The next time you are walking along an ocean beach or enjoying the tranquil waters of a large inland river or an expansive lake and see a low flying plane traverse the sky overhead, chances are you are looking at a Coast Guard Auxiliary aircraft. Their history goes back to WWII.
The Coast Guard has seen service since the Revolutionary War. However, it has always been the smallest of our military organizations. In 1939, Congress saw a need to expand Coast Guard personnel and formed a Coast Guard Reserve unit. Those first 50,000 men and women were all volunteers who not only donated their time, but donated their motorboats and yachts toward the goal of assisting and educating the boating public about “safe boating.” The intent was to free up active Coast Guard members so that they could pursue more military operations.
WWII made Congress realize that the volunteer reserves would need to be made more permit and so, five days after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, legislation was enacted that reformed the US Coast Guard Reserve into a military organization and the remaining non-military group was renamed the Coast Guard Auxiliary. The Auxiliary, although strictly volunteers, patrolled beaches on foot and on horseback during WWII for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They used their vessels to patrol the Eastern seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico in the pursuit and detection of German U-boats and on the Pacific side to detect Japanese submarines. During this critical period, the Auxiliary leaders continuously sought to gain approval to add aircraft and marine radios into their arsenal of equipment to assist the Coast Guard. Finally, in September of 1944, Congress passed legislation that permitted the Auxiliary to utilize privately owned aircraft and marine radios to augment the Coast Guard’s efforts to protect America.
Ever since that day in September of 1944, Coast Guard Auxiliary Air members have donated millions of hours of air time and millions of dollars’ worth of aircraft equipment to benefit the American boating community.
The roll of the Coast Guard Auxiliary Air is not widely known to the public but it is as much a viable part of the Auxiliary as is the surface (water) arm that supports the Coast Guard. Here in District 7, which covers Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Auxiliary aircraft and crews fly over 2,000 hours per month on critical surveillance missions. The aircraft in use range from single engine and multi-engine, to helicopters and to jets. All of the privately owned aircraft are maintained and operated in strict compliance with Coast Guard and FAA requirements.
Routine patrols are carried out seven days a week, usually without encountering anything unusual. But sometimes, those patrols take an unexpected turn. Recently, crew members on a routine Auxiliary Air patrol heard a “Mayday” call from pilot stating that his aircraft had engine trouble and was going down. The situation was bad, but even worse; the single engine plane was going down into the ocean two miles west of Andros, Bahamas.
The Auxiliary Air (AuxAir) patrol radioed location coordinates to the Miami Coast Guard Air Station. A MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Station Clearwater, Fla., and a HC-144 Ocean Sentry fixed-wing aircraft from Coast Guard Air Station Miami quickly deployed. Thanks to the “routine patrol” of AuxAir, the father and daughter aboard the downed aircraft were located and safely hoisted into the Coast Guard helicopter and transported to Nassau, Bahamas for medical treatment. Fortunately, neither one of the survivors suffered any injuries.
Here in Southwest Florida, routine patrols are carried out by AuxAir personnel who live in Naples, Fort Myers and Buckingham. They fly a route from Tampa, down through Marco Island, over the 10,000 islands and finally to Flamingo, Fla. It is obvious from the air that if boaters or kayakers were in need of assistance, the only way they might be spotted is from that
small plane that routinely passes overhead.
The men and women who fly Coast Guard Auxiliary air patrols come from all walks of life, but they have one thing in common; they are dedicated to protecting the boating public and of keeping a pledge they have made to help secure their country.
It is a proud tradition and a worthy mission. Like their shipmates on the water, the Coast Guard Auxiliary Air is Semper Paratus: Always ready.
Constance O. Irvin is a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and routinely flys as aircrew for the Auxiliary.