On Tuesday, Coast Guard men and women across Maine, from Eastport to South Portland, are celebrating our service’s 230th birthday. We trace our organizational roots back to Alexander Hamilton’s U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, established Aug. 4, 1790.

In Maine, our nearly 600 active-duty women and men make up 70 percent of the state’s full-time military members. We share many values with Mainers, and through our service we become part of the fabric of coastal communities.

That’s true across the state, but nowhere more than in Rockland. The city of Rockland is the eighth city, among 28 cities in the country, to be designated a Coast Guard City. Like the relationship we enjoy with Rockland, the enduring bond between our service and Maine runs deep.

Two of the Coast Guard’s most historic figures were Mainers. Sumner Kimball, raised in Sanford, was general superintendent of the U.S. Life-Saving Service for the entirety of its 37-year existence before merging with the Revenue Cutter Service in 1915 to form the present-day Coast Guard. According to historian Dennis Noble, “much of the present-day Coast Guard’s highly regarded reputation as a humanitarian organization is the result of Kimball’s organizational skills and management abilities.”

Marcus Hanna was an American Civil War soldier before becoming a lighthouse keeper for the U.S. Lighthouse Board, another precursor to the Coast Guard, first at Pemaquid Point Light in his hometown of Bristol, and later at Two Lights in Cape Elizabeth. As a soldier he earned the Medal of Honor for bravery during action at the Siege of Port Hudson, Louisiana. Just over 20 years later, in 1885, while serving as the keeper at Two Lights, he risked his life during a January storm to save two sailors stranded aboard a schooner wrecked on the rocks. For his heroism, he was awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal, making him the only person in our country’s history to have received both awards.

Our service has evolved over generations, and now we stay busy performing a wide variety of marine-related work. Recently, we worked with ship representatives, state environmental partners and oil spill response organizations to ensure that a bulk-cargo ship moored in Portland safely offloaded oily ballast water before returning to sea.

Using a remotely operated underwater camera, we relocated and took video footage of the fishing vessel Hayley Ann, which sank offshore in January, taking the lives of Maine fishermen Joseph Nickerson and Christopher Pinkham. Operating nearly 700 feet down, this video imagery will assist us in providing national commercial fishing vessel safety recommendations.

In mid-July we completed work at the historic lighthouse on Seguin Island, upgrading the power source from traditional buried cable to 100 percent solar power. This upgrade is more cost effective and environmentally friendly and keeps the light’s massive, and one-of-a-kind in Maine, first-order Fresnel lens shining brightly.

Over recent weekends we’ve responded to a surge of search and rescue cases brought on by Maine’s summer and exacerbated by the pandemic’s social constraints. Late last month, we teamed up with responders and good Samaritans near Harpswell to rescue eight people, including an infant, from a sinking boat. If you’re out on the water today – or any day – the best birthday gift you can give to any Coast Guard person is to wear a life jacket. It’s a simple thing and wearing one greatly increases your chances of survival when an accident occurs. Even at the peak of summer, the water here is cold and we need your help buying time until we can rescue you.

Amid today’s pandemic-driven challenges, our can-do service culture – much like Maine’s Dirigo-rooted mentality – keeps us going. Our motto, “Semper Paratus,” or “Always Ready” is imbued in each of our members through the idea that everyone in the Coast Guard is a leader.  We count on people at all levels to achieve results. This fundamental characteristic drives our service and is a thread of continuity from historic Maine figures like Sumner Kimball and Marcus Hanna to today’s generation. These are admirable qualities that Mainers look for in people, and when they look at Coast Guard women and men, they see it staring back.


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