What it Means to be a Guardian

JUNEAU, Alaska — The definition of “guardian” is one who guards, watches over, or protects. For the guardians of the U.S. Coast Guard, being a guardian takes several forms. A guardian could be a Coast Guard Auxiliary member confined to a wheel chair but able to maintain radio guard for a 41- foot Coast Guard boat watchfully guarding our nation’s waterways. It could be a Coast Guard Marine Inspector crawling into the bowels of a foreign container ship’s engine room because the inspector saw a suspicious pool of oil indicating a potential engine failure.

Like guardian angels, the Coast Guard is often unnoticed. Each and every member of the Coast Guard family -the storekeeper providing logistical support, an Auxiliarist on a routine patrol, a Coast Guard Reservist deployed to Bahrain, a Coast Guard civilian employee repairing a buoy or a Coast Guard retiree recruiting young people to the Coast Guard Academy – they are all, in fact, guardians.

Risk is inherent in being a guardian. Earlier this week in Honolulu the Coast Guard family lost three Guardians and have suspended searching for a fourth. Something happened as the aircrew of a Coast Guard rescue helicopter was performing hoist operations with a Coast Guard 47-foot motor life boat. This tragic loss has gone largely gone unnoticed, perhaps because the country was focused on other Coast Guard guardians mobilizing to respond to hurricane threats in the Gulf of Mexico.

Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen told the entire Coast Guard family, “As Guardians, we constantly train and hone our skills in order to operate in hazardous conditions. This terrible accident is a reminder that we operate in an extremely hazardous environment. Coast Guard men and women go into harm’s way to train and conduct operations each day.

The Guardian Ethos is deeply engrained in the roots of the Coast Guard. In fact the Coast Guard was formed from the U.S. Life-Saving Service, a government agency form in an effort to save the lives of shipwrecked mariners and passengers. Joseph Lincoln’s poem about the U.S. Life Saving Service is equally applicable to today’s Guardians:

He is rigger, rower, swimmer, sailor, doctor, undertaker,
And he’s good at every one of ’em the same:
And he risks his life fer others in the quicksand and the breaker,
And a thousand wives and mothers bless his name.
He’s an angel dressed in oilskins, he’s a saint in a “sou’wester”,
He’s as plucky as they make, or ever can;
He’s a hero born and bred, but it hasn’t swelled his head,
And he’s jest the U.S. Gov’ment’s hired man.

Surely, each of these Guardians will have his own guardian angel hovering over him on his final flight.

Dedicated to the crew of U.S. Coast Guard Rescue Helicopter CG-6505

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