Coast Guard Cutter plays part of Santa’s Sleigh

USCG Cutter Sequoia file photo

by Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Salas, Coast Guard Cutter Sequoia

GUAM – The Coast Guard Cutter Sequoia returned from a four-day mission, Operation Santa Sleigh, to deliver holiday donations to the remote atolls of Ulithi and Woleai in Yap State of the Federated States of Micronesia.

A combined effort from Coast Guard families, the Guam Naval Officer Spouses Club, and Boy Scout Troop 23 of Navy Base Guam collected nearly 1,000 pounds of goods including clothes, shoes, linens, camping equipment, and tools. The GNOSC also contributed $1,000 towards the purchase of new items including reef shoes, hygiene products, towels, and garden tools.

“I was very pleased with the effort of the crew and the community to help these islands during the holiday season,” said Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Salas, commanding officer of Sequoia. “Many of the islanders will find the items very useful.”

Sequoia’s first stop was at Ulithi Atoll, located 340 miles Southwest from Guam. Using a small boat, crewmembers transferred items to the main island of Falalop, the atolls population center. Sequoia’s crew were assisted by a group of Ulithi men to help with the transfer of goods. All of the donations were taken to a secure place at the local high school where the village chiefs from each island in the atoll would gather and distribute the items to the families.

For many of Sequoia’s crewmembers, it was their first opportunity to visit such a unique island. As a staging point during World War II, Ulithi still had remnants of U.S. military presence including the structure of an abandoned Coast Guard station.

Sequoia next anchored in the turquoise lagoon of Woleai atoll, located 370 miles South of Guam. The first crewmembers ashore were warmly welcomed by the village chiefs and the island community. Before the official welcome ceremony began, one Sequoia crewmember, Seaman Alexus Martin, was granted special permission by all of the chiefs to be allowed into the men only assembly area where formal greetings were conducted.

“I felt very honored and privileged by the whole experience,” Martin said. “I’m so glad I got to be a part of a rare moment.”

The Woleai island chief, Chief Francisco, thanked Sequoia for their visit. “I am very happy that the Coast Guard has not forgotten us,” said Francisco through an interpreter. “It has been nearly 10 years since the last visit by a Coast Guard Cutter.”

Once the donations were brought ashore, they were immediately taken to the men’s meeting area where they were evenly distributed to the families while the village chiefs from each island in the atoll observed.

After the distribution, the women of Woleai gathered in their colorful ceremonial dress to perform dances for the crew of Sequoia. Forty women cheerfully clapped and sang in unison to show their gratitude for the generous gifts.

During the short visit to Woleai, one of the villagers had asked if the Sequoia could replace the battery of their Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon. Chief Petty Officer Allen Hunter, a boatswain’s mate aboard the Sequia inspected the EPIRB and demonstrated the proper technique for testing and operating the device. The EPIRB was in fine working condition and operated normally. To promote safety, Sequoia also provided several adult and children’s personal floatation devices to the villagers.

“The visit was truly heartfelt from both sides,” Hunter said. “This was an experience the crew will forever remember,”

Sequoia carries out the Coast Guard’s missions of law enforcement, maritime safety, maritime mobility, environmental protection and defense readiness in an area that spans the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands.

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