Station Menemsha gets new Officer in Charge
Senior Chief Petty Officer Stephen Barr was installed yesterday as Officer in Charge (OIC) of Coast Guard Station Menemsha in a formal ceremony on the station's south lawn. He replaced Chief Petty Officer Mark Lewis, who had run the station since 2002.
As the sun burned off the morning fog, a small group of friends, family, colleagues, and guests were witness to a military tradition at least as old as the Coast Guard. The dignified transition of command - "the complete exchange of responsibility" - was accomplished with serious pomp and martial music. The crew of Station Menemsha stood in ranks, wearing dress white uniforms and service ribbons. The principal commanders were announced in and out - not by name but by location, as if each one was the station or unit he led. When Chief Lewis walked into the ceremony, he was "Station Menemsha." When he left, he was "Chief Lewis," and it was Chief Barr who had become "Station Menemsha." During the exchange of authority itself, the incoming and outgoing OICs exchanged ritual greetings and slow salutes with each other and with Captain Roy Nash, commander of Coast Guard Sector Southeastern New England.
Chief Petty Officer Mark Lewis, outgoing officer in charge of Coast Guard Station Menemsha (left), exchanges salutes with Senior Chief Stephen Barr (right), the new officer in charge at a ceremony presided over by Captain Roy Nash, commander of Coast Guard Sector Southeastern New England. The ceremony is completed with the ritual exchange: "I relieve you, Sir," and the response, "Sir, I stand relieved." Photos by Alan Brigish
Although some Coast Guard stations and large ships are commanded by officers, Senior Chief Barr is not an officer but an enlisted man, as are all the Coast Guard personnel at Station Menemsha. "Senior Chief Petty Officer" (E-8) is the second highest rank available to an enlisted person in the Coast Guard (with the exception of one single E-10, as in every branch of the service). Not every E-8 can be Officer in Charge of a station or a ship. To become certified as an OIC, Chief Barr had to have extensive experience, master all the applicable regulations and procedures, and pass an intense examination by a board. The program for the ceremony contains a long list of Chief Barr's medals, commendations, and citations, including several earned in the U.S. Army, from 1986 to 1992, when he joined the Coast Guard.
This is Senior Chief Barr's second command. For the past four years he has been OIC of a Coast Guard station in Buffalo, N.Y., where he supervised operations on Lake Erie and the Niagara River.
For this tour, Station Menemsha was Chief Barr's first choice of the available assignments, even though there was an OIC job open in Oregon, a former home. A native of New Gloucester, Maine, he also has family on Cape Cod and had also served aboard the buoy-tender Bittersweet out of Woods Hole in the 1990s. His father, Richard Barr of Yarmouth, Maine, and several uncles, aunts, and cousins attended yesterday's installation.
Senior Chief Petty Officer Stephen Barr addressed the men and women of Station Menemsha.
After learning of the opening at Menemsha and quite sure they wanted to be in New England, he and his wife, Andrea Suter, conducted a search of the Vineyard via the internet and phone calls to friends and fellow Coast Guardsmen.
Chief Barr told The Times on Tuesday that he is "just so pleased to be part of the Martha's Vineyard community." He said he looks forward to communicating and cooperating with everyone: fishermen, pleasure boaters, police, fire fighters, the general population. "Our job is safety and law enforcement. We serve the community 24-7," he said.
Chief Barr and his wife will live in the West Chop lighthouse keeper's cottage, a billet provided by the Coast Guard, which houses all the men and women stationed here, either in the barracks at Station Menemsha or in houses owned by the service about the Island.
In yesterday's ceremony, Captain Nash presented outgoing Chief Lewis with a citation praising his years as OIC of the station, overseeing its return from "station small" to full-service status in the fall of 2004. During his four years, Captain Nash told the assembled guests, the station operated 123 search and rescue missions, saved 40 lives, and made 265 law-enforcement boardings. While Menemsha was still a "station small," it received the Sumner I. Kimball Readiness Award, the first station small to win one. Captain Nash praised Chief Lewis for making up for manpower shortages by hundreds of hours at sea himself, leading by example as well as mentoring his crew.
Chief Lewis was modest about the citation and the award. "They're the ones that earned the award, not I," he said. "They did the work. I just pushed them in the right direction."
Chief Lewis's next assignment will be as OIC of a station at Kings Point, N.Y.