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Training Vital at Little Creek Coast Guard Station

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va., Sept. 22, 2004 – The scene in a Coast Guard recruiting commercial where a cutter disappears under rolling 20-foot waves in rough seas and miraculously reappears would unnerve the most seasoned boater, but Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Ben Harper doesn't give such perilous situations much thought.

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Coast Guard Station Little Creek, located on the naval amphibious base at Virginia Beach, Va., was rebuilt and renamed in 1995. The station, which replaced the old Cape Henry Station, has a 24-hour communications center, a full-service kitchen, an exercise facility, and sleeping berths for several Coast Guard members. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA

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That's the kind of fun and excitement that Coast Guard members crave, he said.

"I'm sure anyone would be nervous," he said, explaining about the danger Coast Guard members face at sea. "But this is what we train for. This is our job. That's what we do."

Mostly what they do at Coast Guard Station Little Creek is rescue boaters at sea. But the mission there also involves maritime law-enforcement and homeland- security patrols.

To support those missions, training is a big part of the job as well, said Coast Guard Senior Chief Petty Officer Gordon Muse, who is the base's top enlisted man. "If we are not doing missions, then training is very big," he explains. "If there's nothing else to do, then we do training."

It's especially important to train in bad weather, Muse said, particularly with the 47-foot heavy-weather boat that's seen in the commercial. The boat is nearly indestructible, and designed to handle 30-foot seas and a 20-foot breaking surf.

"You want to train in the environment you're going to be in," he said. "In other words, you don't want to wait until it's 2 o'clock in the morning in a storm to be out in 6- to 8-foot Seas. So when you get the opportunity you try to go out in it."

However, around the Chesapeake Bay, the weather is fairly good and the seas relatively calm most days. And, Harper said, the opportunities to train in rough seas are few. Even in bad conditions, the waves reach only about 8 to 10 feet, he said.

"That's not bad," Harper said, sounding disappointed. "You go to the West Coast and you've got 20- to 30-foot seas. Cape Hatteras in North Carolina has got big seas, too."

On this day there is barely a ripple in the sea, or Harper's enthusiasm, as the Little Creek crew's training will be to assist the Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba from Boston in a towing exercise. The exercise is part of the Escanaba's annual efficiency evaluation.

During the exercise the heavy-weather boat is playing the role of a stalled vessel that's taking on water. The Escanaba's crew must board the heavy-weather boat, set up a pump to empty water out of the stalled vessel's engine room, and then tow the vessel to safety.

"Today's training seemed a little boring, because we were just the platform for the Escanaba's training," Muse explained. "We were only there to assist in their training. But it was good that our crew got to see how the large cutter operates."

The day's training promised to get a bit more thrilling when a Coast Guard helicopter arrived to conduct hoisting exercises.

Back at the station, the majority of calls coming into the station's communications center were from boaters whose crafts had stalled in the Chesapeake Bay. Harper said summer is busy time at the station because the bay is a major fishing and recreational boating area.

Coast Guard Station Little Creek's area of operation extends 50 miles off shore, from the York River to the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, and covers all the way down to the Virginia/North Carolina border.

During daylight hours, most calls from distressed boaters are routed to the Virginia Beach Police Department, which has its own boat patrol, or to one of several private companies that offer towing and recovery services.

Coast Guard Station Little Creek, meanwhile, handles serious calls that come in at night. "It's usually bad weather or the worst-case scenario when we get called out," Harper pointed out.

That's when their bad-weather training pays off. "When it's the worst conditions and nobody wants to be out here, we have to be," Harper emphasized. "We go out when other people don't want to.

"You've got to remember that people are depending on you. And that if it's that rough and you're going out, you're going for a reason and that's to save lives."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA 47-foot heavy-weather boat from Coast Guard Station Little Creek, Va., heads out to sea to take part in a towing exercise with another Coast Guard vessel. The heavy-weather boat is the "workhorse" of the station. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imagePetty Officer 3rd Class Rita Owens escorts a 47-foot heavy- weather boat to sea during a recent towing exercise. The exercise gave Owens a chance to practice her boating skills. Photo by Sgt 1st Class Doug Sample, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDuring a towing exercise with the Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba, Coast Guard Senior Chief Petty Officer Gordon Muse explains the scenario to the Escanaba's crew. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA  
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