Smilax becomes Queen of the Fleet

Posted by Cmdr. Glynn Smith on behalf of Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp.

Gold Ancient Mariner Adm. Bob Papp and Silver Ancient Mariner Master Chief Petty Officer Steven Hearn pose with the crew of Coast Guard Cutter Smilax, the new Queen of the Fleet. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Gold Ancient Mariner Adm. Bob Papp and Silver Ancient Mariner Master Chief Petty Officer Steven Hearn pose with the crew of Coast Guard Cutter Smilax, the new Queen of the Fleet. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Sailors love their ships, and while it’s probably best demonstrated in how we care for them, it’s probably most evident in the ceremonies we conduct during their service lives. But one ceremony in particular brings together the best of both: relieving the watch as Queen of the Fleet.

Today, I had the distinct pleasure and privilege of presiding over a relief of watch ceremony in Atlantic Beach, NC, as Coast Guard Cutter Smilax (WLIC 315), became the latest Queen of the Fleet. It was a joy to see the ship’s hull numbers painted in gold, a distinction that goes with this title.

Chief Warrant Officer Scott McAloon, commanding officer of Coast Guard Cutter Smilax, reveals the gold hull numbers that designate the cutter Queen of the Fleet. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Chief Warrant Officer Scott McAloon, commanding officer of Coast Guard Cutter Smilax, reveals the gold hull numbers that designate the cutter Queen of the Fleet. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

The Queen of the Fleet is the ship with the earliest date of commission into active Coast Guard service. Smilax became the oldest commissioned cutter when Acushnet, previous Queen of the fleet, was decommissioned from service on Mar. 10. Smilax was commissioned on Nov. 1, 1944, as World War II raged on in both the European and Pacific theaters.

Built at Dubuque Boat & Boiler Works in Dubuque, Iowa, more than 66 years ago when Franklin Roosevelt was president, Smilax has remained in good running condition. Then Seventh District Commander Rear Adm. R.W. Durfey, in an effort to dissuade his superiors from decommissioning Smilax in 1977, wrote, “The Smilax is in good condition and provides excellent mission suitability.” I am proud to say Smilax still does that 34 years later and it’s a testament to the ship’s current and all previous crews.

Smilax also continues to perform a valuable mission, maintaining 1,226 fixed aids to navigation such as lights and range markers and 26 buoys throughout the Outer Banks of North Carolina to help mariners navigate safely. The ship provided similar service to mariners in Florida from 1944 to 1965, and Georgia from 1966 to 1999. The value of this service in preventing the loss of lives, property and damage to the environment over the course of almost 70 years is immeasurable.

Smilax is now only superseded in age among U.S. naval vessels by two sailing ships; USS Constitution, which was commissioned (christened) on Oct. 21, 1797, and Coast Guard Cutter Eagle, which was commissioned on Sept. 17, 1936.

Crewmembers of Coast Guard Cutter Smilax render honors during the Queen of the Fleet ceremony. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Crewmembers of Coast Guard Cutter Smilax render honors during the Queen of the Fleet ceremony. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

As a U.S. Navy vessel, Constitution does not qualify for Coast Guard Queen of the Fleet and Eagle’s original commissioning date was into the German navy before World War II, which prevents its qualification. After the war, however, Eagle was brought to the U.S. and commissioned into the Coast Guard fleet on May 15, 1946.

This is a significant detail as Smilax is on the leading edge of an aging fleet of ships across the Coast Guard that are becoming harder and more costly to maintain and operate. And Smilax will continue to provide value for the public into the foreseeable future so that we can focus limited funds for new equipment on the more urgent acquisitions of national security cutters, offshore patrol cutters and fast response cutters to protect our nation. Some of Smilax’s greatest service may well begin as a septuagenarian!

Congratulations to Smilax and her crews, and thank you for your service.

Semper Paratus,

Adm. Bob Papp
Commandant and Gold Ancient Mariner

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  • BMC george morrison

    good for the crew

  • Midgettman3

    This ship stirs some strong memories. While I never served aboard her we were working together in Hatteras on 9/11. Something I will never forget.

  • FSC WL Willis

    I know the crew is proud, I never served aboard her but seved aboard the Rambler WLIC-298 out of Charleston. The construction tender job is one of the best jobs in the CG.

  • H & K Macchio

    Congrats to the crew of the mighty Smilax!

  • Kent Bolke

    Great to see the gold letters on a black hull.

  • Johnlaw484

    Great job Coast Guard! My ship USS Rainier AE 5 built 1936.

  • Denise Horton

    It was a beautiful ceremony!

  • ATWilky

    It’s good to see a blackboat be the Queen of the Fleet..As one who served on the Redwood,ATON crews work hard and play hard..May she keep lighting the way so other’s may follow..

  • Fergyatc

    When did you serve on the Redwood? I was on the Redwood as an sa/sn in 75&76. George Ferguson.

  • bm3 thomas spruner

    congrats I was on the whec-32 campbell when she was queen of the fleet! 1981!

  • Jeff Grant

    SHE LOOKS LIKE A MILLION BUCKS! I was stationed aboard Smilax in 1969 during a joint project with the Corps of Engineers to construct range lights in the Savannah River. I never thought I would categorize her as beautiful, as I spent most of that year covered in creosote and concrete, but she certainly is beautiful now. Congratulations to all crew members past, and particularly, present for the great job of maintaining her in duty ready status for all of these years. May she have many more before she “spuds down” for good.

  • John Krokenberger

    I was on the Smilax in the late 80′s. We worked hard and played harder. I’m happy to see her with the gold numbers. I’m proud to say that I would not be the person I am today had I not sweat on her decks.