Presence on the water

by Ayla Kelley

Washington – A large ship painted black slowly makes its way down the Potomac River near the Windrow Wilson Bridge. Members on board scan the water through their binoculars keeping a watchful eye out for potential threats and making sure everything is safe in the days before and after the 56th Presidential Inauguration. The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Oak, a 225-foot buoy tender from Charleston, S.C., normally tasked with maintaining aids to navigation, is now responsible for making sure the waterway security zones they are patrolling are safe and secure.

The Oak made a two-day trip up to the national capital region to add support to the Coast Guard’s security mission during the inauguration week.Due to the vessels size and its abilities to maneuver in narrow waterways, it became an ideal asset to have as part of the multi-layered security regime patrolling the Potomac River.

“Any vessel that is sighted has its position passed to the patrol commander,” said Lt. Tim Cronin, the operations officer. “100 percent of the boats will then be checked before they enter the security zone.”

The zone is open to commercial and recreational vessels on a limited basis on the days leading up to the inauguration, but will be closed during the inaugural events.

In addition to the duties of the Oak providing security, they are also prepared to support their more traditional missions of pollution response and search and rescue. They carry equipment that aids in response to large pollution spills and are capable of mitigating large-scale search and rescue operations.

“It’s a true multi-mission cutter with every capability with the exception of a flight deck,” said Cronin.

The Oak’s crew did have to make adjustments to prepare for their role in security zone enforcement. The crew is used to a warmer climate as they conduct buoy operations and migrant interdiction in the southeastern United States. For the inauguration, they had to adjust to working in extremely cold weather and looking for boats entering the security zone instead of migrants trying to enter the country illegally.

“The crew is really enthusiastic about being apart of the security for the inauguration and being in D.C. for it,” said Cronin.

One special member of this crew is Lt. Einar Overa, an exchange officer from the Norwegian Coast Guard. During his 11 month visit to America, Overa has the opportunity to be part of the security efforts for such an important event.

“The whole world is looking at this and the security. It’s fun to be a part of this historical event,” said Overa.

While the Oak is only here until they complete their security mission, the crew knows the importance of their presence on the river and stands ready to respond to security threats, pollution and search and rescue.

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