Conn. auxiliary celebrates anniversary - Soundings Online

Conn. auxiliary celebrates anniversary

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Known to many as the Coast Guard Auxiliary, they like to call themselves “the force multiplier.”

The Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 72 of Norwalk, Conn., gathered at the Shore and Country Club this summer to celebrate 65 years of volunteer service to the United States Coast Guard.

“We were founded in 1957 and we are an extremely active group,” says Flotilla 72 member Jason Farrow. “We are proud to serve this area of Long Island Sound and we are very grateful to the Shore and Country Club for letting us use their beautiful facility.”

The event was well-attended by members of the country club, auxiliary members and their families, and representatives from state, federal, and civic organizations, including Commander Elizabeth Young of the U.S. Coast Guard.

“The auxiliary has definitely become more of an integral part of the Coast Guard since 9/11,” says Young, who is responsible for all of the auxiliary flotillas in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Vermont. “They act as our eyes and ears, and they literally double our force. No other military organization in the United States has a volunteer group that is equal in experience and so great in numbers. We have a wonderful relationship.”

According to Flotilla 72 member Gregory Miller, committee chair for the celebration, the auxiliary has always been there to serve the Coast Guard in a non-military capacity since its inception in 1939 when Congress established the Coast Guard Reserve. In 1941, the military and volunteer aspects were divided, renaming the volunteer force as an auxiliary. To this day, auxiliary members can’t carry firearms, but are trained in every other capacity as a recruit of the Coast Guard. Many of the duties remain the same: routine boat safety checks, safety and security patrols, and boater education. Miller says there are 65 members in Flotilla 72 and more than 3,100 volunteer members nationwide.

“After 9/11, the federal government really looked at the relationship between the Coast Guard and the auxiliary and ways the auxiliary could fill in safety gaps,” says Young. “My job is to make sure these volunteers are effectively meeting the needs of the Coast Guard and they are all properly trained to the proper levels.”

Young says it was an auxiliary member who encouraged her to join the Coast Guard in the first place.

“They contribute a lot. Seventeen people have been saved in the area I oversee by the auxiliary — they can be there when sometimes we can’t, and they are trained to be just as qualified,” says Young. “Plus, if you are out on the water teaching people how to be a safer boater, you become safer yourself.”

The highlight of the evening was the arrival of several members of the auxiliary via a 41-foot Coast Guard powerboat. Various parties meeting them at the dock included Mayor Richard Moccia of Norwalk, State Sen. Bob Duff, State Rep. Chris Perone, club president Elizabeth Ito, and club commodore Jan Schaefer as well as other members of the auxiliary.

“This anniversary comes at such an exciting time, because our club is celebrating its 100th anniversary,” says Ito. “They are such good neighbors and they do all the safety checks for the 150 or so boats we have docked here. They also teach boating safety courses here, so having their celebration here only made sense.”

Miller says because it is such a sheltered harbor, it is the ideal location to hold training exercises and teach safe boating seminars.

“Through training for boaters, voluntary safety inspections and search-and-rescue missions we quietly work to make Long Island Sound a better place for all boaters,” Miller said in an e-mail to Soundings. “And, of course, we are all boaters ourselves.”

Miller joined Flotilla 72 in 2002 when he ran into auxiliary member Ginny Lovas at a small boat show in Greenwich, Conn. As a lawyer and an avid boater, he was looking for a way to serve his country in his spare time. Also, he had recently upgraded to a 46-foot Maxum powerboat and wanted to learn how to better handle a bigger vessel.

“I thought by joining, it would help me become a better boater,” says Miller. “You can learn all you can in a classroom, but there is no substitute for time spent at the helm.”

Farrow says he joined in 2000 because he wanted a way to break into the boating community. Owner of a 20-foot Grady White powerboat, he sometimes uses his personal vessel for search-and-rescue missions as well as patrol.

“The auxiliary reimburses us for gas used,” says Farrow. “It’s a pretty good deal.”

After a full-course buffet, Duff presented Flotilla 72 with a commendation on behalf of the state for 65 years of service, and the group recognized the Gardella family, whose grandfather, Louis Gardella, was one of the founding members, and chief Zach Cummings, commanding officer at Station Eaton’s Neck on Long Island, N.Y.

“The members of the auxiliary really motivate me. It’s very rewarding to know that they want to be here,” says Young. “Their enthusiasm and energy they bring to the mission rejuvenates me and confirms what I do.”

Miller says they are always looking for volunteers. Interested parties should visit www.cgaux.org and click on the “Join the Auxiliary” link, which will lead to a page giving details about the auxiliary and a place to locate a local chapter nationwide. Interested members must complete a simple test and be fingerprinted.

“Skills such as learning to navigate using charts, radio communication, maintaining your boat, dealing with currents — all of that can be learned through the auxiliary free of charge,” says Miller. “There are many different departments where people can use their skills.”

For information on volunteer opportunities, contact Arthur Gottlieb at a.gott@optonline.net or call Flotilla 72 at (203) 838-1200.