Was there any benefit from the Hurricanes?

By Wayne Spivak
National Press Corps
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary


As the Search and Rescue phase of the hurricane dwindles, and the Recovery phase fully ramps up, it behooves us to take a look back at these last five weeks and try to make an assessment of the cost, and any benefit that we in the Auxiliary have endured.

As with any disaster, either man-made or natural, the costs are great. Not only is there the easy to quantify cost, which is one of the first things one hears on the nightly news, but the other costs, and yes benefits, which a disaster brings to a community.

The Coast Guard Auxiliary is a community. It is a community within a community, within a community. It is a community of like-minded individuals throughout the United States who share a global mission.

It is a community within the Coast Guard, as is the active duty, reserves and civilians. All part of the greater Coast Guard Family; but nevertheless, the Auxiliary is a distinct community of men and women.

It is a community in every locality where you find the men and women in blue uniforms with a name-tag that says U.S.C.G. Auxiliary emblazoned.

So, when Hurricane Katrina hit, and then Hurricane Rita, our communities were hit as well. Our members, be they Auxiliary, active duty, reserve or civilian who lived in the region lost their homes, and some lost their jobs, and most lost their tangible objects which emote memories of day’s gone bye.

But our Coast Guard Family was not able to sit back and grieve, for we are the Coast Guard and we responded to this disaster.

While there were a handful of Auxiliarists who were part of the pre-hurricane planning process, most in the region could only prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

While the region got the worst, the Auxiliary gave it its best.

Thousands of Auxiliarists responded to the aftermath of Hurricanes.

Some did so as Auxiliarists, working side by side with the Coast Guard Team, serving the Coast Guard and the country in a diverse roles, responsibilities and jobs.

Others responded for a call for assistance and became Disaster Assistance Employees of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). These Auxiliarists traded the Auxiliary uniform for that of FEMA and are dispersed throughout the nation, providing assistance to those who have suffered.

And still other Auxiliarists, in their roles as private citizens, responded in a variety of ways, as part of public or private search and rescue companies, faith based organizations or as just concerned individuals.

Our Auxiliarists proved their mettle, each and every one of them, whether they were part of Auxiliary Aviation, delivering supplies and personnel, or performing aerial damage assessment.

They proved their mettle whether they were information brokers, supplying or transmitting the Auxiliary and Coast Guard story to the public or they worked in the Integrated Command Centers.

They proved their mettle, responding as trained medical personnel with state-run agencies or arranging for donations of much needed boats, and delivering them across half the continent.

And these are just the people who lived or traveled to the region. Auxiliarists around the country also assisted in the Search, Rescue and Recovery phase by assisting their local Coast Guard units. Men and Women did one of the major roles that the Auxiliary was formed to perform, that of being a force-multiplier.

By this, individual Auxiliarists, from Sitka to San Diego, Bar Harbor, Maine to Key West, Florida went to their local Coast Guard unit and did everything from standing radio watch to cooking meals, cleaning the station to manning their boats for Search and Rescue missions. These Auxiliarists took up the slack so the active duty and reserve members could be sent to the region.

These men and women proved their mettle by living by the Coast Guard creed: Honor, Respect and Devotion to Duty, whether the duty was with America’s Volunteer Lifesavers or with other organizations.

Each Auxiliarist who responded did so, without compensation or protection of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) as did National Guardsman and members of the Reserves.

But what about our community; our Auxiliarists whose home and job and life were in the Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas region? They suffered. Many lost their homes and jobs.

But the Auxiliary went to their rescue. The Coast Guard Auxiliary Association, the non-profit business office of the Auxiliary created Operation Life Ring www.operationlifering.org, a relief fund, that teamed up with the Coast Guard Foundation and Coast Guard Mutual Association to provide loans, grants and gifts to the Coast Guard Family, in this a time of need.

Within two weeks of filing the paperwork, Auxiliarists were in the disaster zone, meeting Auxiliarists who were the victims of the storm and writing checks. During this time, other Auxiliarists have donated their money to assist their fellow family members in this time of need.

As Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States is reported to have said, while signing the Declaration of Independence, “ We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

The cost of the natural disaster is incalculable, but the benefit of the Auxiliary community on those who became victims and those who were there to help, is also incalculable.

The United States Coast Guard Auxiliary has, is and will continue to “hang together”.

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