Crew members of U.S. Coast Guard Station Fort Myers Beach now have a new commanding officer and, if history proves anything, they will continue a strong tradition of being at the ready of ensuring public safety and security within more than 150 miles of shoreline, spanning five counties in Florida.
During a Change of Command ceremony last week, the local Coast Guard station unit proved to be among the elite in its field when it was presented with yet another Sumnar I Kimball Award, a multiple-day assessment test involving exercises, systems checks, rigorous inspections of vessel conditions and applied training techniques. This marks its fourth consecutive bi-annual readiness and standardization assessment award. It now has achieved the feat under former Chief Warrant Officers Peter Louzao in 2007, Gene Gibson in 2009, Jeffrey Kerner in 2011 and again Gibson in 2013.
This year's award recipients scored 48 out of a possible 50 points for a near-perfect score and received a 100-percent rating in their training, underway exercises and rescue and survival systems programs, according to U.S. Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg Capt. Gregory Case. Besides receiving a plaque, the crew is again authorized to fly a Kimball Readiness Pennant at their station until the next bi-annual visit.
U.S. Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg Capt. Gregory Case (l) stands proudly among U.S. Coast Guard Station Fort Myers Beach petty officers (MK2 Mark Gauthier, BM2 Cal Lograsso, SN Emanuel White and FN Justin Nicholson - left to right) in the presentation of the local station's fourth consecutive Sumner I. Kimball Award.
"Earning a Sumnar I Kimball Award is a significant accomplishment, and the crew at Station Fort Myers Beach can be truly proud of their achievements," Case said. "That this unit is ready to answer the call is evident by how well they do during the Coast Guard's extremely rigorous bi-annual inspection from our standardization team. It's hard just to pass these inspections, but it's very rare to do it so well that the unit is awarded for achieving an almost perfect score, especially considering the pace of operations in this boat forces' community."
The ceremony was primarily a representation of a relief of one commanding officer to another and a transfer of total responsibility, authority and accountability of the assigned personnel and its mission accomplishments. Chief Warrant Officer Robert Garris relieved Gibson of his interim duties as the temporary commanding officer of the local Coast Guard station, a position that Gibson was reassigned to after the resignation of Kerner weeks ago.
Gibson, who referred to the local unit as the hardest working crew in his 25 years of service, received a medal from Case for his second tour of duty at U.S. Coast Guard Station Fort Myers Beach and for taking command of the station during "an extemely short time frame and under challenging circumstances." He was applauded for his accepted responsibility during that second timeframe to "ensure continuity and a seemless transition."
Garris' most recent assignment involved being deployed as a First Lieutenant on board USCGC MELLON where he served as a Deck Watch Officer on three counter narcotic deployments in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. His personal awards include two Coast Guard Accomodation medals and two Coast Guard Achivement medals.
"I have every confidence you will effectively and diligently carry out your orders to lead this excellent team of men and women. I challenge you to lead by example the core values of honor, respect and devotion to duty," said Case.
After advancing to Boatswain's Mate Third Class, Garris served in that role as a small boat coxswain and Officer of the Day at U.S. Coast Guard Station Fort Myers Beach early in his career.
"I am lucky that I have been stationed in Florida two other times with one of them here on Fort Myers Beach as a young BM3," he said. "I can't tell you enough what an honor it is to return as a commanding officer at one of the finest stations in the Coast Guard."
Garris directed his next comment towards the local unit.
"To the crew of Station Fort Myers Beach, the condition of the unit shows the pride, honor and devotion to duty that you have. I thank you for that," he said. "I'm proud to be here and look forward to working with all of you."
Case complimented the crew members and officers at the local station that have served here through the years. He stated the current unit has already conducted 140 maritime emergency cases during fiscal year 2012-13.
"Showing outstanding unit flexibility, they supported Operation Unified Resolve in support of Coast Guard Sector San Juan, Puerto Rico, by providing qualified crew members throughout the year," he said. "Since May 2012, through Unified Resolve, the Coast Guard has seized more than 31,000 pounds of cocaine and 8,500 pounds of marijuana for the wholesale value of more than $3.9 million. I'm extemely proud we were a part of that."
Case also commended the local station for recent joint efforts with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Lee County Sheriff's Office and a more recent Operation Dry Water as part of a national DUI awareness and enforcement campaign.
"As you can see, Chief Warrant Officer Gibson and his crew have done an outstanding job at executing the Coast Guard mission of safeguarding the public underwater," said Case. "But those accomplishments just don't happen. They are only possible because they are careful and prepared and by honing their skills and becoming proficient at their craft."
The history of award and local station
According to U.S. Coast Guard records, the Kimball Award is named for Sumner I. Kimball, who served as chief of the Revenue Cutter Service and the general superintendent of the U.S. Life-Saving Service from 1878 to 1915. Both of those groups merged to form the U.S. Coast Guard in that latter year.
Kimball's skill in organization is credited for putting the U.S. Coast Guard on the road to professionalism and in defining the fundamentals of training standards and equipment.
The history of Station Fort Myers Beach dates back to July 1962, when Commander Jean Rash and a crew of eight men arrived on Fort Myers Beach on a 52-foot houseboat to assist vessels in distress and promote vessel safety. From July to the end of that year, the crew answered the call of duty more than 250 times.
In 1972, the Coast Guard purchased the land where the present station sits and a newer modern facility was built six years later. Now, U.S. Coast Guard Station Fort Myers Beach has grown to more than 50 personnel, five boats and eight housing units. It responds to more than 800 search-and-rescue calls a year.