In service to others: Coast Guard cutter crew lends a helping hand

A group of volunteers from U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Kukui pose with members of the local community outside Prince Wellington Ngu Hospital in Vava’u, Tonga, March 17, 2016. Crewmembers spent time cleaning and donated cleaning supplies to the local hospital. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Melissa E. McKenzie.

A group of volunteers from U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Kukui pose with members of the local community outside Prince Wellington Ngu Hospital in Vava’u, Tonga, March 17, 2016. Crewmembers spent time cleaning and donated cleaning supplies to the local hospital.

Story and photos by Petty Officer 2nd Class Melissa E. McKenzie

U.S. Coast Guardsmen drenched in sweat drift in and out of barren hospital rooms carrying rags and water buckets as the uplifting sound of a nearby chorus wafts through the jalousie windows carrying smells of insect repellant and disinfectant spray.

Mahatma Gandhi once said the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. He believed that serving the needs of others better served humanity.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Ellis Thorne, a boatswain’s mate, cleans children's beds at Prince Wellington Ngu Hospital in Vava’u, Tonga, March 17, 2016. During a port visit, the crew of U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Kukui spent time cleaning the local hospital in addition to donating cleaning supplies. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Melissa E. McKenzie.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Ellis Thorne, a boatswain’s mate, cleans children’s beds at Prince Wellington Ngu Hospital in Vava’u, Tonga, March 17, 2016.

That spirit of selfless service is a driving force for many who join the Coast Guard. They join not only to serve their country, but also to serve those in need, even when their very lives are at stake.

But serving others isn’t always as glamorous as jumping out of helicopters. The crew of Coast Guard Cutter Kukui knows a little something about that.

While the Kukui crew was conducting a patrol in the Central and Western Pacific Ocean, an opportunity to help others presented itself and they jumped at the chance.

While on a port visit in the Kingdom of Tonga, an archipelago of 176 islands with a population of 100,000, a group of more than 20 volunteers brought supplies from the ship and spent time cleaning at the Prince Wellington Ngu Hospital in Vava’u.

USCGC Kukui crew volunteers in Vava'u, TongaSevere weather throughout the Tongan islands, most notably Tropical Cyclone Winston which impacted Vava’u in February, has left the remote island in a state of recovery.

“We don’t have materials for cleaning,” said Dr. John Lee, one of the doctors at the hospital. “Our budget is not enough for us to buy all the cleaning supplies, so this is really helpful.”

Situated nearly 3,000 miles from Hawaii in the town of Talau, the district hospital is home to 40 beds and two doctors. They provide services to the people of northern Tonga for minor cases including the delivery of babies. More severe cases are referred to the hospital on Tongatapu.

“I felt it was a very rewarding experience,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Lana Port, a yeoman aboard Kukui. “I enjoy the humanitarian aspect of our service the most, so to be able to take the time to give back to other communities and countries that may not be as blessed as we are is what I joined for. That’s what it’s all about.”

Crewmembers from U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Kukui clean the louvers at Prince Wellington Ngu Hospital in Vava’u, Tonga, March 17, 2016. During a port visit, volunteers cleaned the local hospital and donated cleaning supplies. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Melissa E. McKenzie.

Crewmembers from U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Kukui clean the louvers at Prince Wellington Ngu Hospital in Vava’u, Tonga, March 17, 2016.

When deploying to the remote Pacific, Coast Guard crews make an effort to conduct these kinds of partnership activities as a way to improve the interoperability of the region’s military forces, governments, and humanitarian organizations while providing humanitarian, medical, dental, and engineering or logistical assistance to nations of the Pacific, and strengthening relationships and security ties between the nations.

“I took away a sense of gratification to see the number of our crew who came out to volunteer,” said Lt. Robert Stebe, executive officer of Kukui. “I was happy to see everyone jump right in and do the work. It also gives me a good indication of the quality of people we have. You truly learn a lot about their personal commitment to humanity when doing things like this.”

Kukui is a 225-foot sea going buoy tender homeported in Honolulu. The crew recently conducted a 36-day law enforcement and fisheries patrol in the Pacific Ocean.

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