Even the United States Coast Guard needs help sometimes, and for the past 75 years that support has come in the form of the all-volunteer Coast Guard Auxiliary. Members of the auxiliary do everything from providing additional manpower for Coast Guard missions to helping with station communications and offering vessel safety checks. Of the approximately 38,000-strong Coast Guard corps, one-third are auxiliary volunteers.
“They help us out tremendously,” Station Menemsha senior chief Jason Olsen said Saturday morning, shortly after presenting two Vineyarders with their auxiliary boat crew certifications.
Timothy Carroll of Chilmark and Glenn DeBlase of West Tisbury have been with the Coast Guard Auxiliary for a combined seven years. Mr. Carroll is also the Chilmark executive secretary and chairman of the town disaster committee. Mr. DeBlase is a veteran firefighter in West Tisbury.
Their certification as boat crew is a step toward Martha’s Vineyard having its own auxiliary flotilla. Currently, all Vineyard volunteers are part of Flotilla 11-2, which is based in Woods Hole and has 67 members. Eighteen are from the Island and the rest from the greater Falmouth area. In order for the Vineyard to have its own flotilla, there must be at least 15 people, with two certified boat crew and two certified coxswains.
Upstairs in the meeting room of Station Menemsha, Mr. DeBlase produced a red zipper binder full of hundreds of requirements for boat crew certification, each of which had a signature next to it. In order to become boat crew, every single qualification had to be met. Most are the same as those needed to advance in the Coast Guard proper.
“They’re doing a lot of the same stuff we do,” Chief Olsen said. “They’re expected to meet our standards.” He noted that many of those requirements are designed for 20-year-olds.
It took Mr. DeBlase 18 months over two summers to complete every qualification; most involve boat hours and cannot be met as easily during the winter. Many boat hours were spent on the vessel of Jeffrey Thomas, a retired Merchant Marine in the Woods Hole flotilla, who would meet Mr. Carroll and Mr. DeBlase in Vineyard Haven.
Mr. Carroll finished his qualifications at the end of September, and Mr. DeBlase was fast on his heels, but government sequestration went into effect shortly after and delayed the final signoff.
“I was determined to get it done,” Mr. DeBlase said. He finished up in mid-November.
Flotilla 11-2 is part of the auxiliary’s first district, which covers Sandy Hook to Maine. The first district has 6,080 members who volunteered a total of 214, 671 hours last year. Most of those hours come from public safety-oriented tasks: boating safety classes and boat inspections to name a few. Some volunteers put in hours on communications watch at Station Menemsha, and others fill in on USCG crews. Some support pilot training at Station Cape Cod, putting out targets for dropping rescue kits.
“I’m partial to the cooks,” Chief Olsen said. Some volunteers from New Bedford’s flotilla are food service specialists. When they come to Station Menemsha they prepare meals, allowing the USCG to spend more time on patrol or doing boat maintenance — and then come back to a freshly cooked dinner.
“It takes the pressure off these guys,” Mr. DeBlase said.