After the terrorist attacks on September 11, the US Coast Guard was given new responsibilities. So a group of civilians stepped up to the plate to help. They are all members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, and some are private pilots who have volunteered their time and planes to help fly homeland security missions.
At least twice a month, pilot Bill Pandergrass and observer Kent Shockey take off on such a mission. They are members of the Seventh District Coast Guard Auxiliary. A typical mission could include a flight up or down the coastline between Charleston and Jacksonville.
"We're looking for anything unusual first," explained Shockey. "We're also looking for oil spill, a boat that might be in distress, a boat that's up on the shore that has not been there in the past."
With literally thousands of miles of coastline to patrol, the US Coast Guard is extremely busy, but thanks to the Coast Guard Auxiliary, some of that burden has been lifted. "I think it's so important," said Shockey. "The Coast Guard is stressed with what they have to do now. The fact the auxiliary is there to back them up, to be another set of eyes, maybe give those guys a day off possibly, I think it's very important and I've go the time to do it. I enjoy being around these guys and gals. It's fun thing to do and it is a very important part of our defense."
The group has 40 men and women and 13 aircraft located at airports in South Carolina, Georgia and north Florida. They fly under the control of Coast Guard Air Station Savannah. They're all volunteers and they do it for the love of their country.
"After 9/11, like everybody that wanted to do something for their country, and somebody told me since I had a lot of flying experience that this was something specific that I could do that was needed, so I volunteered," said Pandergrass. He has more than 3,000 hours as an instrument-rated pilot. Some members of this group are retired airline pilots. So there's lots of experience there.
Another part of the Coast Guard Auxiliary are the boaters. Just like the pilots, they patrol the coastal waters and participate in search-and-rescue efforts.