Chicago Coast Guard units honored by Chicago Federal Executive Board

Chief Warrant Officer Matthew James, commanding officer of Coast Guard Station Calumet Harbor, and Cmdr. Zeita Merchant, commanding officer of Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Chicago, accept the 2018 Federal Agency of the Year Award from the Chicago Federal Executive Board for work performed in a variety of operations, including vessel inspections, pollution response, search and rescue, law enforcement and public outreach, May 10, 2018. They are joined by (l-r) Bo Steiner, board member for the Chicago Federal Executive Board, Capt. Thomas Stuhlreyer, commander, Coast Guard Sector Lake Michigan, Jean Brown, Executive Director of the Chicago Federal Executive Board, and Dan Clutch, board member for CFEB. (U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Master Chief Petty Officer Alan Haraf)

Chief Warrant Officer Matthew James, commanding officer of Coast Guard Station Calumet Harbor, and Cmdr. Zeita Merchant, commanding officer of Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Chicago, accept the 2018 Federal Agency of the Year Award from the Chicago Federal Executive Board  May 10, 2018.  (U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Master Chief Petty Officer Alan Haraf)

CHICAGO — The U.S. Coast Guard was recognized with high-honor awards by the Chicago Federal Executive Board at the board’s 61st Annual Federal Employee of the Year Awards, Thursday.

The Coast Guard was named Agency of the Year and also received the Homeland Security and Law Enforcement Team Award, while Cmdr. Zeita Merchant, commanding officer of Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Chicago, was presented the John F. Kennedy Leadership Award.

As the agency of the year, Marine Safety Unit Chicago and Coast Guard Station Calumet Harbor continued to protect millions of citizens and the Lake Michigan shorelines of Illinois and Indiana, as well as 186 miles of the Illinois River system segmented by seven locks and dams and more than 250 bridges. These units performed a variety of operations throughout the Chicago region each day, including commercial vessel inspections, marine accident investigations, pollution response, search and rescue, law enforcement, safety zone implementation and enforcement, public outreach and waterfront facility examinations to ensure compliance with federal regulations. In addition, Coast Guard members from Chicago units also deployed to assist with cleanup and recovery efforts during the 2017 hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

The Homeland Security and Law Enforcement Team of the Year award was presented to members of Marine Safety Unit Chicago, Coast Guard Investigative Service Chicago and Station Calumet Harbor. Members were recognized for their part in “Operation Party Exposure,” an inter-agency maritime safety operation planned and executed in response to the increase of illegal passenger vessels operating on Lake Michigan and along the Chicago River. This operation, which also included Illinois Department of Natural Resources, included a robust public affairs outreach campaign to educate mariners and the public on the safe and legal ways to take advantage of the waterfront. During the height of the boating season, from June through August, the inter-agency team provided a major law enforcement presence, issuing operational controls to 24 vessels and imposing more than $140,000 in fines and civil penalties.

Merchant received the John F. Kennedy Leadership Award for outstanding work in the federal community. In the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey and Maria, she led rapid triages that saved and assisted more than 3,500 lives and reconstituted one of the largest petrochemical port complexes in the world in Port Arthur, Texas. Operating in an environment with no power or water distribution systems in Puerto Rico, Merchant guided more than 750 Coast Guard responders to orchestrate relief to six Coast Guard installations spanning three islands. In Chicago, she championed maritime safety and security improvements on the Chicago Area Waterways and served as an avid community volunteer and board member for non-profit organizations across the city.

The Chicago FEB’s Federal Employee of the Year program covers 178 federal agencies and more than 40,000 federal employees in the Chicago area. The awards recognize outstanding performance and valuable contributions made by federal employees as they serve the nation. Nearly 700 nominees from more than 60 federal agencies in the Chicago Area competed for this year’s awards.

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