Coast Guard Cutter Oak sets sail for relief

As the sun begins to set upon another mild January day, a large black ship gently rocks and sways from side to side in the Atlantic Ocean. As one steps out from within the ship, a slight gust of wind can be felt. It’s in that moment that you can nearly taste the salt from the ocean in the air. As far as the eye can see, there’s nothing but choppy blue water in sight. Except toward the west, where the last glimmer of the sun on the water begins to creep out of sight, slowly filling the surrounding air with total darkness. With nothing left to see, you can only hear the water splashing against the hull of the ship.

This is the average night while underway for the crewmembers aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Oak, a 225-foot sea-going Buoy Tender homeported in Charleston, S.C. With vast missions of maintaining aids to navigation, conducting maritime law enforcement boardings, search and rescue and even breaking ice to ensure the flow of commerce, the Oak’s multi-mission nature keeps it on the move. Although the night may seem just as the average, the mission at hand is like no other.

The crewmembers of the Oak have been tasked with assisting the Haitian citizens by transporting various supplies for relief efforts. This certainly isn’t the first time the Oak’s crew has been to Haiti. They normally visit two times per year. During these biannual visits, the Oak’s crew assists the Haitian Coast Guard in a variety of ways. Training Haitian Coast Guard members on CPR and first aid, teaching small arms maintenance and assisting with boat maintenance are among the ways in which the Oak has previously provided assistance.

Unfortunately, the assistance and supplies needed this time around far surpasses anything before. Among the supplies are 62,880 bottles of water as well as an assortment of medical supplies such as IVs, splints and a wide assortment of medicine. With such an important mission at hand, it takes careful planning to make it a success.

“We left the day following the earthquake,” said Cmdr. Mike Glander, the commanding officer of the Oak.

Due to the short order of events from finding out that the cutter would be tasked with assisting in relief efforts to actually getting underway, the crew had to start preparing right away.

“We loaded up with everything we knew we’d need for this trip such as fuel, food, medical supplies, personal protective equipment and other things we believe are critical to the mission,” said Glander.

First of all, the engineers aboard the boat had to prepare the boat to take on fuel and begin checking the machinery to ensure all equipment to be in good working order.

“We use a specific check-off sheet that lists in detail each step necessary to prepare the ship to get underway,” said Fireman Jared Pearce, a crewmember aboard the Oak. “Some of the required steps include lighting off the engines and generators, switching from shore power to ship power and testing emergency controls.”

Meanwhile, the food service specialists are rushing in an attempt to get their food stock up within an eight-hour timeframe.

The Oak had approximately two weeks worth of in-port rations, but due to the extended nature of the trip, an extra three weeks worth of underway rations were needed.

“Fresh produce and dairy products are usually the first to go,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Scott Kroll, the Food Service Officer aboard the Oak. “We use our frozen and canned products secondary because they have a longer shelf life.”

Not only do the Food Service Specialists need to feed the crew, they also may need to use their migrant rations to assist the Haitian citizens.

With time running out, the crew wasn’t able to gather all the supplies they needed prior to getting underway.

“Considering that we found out we were leaving the same day, I was unable to acquire additional medical supplies; therefore, I reached out to Chief Petty Officer Craig Monk at the Health Safety Work Life Field Office in Miami,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Kate Roberts, the Health Services Technician aboard the Oak. “They were able to get all the supplies that I needed overnight so that we could pick them up on the way to Haiti.”

With an abundance of medical supplies, the Oak’s crew will be able to provide necessary treatment to the Haitian people.

“Once we arrive in Haiti, we’re going to triage our patients and then stabilize them,” said Roberts. At that point, we will determine which people will need additional medical assistance that we cannot provide.”

Due to the amount of devastation caused by the earthquake in Haiti, it takes more than just physical preparation.

“We will take into account each other’s mental wellness,” said Roberts. “We also have a Critical Incident Stress Management team that will be able to assist anyone that may have difficulties coping with the situation.”

With preparations coming to an end, the ship must begin the process of getting underway.

“Set mooring stations,” is loudly piped throughout the ship using the public announcement system.

Immediately, the crews put on their hard hats and life jackets and proceed to their assigned stations throughout the ship to await further orders.

“Take in all lines,” said the conning officer.

One-by-one, people ease their respective line. As the last line is removed from the dock, the Oak begins its voyage into wide-open waters.

With 1,200 miles to travel, the Oak’s crew waits patiently until their time comes to make a difference. Until then, only time will tell the success of this vital mission.

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