Celebrating My Love Affair With Galveston Island . . .
The United States Coast Guard Station
With Guardsman Joseph Ayotte, CS1
While in Galveston this week, we got to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time: tour the US Coast Guard station. Our guide, Joseph Ayotte, CS1, was terrific. He answered all our questions and was a super nice man. In fact, every guardsman we encountered was polite (most smiling) and professional. My husband and I, along with our grandchildren, were thrilled to be allowed to board one of the ships. There were sections, for security reasons of course, we weren’t allowed to enter.
The station has the feel of a military base – quite simply because the Coast Guard is a branch of our nation’s military along with the Army, Air Force, Marines and Navy. The Coast Guard’s command structure is similar to that of the Navy, which seems logical.
The Coast Guard is our country’s maritime first responders.
The Galveston station is part of US Coast Guard’s Atlantic Area – Sector Houston-Galveston, which covers a swath of coastline from Lake Charles, Louisiana to Freeport – and 240 miles of intercoastal waterway. This encompasses five of the 20 busiest ports, the nation’s top three largest refineries, fourth busiest cruise ship port, and 57 percent of the Nation’s strategic petroleum reserves.
That’s just a ripple on the surface of what these guardsmen do. They also perform rescues at sea, face down drug runners, deal with environmental infractions, and handle on-water immigration issues.
Several months after 9-11, we were fishing in the harbor area not far from the Coast Guard station when a small orange boat sped toward us. Aboard were three young, fit men – armed to the teeth – who resembled recruitment models. We were instructed to take our boat to the shoreline, as the cruise ship was leaving. Our orders were not to move until the ship cleared the area.
We didn’t move.
The guardsmen are proud of their motto Semper Paratus “Always Ready” – and we got to see this motto in action. While on our tour, one of the boats sounded its horns and roared off on, what our guide told us, was probably a rescue mission.
Several years ago, while deep sea fishing about 20 miles offshore, we noticed smoke on the horizon. Then a mayday call sounded on the radio: There was a fire aboard a fishing boat and a member of the party had experienced what the caller thought was a heart attack. We immediately raced toward the scene, then within moments knew our help wouldn’t be needed. A helicopter zoomed overhead, and through binoculars, we saw the familiar white boat with the orange stripe arriving. I later joked with my husband that the response was so quick that I’d half-expected to see a white and orange submarine surface.
You cannot simply show up and ask for a tour. The Coast Guard station is a military base not a tourist attraction. It requires pre-authorization. However, even if approved, when you arrive should the crews be too busy, prepare to be disappointed.