Inspecting Tradition

Inaugural Golden Hammer

Cmdr. Patrick Ropp, chief of prevention, Coast Guard 17th District, presents Capt. Scott Bornemann, commander, Coast Guard Sector Juneau, and Ken Lawrenson, the 17th District prevention department fishing vessel safety coordinator, with the inaugural Golden Hammer awards during a ceremony in Juneau, Alaska, May 28, 2013. The Golden Hammer award recognizes the Coast Guard active duty and civilian members currently working in prevention with the longest-held marine inspection qualification. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

Is there anything more inspiring than nautical lore? For as long as humans have told stories, the mystery, fury and gifts of the sea have been the subjects of fiction and nonfiction alike. From tales of treacherous sea monsters, pirates and tempests to heroic sagas of exploration, adventure and naval prowess, the sea is just chock-full of tradition and legend.

As America’s oldest continuous maritime service, the Coast Guard is not without its own traditions and legends. As an example, more than 45 years ago the Coast Guard started a program to recognize its legendary aviators, and later, cuttermen.

Two honorary titles, Ancient Mariner and Ancient Albatross, are used to identify the senior enlisted and commissioned Coast Guardsmen in the nautical and aeronautical fields of service.

But what about the marine safety side of the Coast Guard?

“A good portion of the nation relies on marine transportation and shipping,” said Capt. Patrick Ropp, former chief of prevention, Coast Guard 17th District. “Every time a vessel makes it safely into port, it’s partly because of Coast Guard vessel inspectors and strict federal safety requirements.”

As important as ensuring the safety of mariners before they leave the pier may be, crawling through bilges and checking for the proper number of survival suits on a vessel isn’t the most glamorous work. Ropp decided recognition was in order for these behind-the-scenes heroes of the Coast Guard.

During a ceremony on May 28 the first two Golden Hammer awards were bestowed on their rightful owners. Straying from the split between enlisted and commissioned holders of the Ancient Albatross and Ancient Mariner titles, Ropp and the prevention staff decided that recognizing one active duty member and one civilian was more appropriate. The award is given to the two people who have held a marine safety inspections qualification for the longest time.

Why one of each? In the prevention world, many Coast Guard employees retire from the service, but stay in the field as civilians. These workers have years and years of experience to offer.

As Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp stated in an article last year, “We rely on proficiency in the operational arts of our profession.”

The Golden Hammer award puts the proficiency and experience of 17th District prevention experts on a pedestal, as a guide for up-and-coming members in that field.

“I am honored to represent the Coast Guard’s long tradition of highly dedicated and professional marine inspectors,” said Ken Lawrenson, the 17th District fishing vessel safety program coordinator and inaugural recipient of the civilian Golden Hammer award. “I owe this award to all the great civilian and military marine inspectors who generously shared their knowledge and experience with a very young Lt. j.g. Lawrenson in the late ’80s.”

As the Golden Hammer title is passed down from one veteran inspector to the next, their names will be inscribed on an accompanying plaque. At long last, the legendary men and women responsible for preventing maritime catastrophe from behind the scenes have found their place in Coast Guard lore.

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