Taking the Plunge: MCPOCG’s Leadership … on Ice

Post written by: PAC John Masson, D9 External Affairs Division

ESSEXVILLE, Mich. - A crewmember from Station/Aids-to-Navigation Team Saginaw River prepares to retrieve Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Michael Leavitt from the ice during an ice rescue demonstration near the station, in Essexville, Mich., Feb. 9, 2012. Leavitt's visit to STANT Saginaw, home to the Coast Guard's Ice Capabilities Center of Excellence, was part of a larger visit to several Coast Guard units in Michigan to become more familiar with their missions. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer John Masson

An unusual winter has meant unusual measures at the Ice Capabilities Center of Excellence at Coast Guard Station/Aids-to-Navigation Team Saginaw River, in Essexville, Mich.

The Coast Guard’s official motto is “Semper Paratus,” which is Latin for “Always Ready.”  It is less well-known that a tongue-in-cheek, unofficial motto in the service is “Semper Gumby” and reminds crews that they have to be “Always Flexible.”

Flexibility recently came in handy for crewmembers who had to improvise during a visit by Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Michael P. Leavitt on Feb. 9, 2012.  Leavitt, the 11th master chief petty officer of the Coast Guard, stopped by for a look at their operations, specifically their ice rescue expertise and ice rescue airboats.

Weather conditions have been so unusual in Michigan this year that the thick, stable ice that trainers at the center can usually count on has been largely absent. So, when it came time for Leavitt to get a first-hand look at ice rescue training, the one place available to demonstrate techniques was the boatslip adjacent to the station.

That’s where Leavitt found himself floating in a survival suit, awaiting rescue by members of the station’s crew.

First, Leavitt got an insider’s tour of the facilities, learning about some of the unique challenges facing a combination small boat station and aids-to-navigation station that also trains Coast Guardsmen from around the country in the latest ice rescue techniques.

Of particular interest to Leavitt was the station’s wide variety of vessel types, including a 20-foot airboat, a rescue platform used primarily for Great Lakes ice rescues but one that also has been deployed throughout the country, including to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf Coast and to flooding on inland rivers.

“I can’t sell this boat up enough,” Master Chief Petty Officer Gerald Backus, officer-in-charge of STANT Saginaw River, told Leavitt. “It’s saved so many lives.”

The visit was an interesting one for members of the station’s crew.

“We get a lot of people coming in all the time to get a look at our operations,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Greg Torrey, who helped Leavitt with the proper fit of his survival suit.

But it’s not every day that one of those visitors is the senior enlisted member of the Coast Guard. And in the end, said Petty Officer 3rd Class Larry Williams, the message came down to leadership.

“He was saying we should all grow to be leaders for our shipmates,” Williamson said of Leavitt’s visit. “We each need to lead by example. I see our own master chief, and how he’s a great leader – but it’s not about just telling you to go do something, without also actually showing you how it’s done.”

ESSEXVILLE, Mich. - Petty Officer 2nd Class Greg Torrey helps Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Michael Leavitt into a survival suit prior to ice rescue training at Station/Aids-to-Navigation Team Saginaw River in Essexville, Mich., Feb. 9, 2012. Leavitt's visit to STANT Saginaw, home to the Coast Guard's Ice Capabilities Center of Excellence, was part of a larger visit to several Coast Guard units in Michigan to become more familiar with their missions. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer John Masson

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