Coast Guard Cutter Smilax crowned Queen of the Fleet

ATLANTIC BEACH, N.C. - Coast Guard Commandant and Gold Ancient Mariner Adm. Bob Papp and Silver Ancient Mariner Master Chief Petty Officer Steven Hearn pose with the crew of Coast Guard Cutter Smilax after a relief of watch ceremony in Atlantic Beach, N.C., April 14, 2011. The event was part of the celebration of the Smilax becoming the Queen of the Fleet as the oldest cutter in the fleet. U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer Patrick Kelley

FORT MACON, N.C. – The Coast Guard Cutter Smilax was officially named the Queen of the Fleet during a ceremony held here Thursday.

Commissioned Nov. 1, 1944, the title was bestowed upon the Smilax for being the oldest cutter in use by the service.

“Throughout the service we change the watch,” said Adm. Robert J. Papp, commandant of the Coast Guard. “We commission and decommission cutters, and we hold change of command ceremonies, and we even change homeports. But all of these ceremonies signal a beginning or an end. Today is different. Today, we have the rare pleasure of celebrating a continuation of service.”

The Oldest Commissioned Cutter Award was established to distinguish the Coast Guard cutter that has served the fleet for the longest period of time. The term, commissioned cutter, includes both commissioned and in-service cutters 65-feet or greater in length.

During his speech Papp spoke of Rear Adm. Robert Derby, a previous commander for the 7th District, who was asked to review the condition of Smilax, and a sister ship, and recommend which of the two vessels should be decommissioned.

“He convinced headquarters,” added Papp. “By saying, quote, ‘Smilax is in good condition and has a few more years of service left,’ that was in 1977.”

Four cutters have held the title of Queen of the Fleet since the establishment of this honor – the first cutter to hold the honor was the Coast Guard Cutter Ingham, followed by the cutters Fir, Storis and the Cutter Acushnet, which was commissioned in 1943 and passed the title after its decommissioning in March 2011.

Chief Warrant Officer Scott McAloon, commanding officer of the Smilax, traveled to Ketchikan, Alaska to relieve the watch and receive the Oldest Commissioned Cutter plaque at the decommissioning ceremony for the Coast Guard Cutter Acushnet, the previous Queen of the Fleet.

In addition to the plaque, the Smilax’s title is represented by gold hull numbers on the cutter and the name tags of each of the cutter’s crew.

“As commanding officer, it is my honor to try and represent sixty-seven years of Smilax service to our nation,” said McAloon. “And the seven decades of crewmembers who walked the decks and breathed life into this fine ship.”

Smilax’s history includes being homeported in Fort Pierce, Fla., then being relocated to New Smyrna Beach, Fla., serving from June 1954 thru Nov. 1965, then moving to Brunswick, Ga. Smilax was called upon to relieve the Coast Guard Cutter Primrose in Atlantic Beach, N.C. and has been there since 1999.

While the cutter’s primary mission is servicing aids to navigation and has worked on countless numbers of aids, the cutter has also been involved in several search and rescue cases and also assisted in the war on drugs.

Much of the ceremony was dedicated to the reflection of crewmembers past and present.

Sixty-seven years is an amazing feat and a testament to the work of the crewmembers that have stood the watch, said McAloon.

Of the many crewmembers to stand the watch, McAloon’s father was a boatswains mate aboard the Smilax 50 years ago. Aboard the cutter there is a photograph of Petty Officer 2nd Class Doug McAloon painting white numbers, now gold, on Smilax’s hull while in St. Augustine, Fla.

“As Smilax takes her turn at the helm, as Queen of the fleet,” McAloon states in his closing remarks. “I can proudly report our crew is worthy, ready, and eager to represent the past crews of Smilax and the 221 years of lifesavers at sea.”

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