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Group Detroit

My first assignment out of Officer Candidate School was as the "Assistant Operations Officer" at USCG Group Detroit.  Whenever you see that work "assistant" on a job they give to a freshly minted Ensign, the translation is "SLJO" better known as shitty little jobs officer.  In spite of the fact that I was assigned just about every job that required an officer that no one else wanted, I actually enjoyed the assignment and really did learn a lot that helped my out later in my career.  I've included here a gallery of some pictures I took during the assignment.  The story continues below the photo album.


I reported to Coast Guard Group Detroit, MI on Monday, December 12, 1983 just nine days following graduation from Officer Candidate School.  I’d be less than truthful if I didn’t say I was a little apprehensive about moving to Detroit.  Let’s face it, Detroit in those days didn’t have the best reputation (and still doesn’t).  However, just like a lot of things you hear in the media and popular culture, Detroit wasn’t that bad after all.  Sure it had some rough neighborhoods, but what major city doesn’t?  The "bad" areas were pretty well defined and it was easy to avoid them.  In actuality, there was a lot to like about the Detroit and southeastern Michigan area.

After reporting, I immediately went on “house-hunting” leave and found a place on Wildwood Drive in Westland, MI.  It was a decent enough one bedroom apartment in a fairly nice complex.  I didn’t know anything about the Detroit area, so my decision to live west of the city was heavily influenced by my sponsor, a very nice fellow named Mike.  Mike was a decent guy; probably too decent to make it long term as a Coast Guard Officer.  One thing I learned rather quickly was that being a “good guy” was a sure ticket to failure.  I’m not saying that you had to be a complete butt hole, but if you wanted to make everyone happy all the time, there was no way you’d succeed.  I actually liked where I lived as everything that I needed like stores and other businesses were close by.  The commute into Detroit wasn’t even that bad, especially since I liked to get in a early.  In December of 1984, in response to the notification of a hefty rent increase, I moved to Leslie Street in Mt. Clemens, MI.  At the time, Mt. Clemens was almost like the Coast Guard housing Annex.  There were at least a half dozen other Coast Guard people that lived within a couple blocks of me including several radiomen and the Group corpsman.  When I moved to Detroit, I was driving a fairly crummy 1977 Chevy Malibu that I had acquired from my dad for a small sum when he got a new car.  You have to remember that even 30 years ago, cars just didn’t last like they do now.  A six year old car in those days was considered “old” while by today’s standards a similar car would be considered barely broken in (especially for something like a Honda, Toyota or Subaru).

My official job title was “Assistant Operations Officer”, but in reality, in was the epitome of a “SLJO (Shitty Little Jobs Officer).”  I was the Communications Officer, Classified Material Control Officer, Morale Officer, Assistant Educational Services Officer, Vehicle Officer and essentially any other crappy job that came up that required an officer.  As an aside, one thing I never figured out was if classified material was so important, why do/did we entrust its security to inexperienced junior officers?  It always seemed to me that you would want an experienced professional in charge.  I guess I'll never figure that out.   My first boss was the Group Operations Officer..  John was a hard core sailor who wanted nothing more than to get out of Detroit.  He got his wish when shortly after my arrival he was transferred to a medium endurance cutter as the Operations Officer.  His replacement was a lieutenant who was on his way out of the Coast Guard. Personally I liked the guy, but it was pretty clear even to a rookie like me that his days in the Coast Guard were numbered.  The bottom line was he knew he was on the way out and really didn’t want to engage in anything.  I recall my first Deputy Group Commander taking me aside and advising me what was going on.  I liked the guy a lot and learned a lot from him on how to be a good Executive Officer.  I learned from him that you can respect people’s knowledge but still make it clear that you were in charge.  The Group Commander was a great guy, Captain (later Admiral) Rudy Peschel.  I remember accompanying the Captain to a meeting in Cleveland.  Along the way we talked about my career goals and how to succeed.  He liked the idea of me getting to a cutter as soon as possible and even asked if there was someone he could call.  I advised him that the assignment officer was probably sick of hearing from me but that I sincerely appreciated the offer. I remember he asked me about the date of an upcoming selection board and I didn’t know the exact answer.  He very sternly advised me that I needed to always be aware of things that would impact me and to never count on anyone but myself if it was that important.  That’s a lesson I have always remembered.  When Captain Peschel left, we got a great replacement in Captain Ted Brandsma.  Captain Brandsma had come from Support Center Kodiak where he had been the Executive Officer.  He never thought he’d make Captain and really never thought he’d get command of a major unit like Group Detroit.  He was a really decent guy and in some ways I was sorry that he arrived very shortly before I left.

