Revving up support for Coast Guard Act

Krystyna Duffy witnessed how the January 2019 government shutdown affected her crew at the U.S. Coast Guard station in San Francisco.

“It didn’t affect me as much but it did affect the junior members who are less fortunate and have less than I do,” recalled Duffy, who is now a boatswain's mate at the Coast Guard station in Coos Bay, Ore. “Some of the challenges during the shutdown were making sure our crews were fed and having enough supplies. We ended up coming together more as a family to help each other and also reach out to the communities to support our members.”

The 40-member crew staffs the Coast Guard station, always ready to respond to a call.

“The beauty of the Coast Guard — even without pay — is that a lot of us joined to serve,” she said. “Each day was a challenge, knowing that members weren’t getting paid but we made the best of it. We still answered the call and supported the call.”

Duffy was among the Coast Guard members who met and spoke with American Legion National Commander Vincent J. "Jim" Troiola during his visit to western Oregon the week of Nov. 14. The Legion’s ongoing efforts to ensure that Coast Guard members will be paid during another shutdown was a common theme during the commander’s visits to three stations.

“These relationships are amazing,” Duffy said. “It means a lot to us to have the support, especially if there is another government shutdown.”

Coast Guard personnel conduct missions vital to national security, but they serve in the only military branch working without pay during government shutdowns. This is because their status is under the Department of Homeland Security. During the 35-day shutdown, which ended Jan. 25, 2019, The American Legion raised and distributed more than $1 million in grants for Coast Guard personnel who faced financial crises.

Now, The American Legion is urging Congress to reintroduce and pass the Unwavering Support for our Coast Guard Act, which would guarantee that Coast Guard personnel are paid without delay during a government shutdown.

Troiola is steadfast in his resolve for its passage.

I don’t think a lot of Americans realize the drug trafficking and the search and rescues.” he said. “ They put their lives on the line for us, just the same way the other branches of the military do. They defend our shores, our borders. It’s quite the job. They work their butts off.”

The commander pointed out that Coast Guard members are in the military and they should be paid, whether funding comes from Homeland Security or the Department of Defense. “That money needs to be appropriated. They (Congress) needs to get to work and we need to advocate and keep pushing for it,” he said.

Troiola spent time chatting one-on-one with Coasties to get a better understanding of their needs beyond the Coast Guard Act.

“They told me that they could use some housing help and more boats,” he said. “It’s hard to get new boats. This one was just refurbished. They’ve only had it for three months,” Troiola said, referring to a 47-foot, Motor Life Boat C Class that he drove earlier in the day in Coos Bay. “They are having problems getting engines for the boats and I told him we would go back and see what we could do.”

The boat is designed to handle search and rescue missions and law enforcement activities. It can handle up to 30-foot seas, 20-foot surf and 50 knots of wind.

Troiola powered the boat up to its top speed of 28 knots (roughly 32 mph). “It was exhilarating,” the Navy veteran said. “You don’t realize how much technology there is. There’s one little joystick. And with one little touch, the sensitivity of it can make the whole ship lean going around the turns. The wind blowing in your face, like a kid in a convertible.”

The commander also toured Yaquina Bay Coast Guard Station, commanded by Chief Warrant Officer Beth Slade. She cited how important it was to discuss topics like the Coast Guard act and the Legion’s Be the One suicide prevention initiative.

“It’s special to have the national commander wanting to come here to Station Yaquina Bay,” she said, noting the local Legion is among the station’s supporters. “It’s great to be able to highlight not only our station here, but our local community and the support. During the government shutdown, and in times when we were in need, we certainly had our communities rally around us. We are not being forgotten.”

Yaquina Bay is a premier lifeboat station, centrally located on the Oregon coast in Newport. It specializes in search and rescue operations, regularly rescuing boats in harsh conditions that have become stranded 50 nautical miles and sometimes further off shore.

“Having a visit like this with the national commander and being able to explain the struggles we’re having with the national commander, that he is fighting for our crews and our veterans, resonates really resonates,” Slade said. “I know he understands a lot more about the struggles that sometimes our crews face. It’s a great opportunity to learn what he is advocating for, including veteran suicide prevention. I’m very passionate about it. We have lots of crews here who are suicide intervention trained. And knowing we have big resources looking out for us means a lot.”

The commander’s visit was especially meaningful for Oregon NECman Kevin Owens.

“We wanted to showcase our coast, our state,” the retired Coast Guard veteran said. “Our goal was to introduce him to the Coast Guard. We wanted to give him the opportunity to see what young men and women do every day.”

Young men and women are often in charge of small boats in dangerous waters with four- or five-person crews on critical missions, Owens said.

“I felt pride in being with them, as a Coast Guardsman, and seeing the pride in the national commander as he gave awards,” he said. “To see the national commander embracing that is a big deal to the smallest service because we are not part of DoD.”

Owens sees the visit paying off when Troiola presents the Legion’s testimony to Congress next year.

“The takeaway is that he will be more believable because it will come from his heart. It’s not a matter of ‘I read’ or ‘I’ve heard’ but ‘I’ve seen.’”

Troiola came away impressed with what he saw and experienced during his visit.

“Not only are they professional but they have so much pride in what they do,” he said. “They talk about it with pride. One of them said to me, ‘Whether we get paid or not, we’re still going to do our thing. People think we’re just going to stop but that isn’t going to happen.’ And that’s important to know.”