Key West Natives return to homeport

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By Petty Officer 2nd Class Sabrina Laberdesque

Key West – Children grow up aspiring to become astronauts, police officers and doctors. For some, the decision is hard to make. For others, the choice is easy -The decision to serve their country and be a part of a mission designed to safeguard its communities. Coast Guardsmen were all children at one time and have made the decision and commitment to serve.

The Coast Guard is comprised of citizens willing to raise their right hand and commit to serving their country’s water.

For Petty Officer 2nd Class Hali Lombardi, being born and raised in Key West, Fla., is what helped her make the decision to serve in the U.S. Coast Guard.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Hali Lombardi, plots a position on the chart during a training exercise on the Coast Guard Cutter Charles Sexton in Key West, Fla., Jan. 28, 2014. Lombardi, a Key West native, is one of 21 crew members that will become a plank owner when the cutter Sexton becomes commissioned March 8, 2014. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Sabrina Laberdesque(

Petty Officer 2nd Class Hali Lombardi, plots a position on the chart during a training exercise on the Coast Guard Cutter Charles Sexton in Key West, Fla., Jan. 28, 2014. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Sabrina Laberdesque(

“I grew up on the water down here,” said Lombardi. “I knew that I wanted a career that involved boats, so when I found out about the Coast Guard I knew it’s where I belonged.”

Joining the Coast Guard at the age of 19, Lombardi knew that the Boatswain’s Mate (BM) rate was the career path she was going to join immediately.

“I was drawn to the Search-and-Rescue aspect of the Coast Guard,” said Lombardi. “I wanted to save lives while being on the water, and I knew going BM would be the best route for me.”

After attending the Coast Guard Boatswain’s Mate “A” school in Yorktown, Va., Lombardi received orders to Coast Guard Station Brunswick, Ga.

“I was far away from my family and friends, but I was on the water. That’s what kept me going.” Lombardi said. “I was doing search-and-rescue, so no matter how much I was homesick, the job kept me focused on the mission.”

After being stationed in Brunswick, Lombardi received orders to Coast Guard Seventh District in Miami where she maintained records and charts for the Aids to Navigation (ATON), section of the Waterways Management Division.

“I was at a desk, and though my job was important for the Coast Guard’s role in ATON, I knew I belonged on the water.” Lombardi said. “I enjoyed the people I worked with, but I missed the operational atmosphere you experience at a smallboat station or on a Coast Guard cutter.

After four years in Miami, Lombardi got her first pick on her orders to commission the Coast Guard’s newest cutter, the Charles Sexton, homeported in Key West.

“I was in shock when I received my orders to the Charles Sexton,” said Lombardi. “It was my number one pick on my list, and I am getting the privilege to become a plank owner of a Coast Guard cutter.”

Petty Officer 1st Class Andrew Bowe, an honorary Conch of Key West, Fla., demonstrates how to properly moor up a cutter during a training exercise aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Charles Sexton in Key West, Jan. 28, 2014. An honorary Conch is a title given by the mayor of Monroe County, if determined to be a clear-thinking kindred soul, eminently worthy of the honor of being a citizen of the Florida Keys. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Sabrina Laberdesque)

Petty Officer 1st Class Andrew Bowe demonstrates how to properly moor up a cutter during a training exercise aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Charles Sexton in Key West, Jan. 28, 2014. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Sabrina Laberdesque)

Lombardi reported to Lockport, La., to meet up with the new crew and get the cutter ready for their their new homeport in Key West. Upon arrival, Lombardi met Petty Officer 1st Class Andrew Bowe, an honorary Conch, a title given by the Mayor of Monroe County, if determined to be a clear-thinking kindred soul, eminently worthy of the honor of being a citizen of the Florida Keys.

“We hit it off right away,” said Bowe. “We started reminiscing about the Keys, and we both were excited to go back to our roots and patrol in familiar waters.”

Both Bowe and Lombardi’s job entails them to be in the pilot house when mooring and unmooring the cutter in homeport.

“Both Petty Officers are a huge asset to the crew because of their local knowledge of the area,” said Lt.j.g. Graham Sherman, the Coast Guard Cutter Charles Sexton’s Executive Officer. “The water depths change drastically down here, and they both bring a lot to the table when it comes to navigating safely.

The Coast Guard plans to commission the cutter Charles Sexton in Key West on March 8, 2014.

“It hasn’t really hit me yet that I am going to be one of the original plank owners of this cutter,” said Lombardi. “I get to stand before my family and friends in my hometown and take ownership of the Charles Sexton.

The vessel is named after Coast Guard Petty Officer Charles W. Sexton who was posthumously awarded the Coast Guard Medal for extraordinary heroism.

Sexton was on duty at Coast Guard Station Cape Disappointment in Washington state on Jan. 11, 1991, as the fishing vessel Sea King, a 75-foot trawler, was taking on water four miles northwest of the Columbia River bar, Bollinger officials said. Four fishermen were aboard, the decks were requesting assistance and the engine room was filling up with water. Petty Officer Sexton unselfishly volunteered to go aboard the fishing vessel to treat the injuries of a Sea King crew member who had fallen to the deck boat during a failed helicopter hoist. He skillfully diagnosed the victim’s injuries, informed the flight surgeon of the extent of the injuries and provided first aid treatment. Once the victim was stabilized, Petty Officer Sexton turned his attention to assisting with the dewatering of the vessel. After more than 6 hours of the exhausting routine or dewatering the vessel, the Sea King suddenly, without warning, rolled over, throwing victims into the dangerous seas and trapping Petty Officer Sexton in the enclosed pilot house. He went down with vessel, sacrificing his life while attempting to save the lives of the Sea King’s crew members.

Petty Officer 1st Class Andrew Bowe and Petty Officer 2nd Class Hali Lombardi perform boat checks as part of a training drill aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Charles Sexton in Key West, Fla., Jan. 28, 2014. Bowe, an honorary Conch of Key West, and Lombardi, a Key West Conch, returned to their hometown to serve aboard the newest Coast Guard cutter in the fleet. (U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Sabrina Laberdesque)

Petty Officer 1st Class Andrew Bowe and Petty Officer 2nd Class Hali Lombardi perform boat checks as part of a training drill aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Charles Sexton in Key West, Fla., Jan. 28, 2014. . (U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Sabrina Laberdesque)

Because of his heroic efforts, the cutter Sexton’s motto is Sacrifice through Service. In honor of the sacrifice Sexton made, the Coast Guard has named the Seventh Fast Response Cutter after him.

“We have been working around the clock to ensure that we are ready to perform the Coast Guard’s mission once commissioned,” said Bowe. “The entire crew is dedicated to honoring Charles Sexton and we do that with our dedication to duty and through the sacrifices we make to ensure the mission is complete.”

Coast Guardsmen are more than maritime specialists they are citizens as well. Citizens from hometowns who are proud to return and be a part of a legacy. A legacy that will continue aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Charles Sexton.

“I am proud to be here in Key West and to be a part of the Coast Guard legacy through the commissioning of the Charles Sexton here in my hometown waters,” said Lombardi. “It’s an honor that I will carry with me the rest of my Coast Guard career.”

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