Coast Guard weathers the shutdown

Offers of aid came from all segments of the community
By Stephen Betts | Jan 31, 2019
Photo by: Fran Gonzalez Retired Air Force Major Christopher Carroll of Rockland stands at the intersection of High and Main streets in Belfast to show support for the Coast Guard, whose members continued to work without pay during the government shutdown.

Belfast — Congress and the White House reached a deal Jan. 25 to temporarily end the longest U.S. government shutdown in history.

This means paychecks will be issued for federal workers, many of whom have been required to work without pay for five weeks.

The agreement comes as the local community's effort to help those not receiving paychecks expanded.

The pact, announced by President Donald Trump from the Rose Garden, would reopen closed government departments for three weeks while leaving the issue of $5.7 billion for the U.S.-Mexico border wall to further talks.

Trump said that a congressional conference committee would spent the next three weeks working in a bipartisan fashion to come up with a border security package.

There are more than 100 Coast Guard crew members based in Rockland and 12 in Belfast.

Rockland has been designated a Coast Guard City since 2008 because of its support for and close ties to the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard has been located on the Tillson Avenue peninsula since shortly after the end of World War II.

The base pay for a Coast Guard staff member coming out of basic training is $1,981 per month, with a housing allowance of $1,131 to $1,506 per month.

Coast Guard workers in Belfast refused to comment for this story, referring The Republican Journal to the District 1 office in Boston.

Andrew Barresi, a petty officer and public affairs specialist for District 1, said Maine has roughly 725 active duty Coast Guard members and a much smaller number of civilian workers. While other branches of the military under the Department of Defense were exempted from the shutdown, the Coast Guard, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, was not.

Active duty members were expected to come to work and perform critical missions, Barresi said, including life saving, homeland security, environmental response and protection of property.

They received their last paycheck on Dec. 31 and would have been paid again Jan. 15 if not for the shutdown. Barresi anticipated they would be paid back wages soon after the shutdown ended.

Meanwhile, offers of aid came from all segments of the community.

Dot Black, a co-chairman of the Rockland Coast Guard City Committee, said she was proud of the community for stepping up and helping the men and women who continue to do their jobs protecting our freedom.

"One of my concerns is that the Coast Guard culture and personal pride may prevent them from asking for help in this time of need. Reach out to our families affected with no pay. Make sure they know where to ask for help. If you were in distress they would give their lives to save you. I was fortunate to have two outstanding Coast Guard men in my life, they both had the same quote, 'We have to go out, we don't have to come home.' They deserve our support. Semper Paratus," Black said.

Coast Guard City Co-Chairman Cynthia Powell said drop-off locations were created at both the Hampton Inn in Thomaston and the Rockland Harbor Inn in Rockland.

"We have been very fortunate that many local individuals, businesses and organizations along with the city of Rockland, have stepped up and asked how to help. So many people want to know what they can do. The generosity and support of the local community has been a great morale boost as well as providing much-needed assistance to our local USCG personnel," she said.

Businesses that have offered assistance include Ada's Kitchen, Domino's Pizza, Maritime Energy, Moran Insurance, Loyal Biscuit, the Farnsworth Art Museum and Joe's Hair Styling. Camden National Bank has agreed to defer January mortgage payments for federal workers, and the process is quick and simple.

The Midcoast Area Veterans Memorial donated $500 Friday to the Coast Guard City committee.

James Leach of Jimmy's Rentals said he has eight Coast Guard families who rent apartments and that they were all told that he would wait for the shutdown to end for rent payments from them. "I am confident all landlords in the Midcoast and across the county are doing the same," Leach said.

In Belfast, the Veterans of Foreign Wars collected and distributed donations of food and other essentials. Operations Manager Jim Roberts Jr. said he believes the services reached some Coast Guard families.

"I didn't ask them to identify themselves," he said, "but in my heart of hearts, I knew some were Coast Guard. You can tell the guys because of their physical fitness, their haircuts."

For some, helping the Coast Guard meant reaching out to family members in other parts of the country.

Theresa Gaffney of Stockton Springs recounted how she and other family members were trying to help to her son, who is stationed in Miami with his wife and two children. Gaffney, a former Coast Guard member, believed the family's efforts kept the young family afloat, but from the opposite end of the Atlantic seaboard, she said, it wasn't always easy to tell.

"When you're in the military it's a very prideful calling and a very humble calling," she said. "You don't go in there because you want the accolades and the attention. You go in there because you have a heart to serve and care for others."

Gaffney said her son's work involves policing the coast, which made the stand-off in Washington over the border wall all the more exasperating.

"They are the wall," she said.

The Republican Journal reporter Ethan Andrews contributed to this report.

James Roberts Jr., operations manager of Randall Collins VFW Post 3108 in Belfast, looks on at Hannaford as Kirsten Raven loads his cart with food the veteran's organization bought to help feed Coast Guard workers. (Photo by: Carolyn Zachary)
Jeff Kinney, who serves in the Coast Guard from Belfast, receives a free haircut from Laurie Cormier-Cole at Joe's Hair Styling in Rockland. (Photo by: Stephen Betts)
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