The Colossus of Cape Disappointment

Over the next week, Compass will be featuring men and women who operate in the Pacific Northwest. From Lt. Adriana Knies, an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter pilot, and Chief Petty Officer Joel Sayers, a Coast Guard rescue swimmer, to Petty Officer 1st Class Nathan Burns, a boatswain’s mate and surfman, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Rashad Gipson, an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crewman and aviation maintenance technician. Each will be highlighted, along with their shipmates, in the upcoming season of The Weather Channel’s new series Coast Guard Cape Disappointment Pacific Northwest.

Written by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jordan Akiyama.

There are many different types of leaders. Some lead by example, while others inspire by their words. One thing they all have in common is that they all draw upon their past experiences to help guide those under them to success.

Lt. Scott McGrew is the commanding officer of Coast Guard Station Cape Disappointment in Ilwaco, Wash. Originally from Youngstown, Ohio, McGrew enlisted during his senior year of high school to become a boatswain’s mate in the Coast Guard.

“I grew up fishing and boating on Lake Erie and often saw the Coast Guard operating out of Station Marblehead in western Lake Erie,” said McGrew. “When I went to the recruiter’s office, I saw a pamphlet that had a picture of a 44-foot [motor life boat] crashing through the surf. I told the recruiter that day that I wanted to do whatever that guy was doing.”

Lt. Scott McGrew, commanding officer of Station Cape Disappointment. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Lt. Scott McGrew, commanding officer of Station Cape Disappointment. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

As a boatswain’s mate, McGrew certified as a heavy weather coxswain on a 47-foot motor lifeboat, while assigned to Station Fairport, Ohio, before attending the National Motor Lifeboat School at Cape Disappointment.

“Coming out to the National Motor Lifeboat School here at Cape D really reinforced my desire to be a surfman,” said McGrew. “I transferred to Cape D as an experienced coxswain and was given a tremendous opportunity to become a surfman. I had some great teachers when I was here.”

McGrew was fortunate to have many mentors guide him in the direction he wanted his career to go. They helped him qualify as a coxswain, taught him what it meant to be a surfman and showed him the many paths he could take in his career. A close shipmate of McGrew’s even helped inspire him in making the switch from enlisted to officer.

“Lt. Cmdr. Jamie Frederick would eventually be my commanding officer at Cape Disappointment,” said McGrew. “Seeing him leave as a machinery technician and head to Officer Candidate School really inspired me to follow in his footsteps. I was perfectly happy living the typical surfman career, but I felt like I could really make a positive impact by going to OCS.”

Even when McGrew made the choice to go to OCS, he hoped to one day return to the unpredictable waters of Cape Disappointment.

“I dreamed of coming back to Cape D,” said McGrew. “As far as the chances of that happening, it really was just that, a dream. It takes so many things coming together. There are so few lieutenant commanding officer jobs that they are very competitive.”

As fate would have it, McGrew eventually did come back to Cape Disappointment as the commanding officer. Whether a person believes in happenstance or destiny, they can’t argue that McGrew was best fit for this commanding job.

“I feel that I can relate to the crew better than if I didn’t have a station background,” said McGrew. “With the exception of the chiefs, I have been in the shoes of everyone at the station. I shined brass, stood communications watch and went through all the same break-in processes they are going through. Most of the mistakes you could make, I made at some point in time.”

Because of his experience and knowledge of being a surfman, McGrew is in the best position to guide those under his command. However, every great leader is supported by a great cast whom they can teach and learn from as well.

Lt. Scott McGrew in the surf at Station Cape Disappointment. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Lt. Scott McGrew in the surf at Station Cape Disappointment. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

“I try to spend a good bit of my time with the chief’s mess, helping them become better chiefs and Coast Guardsmen while also learning from them each day,” said McGrew. “Just because I was prior enlisted does not mean I have the wisdom and experience of the chiefs. I am truly blessed by the chief petty officers assigned to Station Cape Disappointment. I’m not sure there is a better group around.”

Even with the weight of command on his shoulders, McGrew remains a surfman at heart. Being a surfman can be a risky job, but even with the hazards that may come with that job, McGrew chooses to lead by example.

“He is only required to attain crewman status on the boats, however, he recertified as a surfman,” said Chief Petty Officer Thomas Molloy, a boatswain’s mate and executive petty officer at Cape Disappointment. “For him to put his career out as an officer, it inspires the crew. He is a true master of his craft because he serves as an example. He’s out doing cases, running search and rescue and I think people respect him for it.”

Even with all the challenges that may come with becoming a surfman, McGrew reassures aspiring surfmen that it is a job with great rewards.

“Nothing is more exciting than putting an MLB in a surf zone and rescuing someone,” said McGrew. “Pulling people out of the water, or getting a boat across a rough bar is very rewarding.”

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