CAPE D — When Ilwaco artist Don Nisbett attended the U.S. Coast Guard change-of-command ceremony at Station Cape Disappointment, he received a surprise.

After three years at the helm, Lt. Jessica Shafer’s stellar career was advancing.

Speeches over, Nisbett reached out to congratulate the departing officer with a handshake.

As they let go, he realized he was holding a coin.

A Coast Guard challenge coin.

And it featured his artistic design.

“It was a wonderful day for [me],” said Nisbett, whose distinctive maritime-flavored and often whimsical art appears around the Long Beach Peninsula and Astoria. “It was just awesome to have anything to do with a wonderful commander.”

Nisbett and his wife Jenna Austin are plugged into the Long Beach community, organizing community events and running an art gallery on the Ilwaco waterfront. He had attended the change of command in 2018 when Shafer began her three-year leadership posting.

She made history on that day as Cape D’s first female commander, returning to the station where she had begun her career as a “deckie” at the Motor Lifeboat School in 2002.

After graduating with a degree in cultural anthropology at Purdue University, the Indiana native had enlisted and became the second woman in the history of the federal agency to earn the “surfman” designation driving 47-foot self-righting rescue boats with aplomb.

Officer training followed, then postings as an executive officer, where she excelled on disaster relief missions. Cape D was her first top command.

Challenge coin tradition

The challenge coin is a tradition among the nation’s forces. Most are designed to be specific for units or bases and usually presented to civilian helpers for outstanding support.

Shafer administered the station while participating as a crew member on rescue missions. She also was a feature of community events — waving the checkered flag at the finish line of the Ilwaco Slow Drag car races and riding in U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary member Janice LaFollette’s yellow Corvette during patriotic parades.

Somehow, in between saving lives and inspiring colleagues, she found time to consider a redesign of the existing coin, adding rescue boat images plus handcuffs to highlight her agency’s law enforcement mission.

“The station was running out of the old coins,” Nisbett said. “I had done something similar some years ago. She wanted to add some other elements.”

A first attempt had produced some unacceptable orange and red colors, so there was a delay in getting it right. Covid shutdowns kicked in. Then Shafer scheduled her departure date.

Nisbett was delighted to see his art had been incorporated on new signs around the station. It also adorns the walls in some offices. Seeing it on the new coin was a bonus.

“She was so smitten with the original that she bought the original painting for herself,” he added.

So Nisbett left the ceremony content, glowing with pleasure that his art had been appreciated.

Chief Warrant Officer Jason McCommons took the salute and began his command at the station where he, too, has previously served.

And Shafer packed her bags.

That modest description of a “desk job in Washington, D.C.” may have left out one little detail, however.

Her new workplace address is 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

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