Lindberg Bay served as a beautiful backdrop for the Virgin Islands Coast Guard Auxiliary, as members of the uniformed volunteer arm of the United States Coast Guard held their annual Change of Watch ceremony at the Carib Beach Resort on December 8.
This time-honored ceremony, rich in naval tradition, served to install new leaders elected by the group’s general membership.
Duane Minton, a high school teacher at St. Croix’s Country Day School, assumed the role of division captain. Lee Elvins took the role of Flotilla 16-1 Commander for the St. Croix district, while John Melucci moved into Flotilla 16-2 Commander for the St. Thomas-St. John District.
The Coast Guard Auxiliary, created by an Act of Congress in 1939, directly supports the Coast Guard in all missions except military and law enforcement actions. The U.S. Coast Guard became part of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002.
“Our members are engaged in a number of activities such as boating education, vessel safety checks, and search and rescue operations,” says Minton.
Other activities the 80-some Virgin Islands Coast Guard Auxiliary members have engaged in over the last year have included working with local fishermen and the sea-based drug interdiction officers of the V.I. Police Department as well as providing pamphlets and other information at public events such as annual agricultural fairs. New this year, Auxiliary members will offer a GPS (global positioning system) for interested members of the boating public.
Safe Boating Week in May and the Change of Watch ceremony in December are the local Auxiliary’s two biggest events of the year.
Minton, who joined the Auxiliary as a way to serve his country in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, said one of his main goals for the year ahead was to increase membership.
“We inducted eight new members in St. Croix last year and another four so far this year,” Minton says.
Recruits come from all walks of life. For example, one new member is a diesel engineer with a captain’s license. Another is a swim coach with a pilot’s license. This aviation asset will give the Virgin Islands Auxiliary enhanced search and rescue capabilities. Air support from Puerto Rico can take up to 45 minutes to reach the territory.
The group also successfully raised funds for a new vessel last year.
Coast Guard Auxiliary members work without pay, sick leave, holidays, or a pension. The position is of a civilian volunteer. They must buy their own uniforms and equipment and use their own boats and planes. So, why join?
Bill Dunne, a former Coast Guard Auxiliary captain who officiated at the Change of Watch ceremony, had this answer: “Save just one life and you’ll know.”
Dunne, Minton, and Jayne Davis saved three lives in the wake of Hurricane Daniele in August of 2004. They rescued the crew from a 23-foot power boat en route from Salt River, St. Croix, to Coral Bay, St. John, after the vessel’s engine stopped working and bilge pump failed in 18 to 25 knots of wind, 6 to 8 foot seas, and the cloak of darkness.
“We still get Christmas cards from those folks,” Dunne says.
The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary has members in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Guam. Applicants must be U.S. citizens, at least 17 years old, and pass a basic background check. There are no upper age limits or height/weight standards, although for operational activities, prospective members must be physically able to perform certain tasks. There are no minimum service hours. The Auxiliary supports its members through local unit meetings, regional conferences and heartfelt fellowship with each other.