. GTMO is a logistical hub for the U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Army and Allied vessels operating in the Caribbean theater. U.S. Navy photo by Chief Petty Officer Bill Mesta.

The captain’s career spanned 27 years of active duty service, following his commission as an ensign on May 21, 1986. The story of that career is more than noteworthy.

After graduation from the academy, Cawthorn proceeded to Coast Guard Cutter Ute in (WMEC – 76) in Key West, Fla., followed closely by and exchange tour with the Navy aboard the USS Pegasus (PHM-1). He then returned to Key West and the Coast Guard aboard the cutter Thetis (WMEC-910). During this time Cawthorn patrolled extensively throughout the Caribbean and South America conducting counter narcotics and undocumented migrant interdiction patrols, where he was credited making numerous narcotics seizures.

He was then stationed in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as the Coast Guard liaison officer to the Navy Fleet Training Group. During that time over 30,000 Haitians fled their impoverished homeland in small, overcrowded sailing vessels. One of the largest peacetime flotillas in Coast Guard history was deployed in response to the crisis. Those rescued were taken to Guantánamo Bay to receive humanitarian care and treatment. Cawthorn was responsible for providing shoreside logistics support to the Joint Task Force.

He then served as commanding officer of the Coast Guard Cutter Monomoy (WPB-1326) in Woods Hole, Mass. Under his command Monomoy’s crew performed several daring rescues in infamous winter storms off the coast of New England. Cawthorn subsequently transferred to the 1st District’s command center in Boston as the senior controller before receiving orders to serve as executive officer aboard Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba (WMEC-907), also in Boston. Escanaba patrolled from the Great Lakes to the South Pacific and received several awards for high operational readiness and performance.

After Escanaba, Cawthorn was selected as the Coast Guard liaison to the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where he was responsible for Coast Guard missions during a time of great political, social and economic upheaval. He also served as the maritime advisor to the government and United Nations mission to Haiti.

Cawthorn returned to Boston as commanding officer of the cutter Seneca (WMEC-906). While aboard, they patrolled extensively off the Eastern Seaboard of U.S. and throughout the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific conducting counter drug, undocumented migrant interdiction and homeland security patrols. Seneca was one of the first cutters to employ the airborne use of force concept to stop go-fast vessels smuggling drugs. Under his command, Seneca received numerous awards and citations for operational excellence.

Capt. Cawthorn and son

Capt. Mark A. Cawthorn with his son Jacob on the starboard bridge wing, departing Unalaska. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Cawthorn completed various tours in Washington, D.C. during his career. He received two assignments to the Department of State, working in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. He led interagency efforts as a member of numerous interagency policy coordination committees tasked to develop foreign policy related to counter-drug and undocumented migrant interdiction, democracy and human rights missions and maritime safety and security cooperation. He also completed assignments at Coast Guard Headquarters working with acquisition programs, to design and build the next generation of Coast Guard ships, aircraft and shore facilities. He served as the chief of regional affairs for the Coast Guard Directorate of International Affairs before departing to Kodiak where he served as the senior ranking Coast Guard officer assigned to Kodiak Island aboard the Munro and the senior afloat officer in Alaska.

Cawthorn, now retired, will accompany his family to Honolulu where his wife continues to serve on active duty. His son, Seaman Jacob Cawthorn, graduated from Coast Guard boot camp in May and is currently assigned to Cawthorn’s former command aboard the Seneca.

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