Volunteer keeps lake safe | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Volunteer keeps lake safe

For six years, Wesley Craig has helped keep waters safe by being a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Having served in the Navy during the Vietnam war, Craig has always had an interest in boating. When he was approached to join the auxiliary, he found the outlet he had been looking for to pursue his interests.

Now as a division captain, Craig, who lives in Fallon, Nev., is responsible for groups – or flotillas – of auxiliary volunteers in Northern Nevada who patrol nearby bodies of water and assist the Coast Guard station at Lake Tahoe during the busy summer months. In total, 153 members comprise four different flotillas in the area.

Similar to other volunteer groups, auxiliary members donate their time in a variety of ways. Unlike most volunteers, however, the auxiliary is a well-trained group of people who possess the same skills and authority as the Coast Guard, with the exception of law enforcement.

Beginning in 1939, Congress established the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve, consisting of unpaid volunteer U.S. citizens who owned their own motorboats. In 1941 Congress created a military reserve in which they renamed the original volunteer reserve the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

From performing public education classes on boating safety and inspecting vessels to patrolling the lake, this non-military group’s main purpose is to complement the Coast Guard.

“We have a fantastic relationship,” said Jim DeVane, chief petty officer of U.S. Coast Guard Station Lake Tahoe. “We would have a really hard time doing this job without the auxiliary’s help in the summer. They give us the support we need while we’re out on the boat.”

Among other duties, some of the support DeVane refers to includes help answering phone calls and manning the radio while those on active duty are out on call.

“When you join the auxiliary you get the same training as the active Coast Guard,” Craig said. “We get people from every walk of life–ministers, schoolteachers, doctors, who all share the same interest in boating. Fellowship is our cornerstone. We just have a lot of fun.”

Vice Commodore, John O’Neill, of the 11th Coast Guard District in the Northern California region, agreed.

“I wanted to give something back and help make the waters safer,” O’Neill said. “What I like best are the relationships I have established and the tremendous amount I have learned.”

Open to most anyone who is 17 years or older, volunteers do not need a boat since there are so many other programs offered on dry land, such as educational courses and vessel safety checks, or VSCs. With only about 1/3 of boats actually passing inspection, the auxiliary schedules many VSCs so people can prepare for the season properly.

During these inspections, volunteers often solicit people who appear to have an interest in the auxiliary to join their organization.

“If you have an interest, talk to an auxiliary member to get a better idea of what it’s all about,” O’Neill said.

Incline Village resident, Kim Turley, took that advice more than three years ago and is now vice commander of Flotilla 01 of North Lake Tahoe.

With a position in sales, Turley devotes her spare time in promoting boating skills and seamanship in different classes she offers. Considered a “young” volunteer, she stresses that it is not just for retired people.

“I enjoy doing patrols on the lake and helping people,” Turley said. “We do a lot of tows and are trained to do search and rescue and assist a vessel in distress. We are always looking for young people to get interested in our program.”

Like so many other volunteer groups, the Coast Guard Auxiliary promotes a sense of fulfillment and can be self-rewarding. But above all, members feel extremely proud they are serving their country by assisting a branch of the armed services that plays such a large role in the daily excursions of boating Americans.

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