Coast Guard Station Menemsha wins readiness award

Captain John Kondratowicz, Sector Commander Southeastern New England, presented the Sumner I. Kimball award plaque and pennant to the crew of Station Menemsha Monday. — Photo by Lynn Christoffers

Under a blue sky as crisp as the uniforms of the men and women of Coast Guard Station Menemsha who stood at attention in front of the unit flagpole Monday morning, Captain John Kondratowicz, Sector Commander Southeastern New England, presented the Sumner I. Kimball award plaque and pennant to the crew that protects mariners in the waters of the western end of Vineyard Sound and nearby Buzzards Bay.

“You can display that with pride,” Captain Kondratowicz told the men and women of Station Menemsha.

The award “recognizes excellence in crew proficiency, boat and personal protective equipment condition and compliance with established training documentation requirements as essential readiness components,” according to the Coast Guard.

Essentially, it recognizes all the components of daily life at a Coast Guard station, some of it routine drills and maintenance but all of it important, that translates into readiness when an emergency occurs and lives are on the line.

Of the Coast Guard’s 192 stations scattered across the United States, only about 17 receive the award annually. Station Menemsha won the award in 2004 and 2007.

Addressing the crew in the station conference room where the plaque will be displayed, Captain Kondratowicz said the award recognizes a team effort, not individual accomplishments.

“I’m very proud of you, that is quite the accomplishment,” he said. “Martha’s Vineyard and the surrounding community should be proud as well, its nice to know that when the bell goes off, that you guys are ready, that the best of the best are basically responding to whatever it may be.”

Command Senior Chief Chip Melleby of Sector Southeast New England said the challenge now would be to maintain the level of proficiency recognized by the award as crewmembers transfer in and out. “So don’t get comfortable,” he said. “Keep moving forward, keep striving to be professional. Keep learning and keep up that proficiency. Great job. Great recognition. You should be proud of yourselves. But think about, how do we maintain it now, that is the key.”

Captain Kondratowicz stressed the need for the crew to maintain training, especially to respond in heavy weather. With a degree of relish, he talked about looking forward to nasty weather as an opportunity not to be missed. “When people don’t expect us to be out there is when we’re normally out there,” he said.

He asked the crew to push the envelope. He added, “You guys have a great area of responsibility to operate in heavy weather too. Getting over in Vineyard Sound in heavy weather, it’s nasty.”

For Station Chief Jason Olsen, the award comes as his four-year assignment to Station Menemsha, which began on a tragic note with the destruction of the boathouse in a July 2010 fire, comes to a close.

Stressing the teamwork it took from all members of the crew, Chief Olsen said, “You guys work really hard all year round, and to get this is really awesome, particularly my last year here.”

Gay Head to Menemsha

The United States Coast Guard traces its history back to August 4, 1790, when the first Congress authorized the construction of 10 vessels to enforce tariff and trade laws and to prevent smuggling. The fleet was known variously through the 19th and early 20th centuries as the Revenue Marine and the Revenue Cutter Service.

A separate agency, the Life Saving Service, was created in 1878 to improve a largely volunteer network of rescue stations that assisted mariners in distress along the very busy coastlines.

The U.S. Life Saving Service built a station and boathouse, which later became Coast Guard Station Gay Head, in 1895. The station building was near Gay Head Light and the boathouse on the shore west of Dogfish Bar. The first keeper was Nehemiah C. Hayman who was appointed October 4, 1895, according to a Coast Guard history of the station.

Keepers had to be “able bodied, of good character and habits, able to read and write and be under 45 years of age and a master at handling boats, especially in rough weather,” according to the history.

In 1915, an act of Congress merged the Revenue Cutter Service with the Life Saving Service, creating a single maritime service, the Coast Guard, dedicated to saving life at sea and enforcing the nation’s maritime laws.

In 1952, the Coast Guard moved the Cuttyhunk station building to Menemsha by barge. Commissioning of the new station took place on March 12, 1954. In January, 1974, the Coast Guard officially changed the name of the station from Gay Head to Menemsha to reflect its actual location.

Sumner Kimball

The award program recognizes the contributions of Sumner I. Kimball, a young lawyer from Maine, appointed as the chief of the Treasury Department’s Revenue Marine Division in 1871.

According to a Coast Guard history, Mr. Kimball carried out a vigorous housecleaning of incompetent Revenue Marine officers and saw to it that discipline was tightened. A special object of his censure was the use of cutters as personal yachts by local Custom officials, a wide-spread abuse at the time.

His greatest impact was on what would become the U.S. Life-Saving Service. He convinced a parsimonious Congress to increase the funding of the Service to provide for full-time, paid crews, led under the direction of an appointed keeper. New stations were constructed around the coast and were equipped with the finest lifesaving equipment available. In 1878, this growing network of stations was organized as a separate agency of the Treasury Department and was named the U.S. Life-Saving Service.

Dr. Dennis Noble, a historian of the U.S. Life-Saving Service, wrote of Kimball: “Kimball was unquestionably the driving force behind the United States’ possessing a first-class lifesaving organization. Much of the present-day Coast Guard’s highly regarded reputation as a humanitarian organization is the result of his organizational skills and management abilities. Many of the routines that he established, such as constant drills with rescue equipment, are just as important today as they were more than a century ago.”

On Monday, the crew proudly hoisted the Sumner I. Kimball Pennant up the unit flagpole overlooking Menemsha bight and the waters beyond.

The crew of Station Menemsha

Mark A. Auld; Shandrekia Ni Cancellare; William L. Collins; John J. Chapa; Kodi Nicole Curles; Robert H. Decker; Lindsay J. Edwards; Johnathon Matthe Goeckel; Kyle Joseph Gomes; Juan Victor Gandara; Erin Lee Hajec; Gary S. Kovack; Evan Thomas Lavigne; Michael John Luongo; Mark A. Montgomery; William R. Myers; Jason L. Olsen; Joseph Aaron Queen; Luis Alberto Santana Jr.; Christopher D. Shiels; Matthew C. Soscia; Eric M. Tavares Spencer D. Thigpen; Robert A. Verdone.