Our Defenders: The United States Coast Guard

By Brooke Kelley - bio | email

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Sempter Paratus it means "always ready" and it's the motto of the United States Coast Guard. They might be a small branch, but they have big responsibilities to protect us and our shores at home.

They are often referred to as the unsung heroes of the waterways, with 11 different missions often done quickly and quietly without much fanfare or any attention at all. And that's just how they like it.

You've seen them in the air, five Coast Guard helicopters stationed at Hunter Army Airfield carrying out missions all the way from the North Carolina border to Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Sure we get glimpses of some of their rescue missions, but there is far more that we don't see day in and day out.

WTOC went out on the water with Petty Officer Ben Conner to see what is was like for a day in the life of a Coast Guard service member.

"You're not gonna learn the job unless you're out there doing it," said Conner.

Whether calm or rough seas, the Coast Guard must always be ready to respond.

"We are constantly on call 365 days a year 24 hours a day. We man our stations and we wait to go out on that call and it can happen at any min or hour of the day," Petty Officer Conner explained.

They are the lead federal agency on America's waterways and are continuously working with other government agencies.

"We spend a lot of time just doing an AOR run, an area of responsibility run. All that is, is that we have to stay familiar with the area," said Conner.

But it's not just rescue missions and maritime law enforcement.

Coast Guard Air Station Tybee also has its own Aids to Navigation Team responsible for making sure the channels are clearly marked.

"They are their own separate unit they have their own crews and their own boatswain's mate," said Petty Officer Conner.

On average, Savannah has anywhere from 12 to 15 ships coming in to our port each day.

Coast Guard Commander Lonnie Harrison is the Captain of the Port and in charge of Savannah's Maritime Safety Unit.

"You see us everywhere on the waterway and we use resources on Tybee and we use the helicopters at the air station and our folks are the ones on the ships all the time," said Commander Harrison.

They are doing a lot of work that often isn't highlighted. Last year they helped clean up 7,000 gallons of diesel fiel spilled into the Savannah River from a  cargo ship. That spill had the potentional of being more than 80,000 gallons. Commander Harrison's crew worked in a unified command with federal, state and local partnews to coordinate the response and stop the leak, which prevented the oil from spreading to our beaches and marshes.

"You would be pretty amazed being the second largest container port of the east coast of how much activity happens and what we can do to prevent things from happening locally," said Harrison.

The Coast Guard often makes headlines for the many life saving rescues they make here at home, causing some to overlook their invaluable contributions overseas.

The Coast guard has served in every U.S. war since the Revolutionary War.

Their wartime service continues as Coast Guard members are currently deployed to the Persian Gulf and Iraq.

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