Coast Guard Auxiliary geared up for summer

<I>LARRY KELLIS photo</I><BR>The U.S. Coast Guard and its local auxiliary are here to keep boaters safe tis summer.

ILWACO - With summer boating season now upon us and hundreds of small craft launching into the Columbia estuary's sometimes-dangerous waters, the local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary is issuing a reminder that they are here to help, and would appreciate cooperation.

For 67 years, tens of thousands of men and women of the Coast Guard Auxiliary have spent millions of volunteer hours helping the Coast Guard carry out its missions. Auxiliarists are probably best known for educating the public through their boating safety classes and Vessel Safety Checks.

Yet, they do much more and have been doing even more since the passage of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 1996. The purpose of the act is to allow the auxiliary to assist the Coast Guard, as authorized by the commandant, in performance of any Coast Guard function, duty, role, mission or operation authorized by law. The Coast Guard Auxiliary was authorized by act of Congress on June 23, 1939.

Today, as in 1939, auxiliarists are civilian volunteers who are authorized to wear a uniform similar to the Coast Guard Officer's uniform. Distinctive emblems, buttons, insignias, and ribbons are employed to identify the wearer as a member of the auxiliary. The auxiliary has members in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Guam. Membership is open to men and women, 17 years or older, U.S. citizens of all states and territories, civilians or active duty or former members of any of the uniformed services and their Reserve components, including the Coast Guard. Facility (radio station, boat or aircraft) ownership is desirable but not mandatory.

The auxiliary's missions include:

Public Education Courses: The Auxiliary offers a wide variety of boating courses tailored to specific needs including boat handling, legal responsibilities, aids to navigation, rules of the road, piloting, etc.

Operations: The auxiliary assists the active duty and reserve Coast Guard in search and rescue/assistance missions, environmental protection, marine safety, and patrolling regatta and marine events. It also performs safety patrols often in conjunction with regular Coast Guard units and provides verification of private aids to navigation.

Vessel Safety Checks: Specially trained members are authorized to conduct free vessel safety checks with consent of owners/operators for safety equipment and requirements of federal and state law.

The Academy Introduction Mission (Project AIM): Open to all students just completing their junior year of high school, Project AIM annually offers 220 high-school juniors nationwide the opportunity to visit the Coast Guard Academy for one week each summer to gain insight into cadet life. Applications are available from local Auxiliary flotillas or by contacting the Academy's director of admissions.

Members of the auxiliary displayed the highest levels of professionalism and selflessness during the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina, Wilma and Rita. Last year the over 30,000 dedicated members of the auxiliary volunteered an impressive 411,000 hours on operational patrols.

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