I wish I could say the same about our new Deputy Group Commander.  His name is not important (he knows who he is).  While the previous Deputy taught me a lot of how to be a good XO; this guy taught me almost everything I needed to know about being a lousy XO since he certainly fit that definition.  The two guys were night and day.  My first XO was an extremely intelligent guy but he never told you so; you knew by how he carried himself.  Our new guy on the other hand was a bit of a bully.  In his mind he was smarter than anyone who he outranked.  Basically the guy was a tool.  Looking back, it’s clear now that he was in way over his head as the XO of a large operation.  At Group Detroit the Deputy Group Commanders main job is the budget and while my first XO was a financial wizard, our new guy was clueless.  Amazing at it may seem, he wouldn’t be the worst XO of my career either.

At the time, the Group Office was located on the east side of Mt. Elliott Avenue at the Detroit River.  Our address was “Foot of Mt. Elliott Avenue.”  The base was a mix of historic and “modern” buildings.  The whole neighborhood should have been scary, but it wasn't, at least to me.  I routinely went running in the vicinity of the Group Office.  At that time the area was pure “hood”.  According to our local Coast Guard Intelligence Agent, the neighborhood was home to several chop shops, the headquarters of a couple vicious motorcycle gangs and a host of other nefarious activity.  He thought I was nuts for going out running.  Of course, it was hard to take a guy too seriously after he had interviewed you in the shower at a health club regarding a SK1 who had allegedly received favors for steering all the Coast Guard business to one moving company.  For whatever reason, no one ever messed with the Coast Guard guys.  Maybe they thought we were all packing heat or maybe they just didn't think we were worth it.  We referred to the good people who congregated daily on the foot of Mt. Elliott as the “Mt. Elliott Rod and Gun Club” with their specialty being “tire smoked carp.”

We ran a 24 hour watch center at the Group Office.  We had a Search and Rescue Controller and Radioman on watch at all times.  This was in addition to a roving security watch stander.   Essentially, we were a mini Rescue Coordination Center.  Our radio room had the ability to tap into and listen to all our High Level VHF-FM radio towers from Fairport, OH to north of Tawas, MI.  At the time, we had 12 SAR Stations, two Aids to Navigation Teams, two 140’ Icebreakers, the Bristol Bay that was in Detroit and the Neah Bay that was in Cleveland, plus the Industrial Base.  Make no mistake, we were an Industrial Base.  We did all support for the stations.

My office was located on the first floor of the admin building.  The Group Commander and Deputy Group Commander as well as the yeoman and the corpsman were located on the second floor.  Group Operations, including the radio room and the ops center took up the first floor.  My office was actually a converted storage room, but it was better than nothing.   When I saw it the first time I have to admit I thought about the Bugs Bunny cartoon where Daffy Duck's dressing room is the broom closet.  It was funny because the office head (toilet) was located in my office. 

The job I actually enjoyed the most was Morale Officer.  In those days, the Group Morale Officer managed the fund for the entire Group.  I received over 10,000 dollars per quarter.  That might sound like a lot (and in some ways it is), but I could go though it pretty quickly.  Whenever I would visit a station, I took the morale check book with me.  One time I was visiting Station Harbor Beach, MI for an inspection.  I had finished my portion which was mostly reviewing some training and operations records but the engineering inspector was still doing some work.  I was chatting with the Executive Petty Officer and complemented him on how nice their pool table looked.  He mentioned how nice it would be if they had some new billiards equipment.  Within five minutes he had a check.  That’s how I did business.  I had to do a quarterly expenditure report and send it to the District Office in Cleveland.  My first report was about ten pages and detailed every expense.  I got an impassioned call from the Warrant Officer in Cleveland who managed the District Fund explaining to me that while he certainly appreciated my attention to detail, I didn’t have to go quite into that much detail.  I certainly needed to maintain the records locally, but not send in everything.  My next report was about a page and a half with much less detail.  I got a very nice thank you call for that.

