Former POW shares never say die attitude with Alaska Coast Guard

Former POW, Maj. Gen. Ed Mechenbier, USAF, ret., and former Army Sgt. Robi Powers connect with Coast Guard Station Ketchikan members during a visit to Ketchikan, Alaska, Jan. 20, 2015. The visit was part of the American300 "Service with Honor - Never Quit Series," which teaches Armed Forces members about resiliency through the experiences of guest mentors. Photo courtesy of American300.

Former POW, Maj. Gen. Ed Mechenbier, USAF, ret., and former Army Sgt. Robi Powers connect with Coast Guard Station Ketchikan members during a visit to Ketchikan, Alaska, Jan. 20, 2015. The visit was part of the American300 “Service with Honor – Never Quit Series,” which teaches Armed Forces members about resiliency through the experiences of guest mentors. Photo courtesy of American300.

Coast Guard men and women know plenty about perseverance. Through stormy sea or howling gale, there’s no ignoring the call to action when the search and rescue alarm blares in the dead of night. But the missions the Coast Guard performs can take a toll on even the hardiest of sailors and, when things are looking rough, it’s good to hear the perspective of fellow service members who have triumphed through hard times and gained wisdom from their experience.

For the third time this year, American300, a non-profit organization dedicated to fostering resiliency among United States Armed Forces members, visited the Coast Guard men and women of Ketchikan, Alaska, and, this year, they brought along someone who knows all about overcoming adversity.

Maj. Gen. Edward Mechenbier, USAF, retired, was only a lieutenant when his F4 Phantom jet went down in the jungles of North Vietnam. He spent the next six years as a prisoner of war surviving through vicious treatment and horrible conditions to finish his military career with honor. His amazing story of courage and fortitude in the face of despair made him a perfect candidate to speak to the Coast Guard as part of American300’s “Service through Honor – Never Quit” tour series.

“There is little you can say to a young Coastie who has been waiting three-plus years to get into ‘A’ school that they’re really going to listen to,” says former Army Sgt. Robi Powers, founder of American300, adding, “but put a guy who went through six years of hell as a prisoner of war, who then came home to eventually become a two-star general with them and suddenly young service members are getting a world class encounter that mirrors their leadership’s teaching on perseverance.”

Powers and Mechenbier spent Jan. 19 and 20 touring Base Ketchikan and its adjoining units meeting with Coast Guard members and learning their stories before Mechenbier presented his own at an all hands event Jan. 21. While at Station Ketchikan, they even assisted with cleaning up the station’s smallboats and participated in man overboard and towing training aboard a 45-foot response boat in the heavy surf near Ketchikan.

Former POW Maj. Gen. Ed Mechenbier, USAF, ret., shares leadership perspectives with Chief Warrant Officer David Dixon, commanding officer of the Coast Guard Cutter Anthony Petit during an American300 visit to Ketchikan, Alaska, Jan. 20, 2015. Mechenbier overcame being held captive for two years while fighting in North Vietnam and uses his experience to teach Armed Forces members about perseverance. Photo courtesy of American300.

Former POW Maj. Gen. Ed Mechenbier, USAF, ret., shares leadership perspectives with Chief Warrant Officer David Dixon, commanding officer of the Coast Guard Cutter Anthony Petit during an American300 visit to Ketchikan, Alaska, Jan. 20, 2015. Mechenbier overcame being held captive for six years while fighting in North Vietnam and uses his experience to teach Armed Forces members about perseverance. Photo courtesy of American300.

“With 35-knot winds and 8-foot seas, we had perfect training conditions for showing Maj. Gen. Mechenbier and Sgt. Powers what we do and the kind of conditions we typically work in,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Kevinn Smith, Station Ketchikan’s officer in charge. “American300 is a group our members look forward to seeing every time they visit no matter who their guest speaker is, but it isn’t often our young men and women have a chance to hear from a former POW. The crew was very receptive to hearing from him and about his experiences and what he sees for the Coast Guard’s future.”

“One of American300’s goals with this tour series is to share amazing stories of resiliency with Armed Forces members in the hopes that eventually every service member meets someone who ‘registers’ and really understands the challenges they face in service to their nation,” said Powers. “The other is to give service members an opportunity to spend quality time with the various guest mentors. We work with leaders who allow us to embed our guests, slow things down and develop lasting impressions with their warriors.”

After spending three days learning from, as well as teaching, Maj. Gen. Mechenbier, there’s little doubt the Coast Guard members serving in Ketchikan will remember the lessons he shared about hope, honor and just plain never giving up.

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