Coast Guard Chiefs Hand-Deliver Flags Flown Over Deployed Coast Guard Cutter to VA medical center

CLEVELAND — Master Chief Petty Officer Jeff Waters, command master chief of Coast Guard Base Cleveland, presents a Coast Guard ensign to Sean Nelson, deputy director of the Louis Stokes Veterans Affairs Medical Center, in one of the medical center's dining facilities on March 23, 2012. Chief petty officers assigned to Cleveland area Coast Guard units presented the ensign along with a national ensign that flew aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Aquidneck, deployed to the Arabian Gulf. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Kyle Niemi

Within military branches, senior enlisted members are relied on to be the authority on many things: each individual’s technical trade; personnel and administrative matters; customs and protocol, etc.

When someone is looking for answers or the solution to a complicated problem, a common phrase to help guide them is “Ask the Chief.”

CLEVELAND — Chief Petty Officer Thomas Dukes, Coast Guard Base Cleveland, thanks Reginald Reese for his service after chief petty officers from Cleveland area units took a tour of the Louis Stokes Veterans Affairs Medical Center on March 23, 2012.U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Kyle Niemi

Well, when the staff at Cleveland’s Louis Stokes Veterans Affairs Medical Center was looking for something from the U.S. Coast Guard, they went straight to the chief — Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Michael P. Leavitt.

To create a new display for the VA medical center’s Spinal Cord Injury/Disorder Unit, physical therapist Todd Anderson was looking to obtain flags flown over military units in theaters overseas.  Anderson, a Marine Corps veteran himself, submitted requests through all five services.

When the request reached Leavitt’s office, it was forwarded to Base Cleveland, where Senior Chief Petty Officer Scott Ayriss took it for action.

Ayriss contacted Master Chief Petty Officer Rodney Storle, command master chief of Coast Guard Patrol Forces Southwest Asia, headquartered in the Kingdom of Bahrain, who acted as the project officer overseas.

Storle coordinated with the crew of Coast Guard Cutter Aquidneck, a 110-foot patrol boat, to obtain a national ensign and Coast Guard ensign that flew over the ship during operations in the Arabian Gulf.

Ayriss, along with about a dozen other chief petty officers, senior chief petty officers and master chief petty officers from Cleveland area units, took part in a brief ceremony March 23 and presented the flags to Sean Nelson, deputy medical center director.

CLEVELAND - Darold Bowers (seated), a patient at the Louis Stokes Veterans Affairs Medical Center, talks to chief petty officers from Cleveland area Coast Guard units as they took a tour of the facility on March 23, 2012.Bowers is a World War II veteran who deployed to Germany with the Third Army, under the command of Gen. George S. Patton.U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Kyle Niemi

They also presented a framed picture, which depicted the crew of cutter Aquidneck posing with the flag, and a certificate to certify that the flags flew over the cutter in January 2012.

“I feel it was a great way for the Coast Guard and VA to come together to honor our veterans and show that we appreciate everything that they’ve done for us,” said Nelson.

After the flag presentation, the chiefs took in a tour of the medical center, including their prosthetics lab and their renovated physical therapy center.

Ayriss enjoyed talking to Darold Bowers, a World War II veteran, who deployed to Germany with Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army.

“It was definitely great to talk to somebody who stomped the same grounds that I did when I was in the Army (in the 1980s).”  Ayriss remembered seeing many remnants of Patton’s forces, including artillery pillboxes and entrenchments that are still maintained out of respect for the liberating forces.

Ayriss was impressed by the medical center’s facilities and how the staff treats the veterans in its care.

“The prosthetics lab was quite informative and impressive, that they produce all the pieces there on site,” he said.

“We’re treating our veterans the way we should be — with superior care, superior facilities, and superior staff.”

UMM QASR, Iraq — The command and crew of Coast Guard Cutter Aquidneck pose with a national ensign that flew over their unit, as well as an Iraqi flag, in Umm Qasr, Iraq, on May 25, 2011. The crew of the 110-foot patrol boat is deployed to the Arabian Gulf as part of Coast Guard Patrol Forces Southwest Asia. U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy cutter Aquidneck