Alaska’s Coast Guard Auxiliary, volunteer lifesavers of The Last Frontier
Posted by Shawn Eggert, Monday, April 28, 2014
A runaway 70-foot barge drifts aimlessly across Saginaw Bay near Kuiu Island, Alaska, and a call goes out for the Coast Guard to rein in the rogue raft before it can wreak ruin upon the waterway. Sector Juneau command center watchstanders dispatch the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Anacapa aided by information and photographs provided by a pair of seasoned mariners aboard a 25-foot Boston whaler, but these are no ordinary good Samaritans. Rick and Kate Rogers, siblings who have navigated the waters of Southeast Alaska since 1974, are members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, a 34,000-strong group of volunteers which has assisted the Coast Guard with its many lifesaving missions since 1939.
Though the Coast Guard Auxiliary will celebrate its 75th anniversary June 23, 2014, Rick and Kate have only been a part of the organization since 2009 when a friend of theirs, a Coast Guard vessel safety examiner, suggested they join. The brother and sister had been fishing the waters around Kuiu Island and repairing local vessels since their parents began fishing in the area 40 years ago.
“Our fishing boat was built the year the Titanic sank,” Rick laughed. “People were already always coming to us with questions about boating regulations and safety equipment and joining the Auxiliary seemed like a good way to stay ahead of the changes that were coming.”
“Nobody wants to be sent back to the pier for not having proper paperwork or safety gear on board,” added Kate.
Like many Auxiliary members, Rick and Kate assist the Coast Guard with more than providing reports on itinerant barges. The training they receive enables Auxiliary members to assist the Coast Guard with an assortment of tasks.
“The Coast Guard Auxiliary is an invaluable resource to Sector Juneau, providing recreational boating safety training and education,” said Capt. Scott Bornemann, commander, Sector Juneau. “They are also able to augment our active duty and civilian component by conducting commercial fishing vessel safety examinations, search and rescue and other missions, often in remote locations.”
Mike Morris, Coast Guard Auxiliary Commodore for the Coast Guard 17th District, added, “We live, play and work among those that we educate. Offering courses to local communities and reaching out to many of the more remote sites and villages in Alaska is what we do. We examine vessels as if they were our own and we are taking our families or friends out on them. Prevention rather than response is what we are attempting to achieve.”
With Alaska being as large as it is, Auxiliary members provide another useful benefit to the Coast Guard. Auxiliarists are largely drawn from the same maritime communities and professions the Coast Guard is sworn to protect, meaning their knowledge of local waterways and connections with their fellow mariners serve as a bridge for both spreading education and informing the Coast Guard’s ability to respond to emergencies.
“Sometimes people don’t know what to make of a stranger in uniform, but we have history with these communities,” spoke Kate. “We provide a familiar face to the boaters we work with.”
Long before they joined the Coast Guard Auxiliary, Kate and her brother had already assisted with several rescues involving sinking or grounded vessels and the Rogers’ believe that quality of devotion to community is an attribute shared by all Auxiliary members. Citing the value and importance of their local knowledge and experience on Alaska’s waters to saving lives at sea, the Rogers’ both agreed they’d like to see more of their peers become involved with the organization. They even managed to convince their mother, Darleen, to join and train as a radio watchstander who dutifully monitors the airwaves for signs of distress.
“We try to help out however we can,” said Rick. “The Auxiliary is such a natural fit with our lives and my only regret is we didn’t find it 20 years ago.”
To learn more about the Coast Guard Auxiliary within Alaska or how you might become a member, visit http://wow.uscgaux.info/content.php?unit=170. The history of the Coast Guard Auxiliary can be found at http://www.uscg.mil/auxiliary/administration/aux-history.asp.