Taking care of our own

The Coast Guard Sandy Hook base sign becomes surrounded by flood waters, after Hurricane Sandy devastated the. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Luke Clayton.

The Coast Guard Sandy Hook base sign becomes surrounded by flood waters, after Hurricane Sandy devastated the. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Luke Clayton.

Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Erik Swanson.

Hurricane Sandy was a storm of historic proportions making landfall along the densely populated Northeast coast, destroying property and leaving behind unprecedented damage. Coast Guardsmen, so familiar with the role of rescuer, were now part of the population who needed help.

Just like the surrounding community, Coast Guard buildings and assets were significantly damaged and hundreds of Coast Guard members and their families were forced to evacuate from their homes and workplace. Members and families needed help in finding adequate housing, filing insurance claims and working to return their lives to normal.

One of the areas trying to regain normalcy is Sandy Hook, a large barrier spit, or peninsula, extending 6 miles at 1 mile wide located along the coast of New Jersey. Registered as a National Seashore, the peninsula is separated from the mainland by the estuary of the Shrewsbury River. On its western side, the peninsula encloses Sandy Hook Bay, a triangular arm of Raritan Bay.

Coast Guard Base Sandy Hook pier lay in ruins in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, forcing cutters Sailfish and Bainbridge Island to relocate to Bayonne, N.J. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. Katherine Ustler.

Coast Guard Base Sandy Hook pier lay in ruins in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, forcing cutters Sailfish and Bainbridge Island to relocate to Bayonne, N.J. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. Katherine Ustler.

Coast Guard units have been stationed at the 1,665-acre peninsula since 1848 when the first Life-Saving Service station was built there. The location offers an operational advantage, allowing boat crews to respond to nearby waterways and cutters to quickly deploy offshore to assist mariners in distress.

As Hurricane Sandy gained strength progressing up the eastern seaboard, Sector New York ordered the evacuation of Sandy Hook assets, members and their families. Station crews relocated their boats on the Hudson River and cutters Sailfish and Bainbridge Island evacuated to ride out the storm near the George Washington Bridge.

“It was hard to be away from our families at this time, especially since they had to evacuate,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Tab Parker, operations petty officer for Sailfish. “Our families stayed with friends or in hotels – we made sure they were safe and felt comfortable to ride out the storm before we got underway.”

From the Hudson River, crews stood watch as Hurricane Sandy approached New York. Gusting over 90 miles per hour at times, power was lost to much of the city and Manhattan’s skyline darkened. As the storm raged overhead, the Sailfish crew was called to respond. Sector New York watchstanders requested them to investigate a report of a pier collapse near Gravesend Bay, a 13-mile transit into the wind. The cutter crew battled 6 to 10-foot seas and large debris to arrive but observed no signs of distress.

“It was one of the scariest transits we had ever seen – dodging entire trees to get on scene,” said Lt. Katherine Ustler, commanding officer of Sailfish.

The Coast Guard Cutter Sailfish, homeported in Sandy Hook, N.J., patrols through New York Harbor. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Annie R. Berlin.

The Coast Guard Cutter Sailfish, homeported in Sandy Hook, N.J., patrols through New York Harbor. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Annie R. Berlin.

Once the storm had passed, Coast Guard crews were ready for long days ahead as there was much work to do. The Sailfish was underway immediately following the storm and began patrolling the coastline to search for people in the water. As criminal activity increased after the storm, cutters were called to conduct law enforcement and anti-looting patrols. Another priority for cutter crews was marine safety, as New York Harbor was littered with large and dangerous debris like derelict boats, tree trunks and displaced buoys.

As crews returned, storm waters still gushed from the badly eroded beach to see their Sandy hook unit and homes had been nearly wiped out. Vehicles were found almost piled atop one another completely destroyed. The boathouse, station and sections of Coast Guard housing had a water line that extended five feet from the floor. Some members and their families realized the sinking feeling they couldn’t return home and were now homeless. The ‘hook’ was lost.

“We didn’t expect to see our pier on the beach,” said Ustler. “The damage was much worse than we could have imagined.”