I need to point out that as a newly commissioned officer (or as some like to say “freshly minted ensign”) you think everyone is important and you have to do everything exactly according to the book.  If you are going to survive, you quickly learn that just because a guy has a lot of ribbons and has been in a long time that they don’t necessarily know very much about a lot of things.  You need to figure out who does know their stuff and listen to them while at the same time tuning out the bullshit. As a new officer you have to figure out who to know and maybe even who to "unknow".

In spite of my status as an SLJO, I did get some valuable experiences.  One of my more important duties was that of Command Duty Officer.  Basically, if the on duty controller needed a reality check or the unit standing orders called for it, you got the next call.  Of course, it helped if you knew a little about Search and Rescue, so on Saturday, March 3, 1984, I flew to New York (Detroit-Wayne to LGA) for Search and Rescue School on Governor’s Island.  I really enjoyed GI.  It somewhat saddened me when the Coast Guard left Governor’s Island later in my career.  Going to New York gave me an opportunity to hook up with my old college roommate, Phil Brady.  We went to a Knicks game at Madison Square Garden along with a couple of his friends.  Here’s a tip – don’t drink so much at a Knicks game that you can’t tell which way to get on the subway at night in New York.  I even ran in a 10K race in Queens over one of the weekends.  It was really neat to see all the NYC Bridges in the background as you ran. The school was relatively easy (for me at least) and I genuinely liked being New York City.  I graduated on Friday, April 6, and returned to Detroit that afternoon.  I had made arrangements for the girl who lived across the hall from me to pick me up at the airport.  When I called her to confirm, she asked if I minded taking a cab as she was afraid to come to the airport alone.  I was ok with that.  That’s how bad traffic could be around Detroit.  I liked my neighbor a lot and I think she liked me, but neither one of us was really interested in romance at the time.  It was good to have that out so we could just be good neighbors.  Like most people, I think Deb was impressed at how clean I kept my apartment but also like most of the people I lived near, she couldn’t figure me out either.  You need to remember that in those days the Coast Guard was as much of a lifestyle for me as it was a job.  I kept, at least to the people who lived in my complex, relatively odd hours.  Looking back, I probably was a scary guy to have as a neighbor.

I also attended Junior Officer Leadership and Management School at RTC Yorktown in early 1985.  I drove from Detroit to Yorktown on Saturday, January 26 and returned the afternoon and evening of Friday, February 8.  The weather that day was horrible, but I made it home very late. It was on the following Saturday that I “outted” a fellow officer, who was dating the Group Corpsman.  The Corpsman lived about a block from me.  Having been away for two weeks, I had no food in my house.  When heading out early, I noticed my friend’s RX-7 parked in front of the Corpsman’s house.  Needless to say, I had some fun with that fact.  There weren’t a lot of single people, especially officers stationed in Detroit.  Other than me, there only two other single officers; my buddy who was dating the corpsman and the Group Personnel Officer, a Chief Warrant Officer named Don.  Don was actually divorced and had a couple of cute young daughters.  Don lived in a house northwest of Detroit.  We spent a lot of time together engaged in our favorite activities, drinking and shooting pool.  Don was a huge country music fan and I actually give him credit for introducing me to the genre.  While I am not a huge country fan by any stretch of the imagination, I did learn to enjoy it under the right circumstances.  More often than not, the right circumstance was a country bar that Don had located.  I was actually quite surprised at the number of country bars in the area.  One place that we went to actually sold Busch Beer by the quart.  It was hilarious to me.  Don’s ex wife was a never ending source of irritation for Don and amusement for most of the rest of us.  Upon my arrival, I was almost “adopted” by Don since he needed a drinking partner and I enjoyed hitting the town almost as much as he did.  I had only been there a couple months when Don came charging into my office telling me we had to leave right now and that his ex-wife was breaking into his house.  Fortunately traffic wasn’t too bad.  It had been snowing though, and the roads were a little slick.  Turned out that wasn’t such a bad thing.  As we turned onto Don’s street, you could see the police cars.   Don’s ex-wife had slid off the road after robbing his house.  In exchange for her returning everything, Don didn’t press charges.  Of course, the local police were less than impressed that she and her friend who helped (and was “the wheelman”) were both intoxicated.  Don’s ex moved back to Missouri shortly afterward but remained a source of great amusement.  Later that summer Don asked me on a Friday afternoon what I was doing over the weekend.  I didn't have duty and had no particular plans. He told me that now I did.  He briefed me on the plan.  I would go home and pack a bag then come over to his house that evening, shoot some pool and drink some beer, go to bed early and get up on Saturday morning and drive to western Indiana to meet his ex-wife and collect his two daughters.  It turned out that Don’s ex was having some serious financial issues and wanted Don to take the girls for about a month during the summer while she worked it out.  They agreed to meet halfway, which was a little west of Indianapolis.  So, we headed out early on Saturday and got to a strip mall west of Indy about 15 minutes ahead of schedule.  When his ex showed up, she parked about 10 spaces over.  I’m still not sure if it looked more like a hostage swap or a drug deal.  The two girls got out of their car and ran over to Don’s.  While some guy who looked like a gangster watched, Don and his ex met halfway, exchanged a few words while she passed Don a couple suitcases and each turned and walked back to their cars.  I took over driving while Don sat in the back with his girls.  They all fell asleep while I piloted us back towards Detroit.  We stopped at a Chuck E Cheese on the way.  In my travels even today I see this type of exchange take place quite often.  If I had never experienced it first hand, I would probably be as oblivious as everyone else as to what’s going on.

