Donnie Karpman's Still Eager to Learn
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 14, 2002 Every Thursday, 60-year-old Donnie Karpman stands watch at U.S. Coast Guard Station Annapolis, Md., on the Chesapeake Bay.
He gets up extra early to drive from his home in Laurel, Md., to the station, near Thomas Point Light. He gets the coffee going, checks the logs, changes the bulletin board posting the tides, and mans the shortwave radio.
"I free up a regular for the whole day," Karpman explained. "I stay until 4, and sometimes beyond until they can get a relief, if they're running a case and they're short of staff."
For the past 16 years, Karpman has been a volunteer member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. Since he's available to fill in each week, Coast Guard members at the Annapolis station can plan to do other duties or go to training. They know Karpman's reliable.
"Thursday is my day," he said. "I go in, unless I'm in the hospital or something. Thanksgiving -- it's Thursday, I go in. I go in at Christmas and help so the regular Coasties can have a day off."
Since last year's Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he said, his volunteer work has become even more critical. Since the attack, he noted, 22 auxiliary volunteers have gone through training to become 'watch standers.' Another 10 are now in training.
When people call the Coast Guard to ask what they can do to help, Karpman said, Coast Guard officials refer them to the auxiliary if they're not eligible to enlist.
"Quite a few people have joined as a result of 9/11," he said. "Some are retired Coasties. They want to give back."
Karpman's family moved to Maryland from New York when he was 10. He joined the auxiliary after taking a boating safety class conducted by the group. At first he volunteered a small number of hours, but he got "hooked," he said. He enjoyed the camaraderie and the chance to learn. He also had more time to devote to the group once he retired early from the Central Intelligence Agency.
"To me, it's a good learning experience," he said. "Being around the regulars at the station, you learn a lot. Learning keeps me sharper. I just know more, and to know more, I can do more, and do it right.
"Instead of blundering," he added with a smile, "I blunder 'better' with some more education toward doing a better job. I strive to do a better job."
Over the years, Karpman qualified as an auxiliary instructor and then as a crew member on water patrols. Standards are high, he noted.
"You have to be mentored and signed off by an examiner who's been on the water for years," he said. "We use the same manual that the regular Coast Guard does, but we don't have to do some of the tasks and we don't get involved at all in law enforcement."
Auxiliary members often use their own boats while working with the Coast Guard to do safety, regatta and fireworks patrols. Karpman offered up his 30-foot express cruiser for volunteer duty as an 'auxiliary facility.' "You have to go through some stringent inspections, more so than just a recreational boater," he said.
Out on the water, he said, the auxiliary crews put signs on their boats that say "U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Patrol." "We fly a large flag with the orange stripe, so we're noticeable out there," Karpman said. Members of the group always wear life jackets to make a statement about safety, he said, noting that "99 percent of the people boating don't wear life jackets."
Over the years, Karpman has climbed the auxiliary ranks to his current position as vice commodore. His volunteer duties now include setting up training workshops and conferences, writing articles and providing administrative support at the auxiliary's national office at U.S. Coast Guard headquarters here in Washington.
Karpman proudly points out that he designed and had a memorial produced for the Coast Guard's shore activities office. He helped get Maryland's natural resource police and other agencies involved in the auxiliary's vessel safety check program.
On average, he volunteers 50 to 60 hours a week without pay. "I find myself sometimes on a more stringent schedule, now that I'm into the heavy volunteering side of it, than when I was working," he said. "My wife sometimes thinks I go overboard.
"I do it because I enjoy it," Karpman said. "There's a M.A.S.H. episode where Maj. Burns was confined to his tent and Hawkeye stood there making fun of him, saying 'I can step in and I can step out.' That's the role of a volunteer. If I don't enjoy it, I can step out the door. I don't have to do it."
Some days are frustrating, he said, but never to the point where he wants to step out. "I enjoy making new friends. It's more than friends, it's a family, too. You become very close to your fellow volunteers."