Their homeport was destroyed and the crews and families of Coast Guard cutters Bainbridge Island and Sailfish recovered what they could: personal records, family photo albums and other valuables, and moved to their temporary homeport in Bayonne, N.J.

Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team New York, cutters Sturgeon Bay, Penobscot Bay, Line and Hawser, all homeported in Bayonne, welcomed they’re new neighbors.

While Coast Guard units were forced to evacuate Sandy Hook, response plans have been established to keep the waters safe in the area. Coast Guard cutters continue to patrol the area, helicopter crews still perform over-flights and station boats are at the ready nearby. Longstanding partnerships with local law enforcement also work to keep the ‘hook’ safe.

“Sandy Hook is a hidden gem, nearly surrounded by the ocean – a small base so everyone knows each other,” said Ustler. “It’s home and we look forward to the day when we can return.”

Capt. Tim Heitsch, commander, Coast Guard Base Boston, and Mrs. Linda Papp observe damage to Station Sandy Hook housing. Papp met with members from Station Sandy Hook and toured the unit and housing, which sustained damage from Hurricane Sandy. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jetta H. Disco.

Capt. Tim Heitsch, commander, Coast Guard Base Boston, and Mrs. Linda Papp observe damage to Station Sandy Hook housing. Papp met with members from Station Sandy Hook and toured the unit and housing, which sustained damage from Hurricane Sandy. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jetta H. Disco.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/harry0354 Carolynne Harte Sehn

    This is where my son is stationed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/harry0354 Carolynne Harte Sehn

    The base remains un-liveable, as does the housing on the hook. So many displaced family’s, it’s truly sad . :(

  • Anonymous

    I am very sad to see the damage done to Sandy Hook. My son-in-law was stationed there shortly after my daughter and he were married. It holds a special place in my heart. They are also saddened by the damage as they know some of the people stationed there now. Stay strong Sandy Hook will be restored and the people will return.

  • Shanna Maz

    This was our previous homeport. It deeply saddens me to see the damage that has occurred. I hope that they are able to pick up the pieces and revive this very special place. My family enjoyed 2 years there and I would go back in a heartbeat. There is nothing like walking out to the ocean and seeing the Empire State building and NYC skyline… seeing the birds, and gathering the seaglass off the shore. :)

  • JJ

    Coast Guard SELECTIVELY takes care of their own. They left me to hang out and dry, after I was injured while on duty, I was unable to perform my civilian job, which I became laid off from, a few weeks after injury…the USCG policy is if there is no lost income…they have no obligation…mean while, I am injured – unable to apply for new job until healed – and living off my credit card – TRUE Story. as I will soon loose my home. Semper Paradus !

  • http://www.facebook.com/bernieusnret4211 Bernard Henri Eldredge Usn-ret

    do you all have a place to stay,

  • http://www.facebook.com/bernieusnret4211 Bernard Henri Eldredge Usn-ret

    we will be here on staten island till april,have one spare bedroom twin beds.

  • BrRobertNapolitanoSchwehr

    I hate to do this,based on my previous comments about the VA,but maybe they can help,I was in a similar situation 30 years ago and they came through for me big time.As you well know theCoast Guard is tight with funding of any kind and has always been that way,but they do document service and medical records well.I hope this helps.The granting of compensation by a grateful nation for services rendered is a value all at the Coast Guard embrace but true some of us get dealt a bad hand sometimes even by those closest to us.The VA medical system may need an overhaul and we are working on that but the Compensation regulations have come a long way since the Vietnam War,thanks to concerned vets .

  • BrRobertNapolitanoSchwehr

    Sir,try the VA the regulations on Compensation have come a long way since the Vietnam War thanks to the activity of our fellow veterans and their advocacy groups.The Coast Guard is notorious for underfunding personnel,but as you know that is not entirely the CG’s fault.I was in a similar situation some 30 years ago and the CG’S medical staff documented my condition,treatment and injuries quite well,sorry for your very real emotional distress and that of all Coast Guardsmen and fellow Americans in the captioned Sandy Hook area.Sometimes things can really seem to get the best of us at times,but take courage things are never as bad as they seem……learned that at the school of hard knocks,you are one of us and we will never turn our backs on you.Thank you for your honorable service in the Coast Guard we all know that is never easy.