The U.S Coast Guard’s motto, “semper paratus,” means always being ready. That means being ready no matter what the role — search and rescue, homeland security, enforcement of maritime laws, protection of the marine environment or maintaining waterways and aids to navigation.
Beginning in 1999, Coast Guard personnel stationed in Homer aboard the CGC Roanoke Island applied the motto through service to the community and have continued that service by chopping firewood, selling it and using the proceeds to help community members in need.
This year, under the oversight of Lt. Sarah Geoffrion, supervisor of Marine Safety Detachment in Homer, the MSD crew is continuing the tradition.
In 1999, spruce bark beetle-killed trees were being turned into chips to be sold elsewhere. The action was taking place on the Spit near the harbor where the CGC Roanoke Island was tied up.
“We saw an opportunity to do something good for the community,” said Chief Warrant Officer Dennis “Sully” Sullivan of a program the ship’s crew initiated with the Salvation Army. “There was a bunch of stuff in a scrap pile, we chopped it up and sold it for $100 a truck load, delivered.”
The money was used to sponsor two families selected by the Salvation Army.
“They gave us the ages and sex of the children and we would buy food, clothing, toys and everything for the families from the sale of the wood,” said Sullivan. “It was a lot of fun.”
By 2004, the effort had grown to include the crew on the CGC Hickory, as well as donations from local businesses.
“Such camaraderie and support throughout the year is a major reason why so many Coast Guardsmen keep asking for repeat assignments in Homer,” Lt. Commandeer Jay Boyer of the Hickory and Lt. Kevin King of the Roanoke Island wrote at the time.
In 2009, the woodcutting program raised $2,800. It was divided, with $1,800 going to two families identified by Share the Spirit and $1,000 used for a scholarship for a graduating high school senior.
This year, however, with both cutters assigned to Homer — the Hickory and the Roanoke Island — required to be out of port, it looked like the firewood program might not continue.
That’s unlikely, however, when you have an “always ready” frame of mind.
“Chief Michael Jones, who works with Coast Guard housing in town, said, ‘Let’s do this.’ He knew I was part of the group who started this project 13 years ago,” said Sullivan, who is now assigned to Marine Safety Detachment in Homer. “When I brought it to Lt. Geoffrion, she said this was something she’d like to support 100 percent.”
It isn’t about who does the work, be it MSD, the Hickory or the Roanoke Island, said Sullivan.
“It’s very important for us to do our part as Team Coast Guard,” he said. “We want to be part of the community and it’s part of our ‘semper paratus,’ always being ready. It fits.”
With wood scraps at the chip pad operation on the Spit a thing of the past, Dave Roderick of BST Milling on North Fork Road, stepped in with the needed wood.
“I’ve got a lumber mill and we had a pile of wood not spoken for, so I told them it have at it,” said Roderick.
“There are six of us at MSD and Chief Jones, we’re the ones cutting,” said Sullivan. “We worked last week and we’ll work until it’s done. We’re getting an enormous amount of wood. We’ll probably be delivering from 15-20 cords of wood.”
As in the past, sales of the wood will benefit Share the Spirit.
“We sell the wood, but the checks are made out to Share the Spirit,” said Sullivan. “We cannot take any money from anyone because of legal mumbo jumbo, so we chop the wood, give (the proceeds) to Share the Spirit and they make the determination of the families that need a little help. It gives a little boost during holiday times depending on how much wood we cut and how much money we can raise.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.