>Capt. Michael Neussl retires after more than 30 years of service – Speech!


Capt. Michael Neussl Retirement Speech
22 April 2010 in Juneau, Alaska
30 Years, 01 Month, 10 Days of Active Duty USCG Service
21 May 1980 to 30 June 2010

04 Years at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy
28 June 1976 to 21 May 1980

My thanks to RADM Colvin
CAPTs Inman, Phillips, Custard, Uchytil, Kenyon, Cerne, Bert
Mayor Botelho, Chancellor Pugh
My Family, Friends and Supporters of the Coast Guard
Good Morning everyone. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to attend this truly special event for me and my family today.
As many of you might know, today is EARTH DAY…which I think is quite appropriate symbology for the retirement of an aviator “Returning to Earth” after a long flying career and of a Coast Guardsman and early Cutterman “Returning to Earth’s Shore” to tie up for good. You also know that a big part of Earth Day centers around the word “recycle.” As Wiley’s Dictionary, in the Comic Strip B.C., defines the word, Recycle means to “Get Back On Your Bike,” which is also quite appropriate for me given my little biking mishap last August. “Recycling” is something I plan to do a lot more in retirement as I will be getting back on my bicycle more.

Unit Accomplishments: You just heard from Admiral Colvin about some of the many accomplishments achieved and challenges faced by District 17. I want to highlight just a few that the D17 staff will certainly recognize:
• The ALASKA RANGER SAR case on Easter morning 2008 with 42 of 47 mariners saved. Pulling off that rescue is really the epitome of “Why We Serve.” Coincidentally, just last Tuesday night, the Fishing Vessel NORTHERN BELLE sank with 4 people on board 50 miles south of Montague Island in the Gulf of Alaska. Unfortunately, one of those mariners perished, but three others are alive today because of the Coast Guard…It is why we serve…

• The opening of the Arctic…when I started here 3 years ago many of us could not even spell ARCTIC (there are 2 “C’s” in the word) – now it is a large part of daily planning and operations with D17 being the Coast Guard Center of Excellence for Arctic Operations.

• CG Modernization and Reorganization…lots of changes have happened in the last three years that tested the staff’s adaptability, resilience, and yes, even their patience…but they pulled through and continue to provide superior service by finding ways to make things work.

• Several, actually too many, unfortunate personnel actions that were necessary to hold people accountable in order to preserve the integrity of our Coast Guard and our Core Values of Honor, Respect and Devotion to Duty. We are public servants…we hold ourselves to a higher standard.

• St. Paul and Cold Bay SAR Deployments for high risk winter fisheries in the Bering Sea – and more importantly the “invention” of “Self Rescue.” After we lost HH-60J CGNR 6020 during the SELENDANG AYU rescue in 2004, we realized just how far we were hanging it out there with our single aircraft forward deployed operations. This staff has effectively addressed and mitigated that risk, increasing the margin of safety for our aircrews and mariners they protect.

I want to specifically point out that no single person on the staff or in the district made those actions possible; it took the combined efforts of everyone assigned here. You have all seen and heard of the “Big Cases” and the units and crews that were on scene doing heroic and commendable things. This morning, I want to specifically acknowledge and publicly thank the “behind the scenes” people that it took to pull those “Big Cases” off successfully. The staff officers, Command Center Controllers, planners, administrative, supply, and support personnel, our dedicated civilian staff, and our Auxiliarists all contributed to ensuring the success of Coast Guard missions and activities in Alaska. To those largely “unsung heroes”, who are likely not the recipients of the medals and awards, I salute you for your dedicated service to District 17, the Coast Guard, and the public we serve.
This tour completes my 12th year of Coast Guard service in Alaska. It has a special place in my heart and for my family. The Time magazine article after Hurricane Katrina, which interviewed and quoted Aviation Survival Technician and Rescue Swimmer Will Milam of CGAS Kodiak, captured the very essence of why the Coast Guard is so successful, especially here in Alaska. “Wild Innovation and Devotion to Duty” – standardized procedures but decentralized control and crews with the ability, tasking, and training to be given a limited amount of information about a case who can be trusted to “get the mission done.” We are spread thin in Alaska, and that means each person’s contribution is that much more critical and valuable.

Just before a previous D17 Commander retired he solicited his D17 CO’s for input on outstanding effort and dedication by Coast Guard personnel. He wanted to know of “ordinary things” that turned out extraordinary. I sent him several examples, including the following. What we do – what we accomplish – is special and meaningful. It may not seem like it at times, in fact it may become “routine.” Just another medevac, overdue, or vessel in distress. We hope the weather is not too bad, strap on our trusty flying machine, cutter or small boat, and head off on the mission. Hours of training and years of experience all brought to bear on the case at hand. … But put yourself in the shoes of the tug boat master having a heart attack in Bristol Bay, or the crashed float plane survivor in Hallo Bay, the crew of the NORTHERN BELLE, or the pregnant pre-term woman in labor in Dutch Harbor, or any of the hundreds of others people the Coast Guard assists each year. To them, to the survivors and patients, what we do is far from routine. We respond when no one else can or will due to darkness, severe weather, wind, lack of facilities or equipment. We are not routine. We are not typical. To them we are all extraordinary. To them we are heroes, guardians, saviors. How far and wide does our reach effect? I’ll share with you an unsolicited e-mail I received as a result of a medevac one of our H65 helicopters deployed on CGC HAMILTON did. It is from a mother, and by now a grandmother, in Merriam, Kansas. She may not have seen or known much about the CG before this incident – but our actions prompted her to send the following –

Last week, the Coast Guard was part of a transfer operation of my daughter living in Dutch Harbor, Unalaska. She had a systemic infection endangering the life of her unborn baby and herself. I just wanted to thank you for your help getting her to a hospital in Anchorage where she arrived in time to stop the premature labor and save both lives with treatment of antibiotics. As her mother and a future grandmother thank you for being there to save lives. God Bless and Happy Easter.

