Shipmate of the Week – Charles Zerbe

On behalf of the American Society of Naval Engineers, Rear Adm. Ronald Rábago, assistant commandant for engineering and logistics, presents the Frank C. Jones Award to Charles Zerbe. Photo courtesy of the American Society of Naval Engineers.

On behalf of the American Society of Naval Engineers, Rear Adm. Ronald Rábago, assistant commandant for engineering and logistics, presents the Frank C. Jones Award to Charles Zerbe. Photo courtesy of the American Society of Naval Engineers.

With contributions from Dottie Mitchell.

For more than a century, U.S. Coast Guard Yard workers have built, repaired and renovated ships. A major part of this century-long tradition is Charles Zerbe, a 48-year veteran of federal service at the yard.

A native of Baltimore, Zerbe began his employment at the yard in 1965 as a shipfitter helper. Due to his leadership abilities and skills he was promoted many times and ultimately reached the level of the highest graded civil service employee at the yard, production manager.

Zerbe is responsible for all shipyard planning and production. This includes new boat construction, cutter modernization and ship repair and renovation. He also leads the yard’s project management staff and four groups of marine-related trades – structural, mechanical, electrical and services – that encompass 19 shops and 450 personnel. Under Zerbe’s leadership, more than 450 cutter repair and renovation projects were completed, worth more than $1.5 billion and comprising nearly 10 percent of all major repair work and nearly all renovation work conducted by the Coast Guard to its fleet of cutters and boats.

The yard production team in 2013. Pictured left to right are: Rodger Pugh, Donald Shields, John Downes, Ron Viands and Charles Zerbe. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The yard production team in 2013. Pictured left to right are: Rodger Pugh, Donald Shields, John Downes, Ron Viands and Charles Zerbe. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

These projects included construction on the numerous midlife and service life extensions to the patrol boat and medium endurance cutter fleets – necessary for our crews to accomplish vital Coast Guard missions. His oversight directly impacts the Coast Guard’s ability to execute missions such as search and rescue, drug interdiction, fisheries protection and anti-terrorism.

Zerbe’s work at the yard is not only in repairs and renovations, however. He is an instrumental part in the development of yard employees.

“There are very few Coast Guard naval engineers that have not been mentored in some way by Charlie – whether sitting across the table from him during a drydock availability progress meeting, in his employ, or as his supervisor,” said Cmdr. Matthew Lake, the yard’s industrial manager. “In all cases, he provided sage counsel and demonstrated extraordinary professional and technical expertise.”

Zerbe was also instrumental in developing the next generation of civilian employees at the yard by implementing a “trades training” program in a partnership with a local community college.

With close to five decades at the yard, Zerbe has witnessed the respective leadership styles of about 20 commanding officers. Zerbe’s committed, lasting presence provides stability through these transitions.

“We all come in with new ideas and different areas of emphasis changing the direction of the command every few years,” said Capt. George Lesher, the yard’s current commanding officer. “In my three years of working with Charlie, he has always listened patiently to my ideas, provided feedback and then implemented and supported them with the workforce. His patience and willingness to work with and mentor the active duty folks who come and go continues to amaze me.”

“As I have gotten smarter, I now ask Charlie first – did we try this before and if so, how did it turn out and why?” added Lesher.

Coast Guard Cutter Capstan undergoes critical emergency repair at the yard. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Coast Guard Cutter Capstan undergoes critical emergency repair at the yard. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Zerbe recently received the prestigious Frank C. Jones Award from the American Society of Naval Engineers. He is the first Coast Guard recipient of the award that has been bestowed by ASNE since 2006 for excellence in naval engineering. He joins the company of other awardees including high-ranking military and civil service naval engineers.

His years of service are impressive and any awards or accolades are certainly deserved. But perhaps the most notable of all of Zerbe’s achievements is his impact on the next generation of naval engineers.

“Through Charlie’s tremendous skill and dedication, he has kept Coast Guard vessels operating safely and efficiently all around the globe, and passed his knowledge on to others who will continue this work far into the future,” said Lake. “There are few other leaders in Coast Guard naval engineering that have had such a profound and long-lasting impact to our service and our country.”

Do you know a Shipmate that has done something great for the service, the missions or the public? Please submit your nominations using the “Submit Ideas” link on the right.

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  • Joseph Brown

    As a retired member of the Soc. of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers I congratulate Mr. Zerbe on a career of getting the vessels of the U. S. C. G. out of the yard and into the water in a reliable and safe manner because as we all know Coast Guard Cutters go in “Harms Way” every day to serve and save lives!