Military service is often connected to volunteerism, and the nation’s smallest armed service, the U.S. Coast Guard, relies on an even smaller subset of volunteers known as the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
One of those volunteers is Charles “Chuck” Mullen, a 37-year-old firefighter for two separate stations, business owner, husband and father of four who also volunteers with Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 59 in Smithfield, Virginia.
Mullen’s passion for volunteerism and his enjoyment of the water led him to join the Smithfield Coast Guard Auxiliary in 2009. A posting in the local paper asked for volunteers, and the mission appealed to Mullen, who had previous search and rescue experience through his work with the fire department.
“My idea was, if I got to join the auxiliary then maybe I could do more search and rescue,” said Mullen. “I walked in the first night I was there, and I was the youngest person there by far.”
When Mullen joined Flotilla 59, the unit’s existence was hanging on by a thread. There were only nine active members and the crews had the bare minimum of underway time to keep their qualifications active. If not for the the passion and drive of another Auxiliarist, Dr. Alfred Coke, Flotilla 59’s newly appointed operational planner, Mullen was unsure he would of stayed. Coke had a vision for Flotilla 59 and was eager to change their course. His plan was to get the crews underway and remind to them what the auxiliary was all about.
Coke took Mullen under his wing and helped the younger man obtain his crew and coxswain qualifications. Within Mullen, Coke recognized a very focused, knowledgeable and dedicated man whose years and experience as a firefighter and EMT could be a tremendous asset to the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
Mullen, no stranger to search and rescue through his firefighter experience, helped become the bedrock for the Flotilla’s new foundation as an operational patrol unit.
Working alongside Coke, Mullen aggressively started training others to Coast Guard standards, as Coke would say, to make sure they were trained by the books to a rigid standard and get them safely on the water as fast as they could.
The new operational stance attracted new members to Flotilla 59, including Mullen’s wife and parents along with additional members from the Carrollton Volunteer Fire Department.
“The younger crowd, most of them, wanted to be on the water,” said Mullen. “They wanted to go out on a boat. They wanted to be part of the search and rescue.”
Coast Guard Station Portsmouth contributed to the Smithfield Auxiliary’s growing presence by providing Flotilla 59 with extra gear and equipment. The gear was a godsend for Flotilla 59, allowing them to participate in search and rescue cases year round.
“They are a tremendous asset,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Kenfield, operations Petty Officer at Coast Guard Station Portsmouth. “I call them up for assistance, and they roger up on the spot.”
With Station Portsmouth’s area of operations extending up the James River all the way to Richmond, having trained, competent and available auxiliary units greatly increases the coverage and improves response times.
“For us to transit that far would take a couple hours,” said Kenfield. “In that time, we could of called the auxiliary, and they could get out their before we are halfway there.”
The Coast Guard Auxiliary is a force of volunteers. They buy their own uniforms, provide their own boats and train on their own time, yet they step up year after year, assisting their active duty counterparts in saving lives across the United States.
For Mullen, he plans to continue with the Coast Guard Auxiliary and hopes to Smithfield Flotilla’s growth.
“For me, it was one other way to help the Coast Guard and to help the community,” said Mullen.