Sincerely, Marcia Huehn Merriam, Kansas

You see, the work we sometimes call routine is, when viewed from the outside, really extraordinary. It says a lot about us as an organization and our culture. It reflects our core values of Honor, Respect, and Devotion to Duty. It says we are Semper Paratus – Always Ready – and darn proud of it. I know I have been, for every minute of the past thirty years.

The Community of Juneau has been very supportive of Coast Guard and of my family and me, and for that I thank you. We, and our families, form a large part of this community, transient as we may be in some cases, seemingly endless in others (and you multi-tour, multi-year Coasties out there all know who you are!). The fact remains that Juneau is the place we all call home for our tour here. We are “imbedded” in the community to use the popular journalism term. We are your employees, your customers, your students, and your teachers. We play with you, we pray with you. We are partners in education, we are volunteers, and we do make a difference for the better for all of Juneau. I would invite the Coast Guard members present to help me express our collective Coast Guard thanks to the Juneau community for the help and support they have shown us. Thank You.
Capt. Custer Welcome back to Juneau! Another repeat offender as RADM Brooks would say, back again for another Alaska tour. I can’t think of a finer officer to turn over the Chief of Staff reigns of District 17 to. In a strange twist of irony, I relieved you of this job 3 years ago when you were the acting Chief of Staff following RDML Glenn’s departure. As I give the job back to you, I hope it is as well organized as when you gave it to me, I have tried my best to make it so.

Many of you have asked what I plan to do in retirement. I’ve had a dream for a while, formed I am sure as I saw the sparkle of knowledge flicker and then burn bright in my own children when they learned something new, that maybe teaching is the place for me. I’ve applied and am planning to attend the University of Alaska Southeast here in Juneau for their one year Master of Arts in Teaching program. I hope to be student teaching in a Juneau Middle- or High-School come this fall…possible working with some of your children! I am an Aeronautical Engineer by trade, I’ve always been interested in Mathematics, and I hope to pursue that in my future teaching career. Many of the D17 staff members will swear to you that I am an English major after they see their written work come back from me, but mathematics is really where my interest (compounded daily and rounded up…) lies! If I did the calculations correctly, 4 years at the Coast Guard Academy produced a 30 year follow-on career, so one year at UAS should be good for at least 7 ½ years of teaching following graduation! After that, it will depend how I like teaching and what the job market for teachers looks like in Juneau.

Most people try to name some special people or mentors during retirement ceremonies. Inevitably important names are omitted. People like RADM Kunkel, RADM Blore, CAPT Inman, Phillips, Deal, Romine, CDR Trimpert and literally thousands of others I have worked for, with, and yes even those I have had the privilege of serving over, have all taught me important lessons about our service, about leadership, and about myself. Retirees always say “It is the people that made it great,” and that is so very true. It is the people, like all of you in this room, who have made the last 30 years so special.

Last, but certainly not least, I want to publicly thank my family today. To my spouse of 30 years, Martha, after 12 PCS moves our three years here are coming to a close but this time it is different, much different. There are no PCS orders to execute, no new assignment to rush off to, no more cell phone calls, pagers, or SAR alarms in the middle of the night. I’m extremely proud of the fact that despite all the moving, all the different schools, all the turmoil, and all those nights away from home, sometimes flying off to unknown, remote locations in downright nasty weather; despite all of that, I’m proud that we and our four children (and yes even three grandchildren!) survived and thrived. There is really no better measure of success than that. I’m convinced that the true sacrifice of military service is borne by the family members, and for the last 30 years of my family putting up with that, I am eternally grateful. The Coast Guard is done with me, and you can have me back now.
Martha, Kelsey, (and Erick, and Amy) – thank you for putting up with this lifestyle for the past 30 years as I pursued my Coast Guard Career – for putting up with the inevitable days that didn’t go well, for all the pulling up roots and moving to new locations and “starting again.” I love you all.

In closing, I must take a moment to reflect on the past 30 years of my active Coast Guard career. I still get that excited shot of adrenalin every time I hear a SAR alarm go off. I was tempted to have the Command Center Duty Officer sound it right now just to see if you all have the same response, but having it relayed though a cell phone or pager is just not the same as the klaxon horn waking you up in the middle of the night to tell you it is time to go flying. So, I thought better of that plan. Some might say my response to a SAR alarm is a Pavlovian response, which is quite appropriate for an old “SAR-Dog” like me. My wife will attest to the fact that I cannot drive past an airport without looking to see what planes are there and what CG aircraft may be in the pattern or preparing to launch. CG aviation has been a part of me since that very first T-34 flight on March 15, 1982. It had been my dream of mine since well before being sworn in as a cadet on 28 June 1976. After today, it will all be memories – extremely good memories – of the people, aircraft, and missions of the United States Coast Guard.

Thank you all for being here today. Semper Paratus.