Given the key role the Coast Guard has played in Maine’s long sea-faring tradition, Boothbay region residents did not hesitate to help when the Coast Guard’s paychecks stopped last January during the government shutdown. With characteristic generosity, residents of the Boothbay region donated more than $15,000 to assist the members of our local Coast Guard Station and their families.
Funds were raised at a spaghetti dinner at the Congregational Church and at a donation box at the Y, and Hannaford grocery gift cards for each Coastie were purchased by a local citizen. But because government regulations prohibit active-duty military personnel from receiving gifts, the donations had to be given to the station’s Chief Petty Officer who maintains a small account for the Coasties’ general welfare.
Largely unknown, there is an organization whose sole mission is providing year-round support to the men and women of the Coast Guard and their families. It is called the Coast Guard Foundation. The Foundation is a tax-exempt Sec. 501(c)(3) organization which is national in its scope but has significant impact on local Coast Guard units. The reason for the Foundation’s existence is because the Coasties and their families need help all year long, not just when the government shuts down.
The average pay of a Coast Guard Seaman is only $24,000 per year. (A “Seaman” is an enlisted person whose rank is equivalent to a private first class in the Army.) How does that Coastie take care of his family when away at sea or pay for his child’s college education on that modest salary? Or how does that Coastie insure his own family’s safety from an impending hurricane when required to be on duty helping others in distress during the storm? They do so with the help of the Foundation.
The Foundation was created in 1969 and has grown to providing a wide variety of support to Coasties of almost $10 million annually. The Foundation provides assistance to the Coastie's and their families when they need it most. When a Coastie is injured away from home the Foundation provides support for his family to be nearby to help care for them. To allow Coast Guard members to better perform their duty by focusing on their work, the Foundation has provided more than $5 million in college scholarships to more than 960 of their children, 95% of which graduate with a four-year degree.
Just last year, the Foundation delivered more than $535,000 for overall morale, wellness and recreation initiatives to Coasties around the country, including those on long deployments at sea. A hallmark of the Foundation’s support for morale and wellness programs is to provide equipment and fund projects not covered under the federal budget. And these are only a few of the many programs the Foundation provides Coast Guard members and their families.
Much is asked of our Coasties today. While we automatically associate the Coast Guard with dramatic search and rescue operations, it has become a multi-mission service which is the first-responder to a range of problems. In addition to providing port security and drug interdiction at sea, the Coast Guard is also responsible for investigating deaths resulting from a collision at sea, monitoring all vessel traffic, responding to oil and chemical spills at sea and conducting law enforcement on navigable waterways. During wartime the Coast Guard can be placed under the command of the Navy to engage in combat as it did during World War II.
On an average day, the Coast Guard will save 10 lives, assist 192 people in distress and respond to 20 oil or chemical spills. With its 41,000 active duty personnel, 243 cutters, 1650 smaller boats and 201 rotary and fixed wing aircraft, the Coast Guard by itself would be the 12th largest naval force in the world.
Remember that the Coast Guardsman stationed in Boothbay today can be transferred to another station anywhere along the coasts, rivers and lakes of 38 states and U.S. territories. And the Coastie now serving in Alaska, Guam, Puerto Rico or the Great Lakes may be the person pulling you out of the water after an accident here in Boothbay next summer. Please thoughtfully consider making a donation to the Foundation to continue providing critical year-round support for the valiant, underpaid first-responders that wear the Coast Guard uniform and their families. Go online to coastguardfoundation.org for more information and how to donate.