Coast Guard Family – In the finest of traditions

Children gather to meet Santa at an air station holiday party. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Children gather to meet Santa at an air station holiday party. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Written by Capt. Gary P. Weeden, chaplain of the Coast Guard.

The late great comedian George Burns jokingly noted that “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family somewhere in another city.” Humor aside, it is essential to our well-being to belong, share and celebrate with family. It has been my privilege to serve the Coast Guard as a chaplain in various assignments for more than 10 years. Whether during times of observing traditions, celebrating in gatherings or stepping up to support members of our family in crisis, there is truly a sense of “family” within the Coast Guard.

Santa sets up shop in Air Station Washington's hangar. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Santa sets up shop in Air Station Washington’s hangar. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Each year, the holidays bring special focus on gathering with our families and celebrating the traditions that bring us meaning. This holiday season is no different for the Coast Guard family, which has come together to carry on some historic and meaningful traditions to serve one another and the communities in which we live.

This year, as they have since 1976, Air Station Kodiak and nearby cutters have transported Santa to the seven villages of Kodiak Island to distribute donated toys. Air Station Kodiak services Port Lions, Ahkiok, Chiniak, Ouzinkie, Karluk and Larsen Bay while Coast Guard Cutter Spar brings Santa to Old Harbor. The fundraising for this is an all-hands event led by Coast Guard spouses and underscores close community ties typical throughout the Coast Guard. Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw also carries on each year a 100 year-old tradition of Christmas tree delivery to Chicago for needy families.

Celebrating within our own Coast Guard family, Air Station Washington, D.C., hosted the annual Coast Guard National Capital Region children’s holiday party with more than 600 members of the Coast Guard family attending. Another tradition we have come together for is the Lessons and Carols Candlelight Service at the Coast Guard Academy, celebrating more than 50 years of history.

Holiday traditions are not only about giving, but are also about receiving. The Coast Guard, for the past 83 years, has brought Santa to families serving in the Northeast. The Friends of Flying Santa delivers gifts to and visits more than 700 Coast Guard children from 50 units in six states. This huge contribution comes from an all-volunteer, non-profit organization and highlights the value and family tie the Coast Guard has with its community.

Family and friends gather at Air Station Washington's holiday party. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Family and friends gather at Air Station Washington’s holiday party. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

These represent only a few of the events throughout the Coast Guard that bring us together as a family to celebrate and serve one another. However, these events do more than just highlight a time to gather and celebrate; they tell something about the culture unique to the Coast Guard and remind us of the resiliency of the Coast Guard family.

What do holiday traditions and gatherings have to do with building family resilience? Two defining characteristics of strong families are commitment – dedication for the benefit of all – and cohesion – togetherness, closeness and respect for each other. Family resiliency is the ability to cultivate strengths to meet the next challenge. I have seen these characteristics on full display not only during this holiday, but during the past year when tragedy and natural disaster impacted our Coast Guard family.

Linda Kapral Papp, Coast Guard ombudsman-at-large, further underscored the importance of resiliency in a recently published letter:

“The strength and resilience of our family members on the home front provides critical support to our Coast Guard men and women. It allows them to successfully carry out critical operations every day ensuring the nation’s safety and security.”

The Coast Guard family continues to show its strength in meeting the next challenge; working together for each other and our nation and gathering to carry on celebrating those traditions. Semper Paratus.

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