Saviors in the shadows

Story by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lally

“Hello all station, hello all station” crackles throughout a dimly lit room. The room is about the size of an apartment loft. A dull, gray, semi-circle cavern with screens and speakers hidden behind its walls complement the room.

Listeners within earshot hear on channel 16 a voice report a vessel taking on water in the Louisiana waterways. Watchful eyes scan a huge area map on the wall behind the desk looking for the area in which the vessel is reported. 130717-G--TM873-025-Coast Guard Watchstanders

“The report isn’t in our area of responsibility, but it looks like it is in Coast Guard Station Grand Isle’s,” said a watchstander at Coast Guard Station New Orleans.

When you think of the Coast Guard you probably first think of helicopters, boats and rescue swimmers saving the day. Do you ever think how the rescuers know when to go out or where to go?

Hidden behind the scenes of mariners getting rescued or assisted are the watchers of the maritime community. These are the men and women who few see, but all feel the effects of their dedication and vigilance.

These are the Coast Guard watchstanders.

“We are the eyes and ears for the maritime community, our shipmates and families, and the American public,” said Fireman Kelly Yost, Station New Orleans.

As watchstanders, these servicemen and women don’t get the glory of being a rescuer, but they get the satisfaction that they play a vital role in saving lives.

Watchstanders at Station New Orleans don’t just apply their dedication and vigilance behind the desk, but also around the grounds and building of the station.

Most every Coast Guardsman to come out of basic training and the Coast Guard Academy is required to stand some type of watch at their first unit. This requires dedication and commitment, vigilance and steadfastness, and devotion to duty.

130717-G--TM873-042-Coast Guard WatchstandersOne of the most important tasks any Coast Guardsmen will ever accomplish in their careers is standing a taut watch, even if it seems unimportant at the time.

“It’s important I stand an attentive watch to help support those who go out to rescue people,” said Seaman Lyndsey Singer, Station New Orleans. “I’m new here still and not boatcrew qualified yet, but this is how I can contribute to the team.”

Over a four-hour period the sputtering static of radio noises can be all that happens on watch.

Regardless if a watch is eventful or not these men and women of the Coast Guard maintain the first line of defense in a rescue or maritime emergency.

Their vigilance and devotion to duty could very well mean the difference between life and death for those on the water.

These are the unrecognized rescuers of America’s maritime community.

The ones monitoring the airwaves for distress, they are the saviors in the shadows.

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