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"Welcome" and "Thanks" from the Flotilla Commander

posted Jan 20, 2011, 11:57 AM by Andrew Welch   [ updated Jan 20, 2011, 9:46 PM ]

I want to take a moment to thank you for your warm welcome as your new Flotilla Commander at this past weekend's Change of Watch ceremony.  I appreciate your support nearly as much as I appreciate your service in the Coast Guard Auxiliary to our community and to our country.  I also want to thank you for joining us for dinner after the ceremony; it was great to spend that time with you, and I am really excited about what lies ahead.  Rather than add more words to that which was said on Saturday, I have instead included the text of my remarks from that evening below.  I also want to share our small, but growing, photo album from the day's events - thank you to all who took and contributed photos.

Good evening, friends, family, shipmates.

I realize that our ceremony is a little more formal tonight than what is sometimes seen at an Auxiliary Change of Watch, but it is said that at sea there is a tradition older even than the traditions of the country itself.  It is the tradition that with responsibility goes authority, and with them both goes accountability.  Mr. Doyle and I felt it essential to begin this watch by observing one of the sea's great traditions: that of passing responsibility, authority, and accountability from one leader to the next.

What an evening this is, here in the presence of some of the most astonishingly great people that I have ever known.  

As I was walking in earlier, I couldn't help but to be taken up in this place, Fort Myer, where generations of great American men and women have passed some of their time in service to our country.  They have been selfless public servants, some warriors, and -- as we in the Coast Guard can attest -- humanitarians and life savers as well.  

Serving far and wide, they have been women like Ida Lewis -- who as an 1800's lighthouse keeper saved as many as 237 lives and helped clear the way for women in our service... the first female ship Captain, the first female vice service chief, and recently announced, the first female service academy superintendent.  They have been men like Michael Healy, who in assuming command of a cutter in 1882 became the first African-American ship captain in our nation's history; or men like Joshua James, who died saving others while on active duty at the age of seventy-four. 

Indeed these heroes from our past inform our present - male, female, black, white, old, young, new recruit or seasoned veteran - in our service, and in our Flotilla, everyone eager to live our core values and serve the American people is welcome to serve with us.

But evenings like this are most poignantly special thanks to those that have inspired us personally, like Jim Clark, who has been a mentor to so many of us since our days as students or instructor at The College of William and Mary.  Or my grandfather, retired Navy Captain Richard Knott, whose steady hand and stories of air and sea told to this child years ago are perhaps most responsible for my standing here before you tonight.  

Collectively, these are the people and legacy that we honor with tonight's change of watch ceremony, symbolizing a centuries-unbroken chain of service.

This unit is in the midst of such significant change with people coming, going, retiring, transferring, and the newest recruits making this their very first Coast Guard home. There are, at this moment, forty-four shipmates on our roster, with well over half of them in some such uncertainty.  But the core is strong, and it is led by bright and capable young Auxiliary officers, with several in the midst of their first assignments.  

Anyone who has ever worn a uniform is no doubt familiar with the barely controlled chaos that is preparing dress uniforms -- many of which have not been worn in quite some time -- the week before a formal event.  Between items being out of stock at the exchange, a late night drive through a snow storm in search of emergency tailoring, pants ripping, and the fact that several of you are now on a first name basis with the good people at the district material center (to whom, by the way, we must send cookies), I hope that this recently minted crew has learned how a little teamwork and advance planning can overcome any challenge.  In fact, one of your shipmates, and I won't mention names, nearly had to pay thirty dollars to FedEx a ninety-nine cent button here yesterday.  But in the end, we all seem to clean up well.  And it's a good thing, too, because there are many eyes on us this evening.  With so much change here in the Flotilla, it's no wonder that our guests tonight outnumber the crew.  

I am undaunted.

Tonight we are promising great things, and we are doing so in the presence of senior officers, friends, family, significant others, and shipmates from around the Coast Guard.  Our die is cast, and forward is our only direction.  But history is replete with turning points, when small groups of good people accomplish extraordinary things.

I thought a lot about what to say this evening. And with a little help, it came to me last night: don't try to be too lofty, Andrew; speak directly, and speak from the heart.

We all have different reasons for being here. But whether you are here to save one, or to save the world; for friendship or for country; because you love the sea or because you know that you're just very good at what you do, I ask that you serve with the mission in mind. That our Coast Guard Core Values -- Honor, Respect, Devotion to Duty -- be your watch words. That you remember we serve the American taxpayer, the people of our community. That when you are here, you lay greatness on the line: your best uniform, your best professionalism, your best seamanship, your firm, yet temperate conduct, perseverance in your duties. What I believe in is faith, and I have faith in this crew, that if you do these things, we will prevail.

You will look into the eyes of American men and women who you are charged with serving, and in some cases, whose lives you are charged with saving.  You will see them on the dockside, and on their boats.  You will see them in the supermarket and in your offices, and neither you nor them will know it.  And it will be your training, your readiness, but most of all your tireless devotion to duty that will prepare you - day in and day out - to stand the watch, and, when called upon, to save.  It will be your mission, and I implore each of you to make it your passion, and your calling.

Thank you, all, for your support - and more than anything, thank you for your service.

Let's get to work!

Very Sincerely,
Andrew Welch
Flotilla Commander