At some point prior to my arrival, Don had been in a pretty serious accident that was caused by a drunk driver.  The medical costs were covered by the Coast Guard (and I’m quite sure subsequently recovered from the other guy’s insurance).  That did not stop Don from suing the guy and getting about a 30 grand settlement.  So what did Don do with this windfall?  Well naturally he bought a boat; and a pretty decent boat at that.  Don had a really nice 24’ Sea Ray with a very powerful engine.  I was his water skiing companion on numerous occasions.  Believe it or not, Don’s primary purpose for buying the boat was to meet women.  One time we were out on some inland lake North West of Detroit and we were stopped by the local water patrol for not having a ski mirror in spite of having a live observer.  The cop was just about to start some kind of boarding when Don blurted out that we were all in the Coast Guard.  I suppose that was a good thing since alcoholic beverages were not legal on the lake and our cooler had at least a case of beer in it.  We went to one of the many marina stores along the shore and got our mirror.  I guess it was a good thing we were stopped early in the day since a couple hours later I am quite sure the smell of beer would have landed us in a spot more of trouble.

One of the things I got to do that I really liked was going out on the Bristol Bay when they did icebreaking.  I made several trips including a few multiple day trips.  It was amazing to me how noisy it was when the ship was transiting through ice.  One time the Bristol Bay was heading back to Detroit from Western Lake Erie when they cut off a bunch of ice fishermen.  By "cut off" I mean cut a channel thought the ice between them and the shore.  Fortunately I wasn’t with them, but you can suffice it to say they took a lot of heat for that.

Ice rescues were a big thing in those days.  The primary resource for ice rescues was a helicopter, but a lot of times people got stranded on ice when the weather conditions were too poor to launch a helo.  I learned a lot participating in some ice training.  The most important thing I learned was that the kind of people who end up needing this type of rescue are nuts.  We actually had a case near Toledo where the station crew successfully rescued a couple who had flipped a snowmobile and became both stranded on the ice as well as injured.  In executing the rescue in near blizzard conditions all three of the crewmembers at one time broke through the ice.  While the rescued couple’s injuries were minor and they were treated and released at the scene, all three Coast Guard guys ended up in the hospital with exposure.  Personal awards were much harder to come by in those days and these three guys certainly both earned and deserved the awards they received. 

During the summer months, the Bristol Bay was a popular attraction at various civic events, particularly along the St. Clair River.  One time they had to tie up using benches.  When they left, they pulled one of the benches out of the concrete while using a spring line.  You might think that would get them in some trouble but exactly the opposite happened.  The mayor of the city called to apologize for having inadequate mooring arrangements and asked what they needed.  By the next summer they are mooring cleats, potable water and electricity.  The city even arranged for a sewage truck.  We were popular in those days.  It was fun going out on the Bristol Bay, but it wasn’t the same as being stationed on your own ship.  I did learn a lot so the time was well spent.

One somewhat odd job I did was to survey two lighthouses on Lake Ontario.  Although it was out of the Group’s boundaries, our cable boat serviced all the lighthouses on both Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.  I got the job at one of our staff meetings with the guy who ran the industrial side of the house, “Big” Ed Cressman, was talking about sending a couple guys to do the job.  I mentioned that one of the structures was about 3 miles from my parents’ house and I was going on leave the following week.  The other was about an hour’s drive east.  Naturally I jumped at the opportunity.  Before climbing into the lighthouse in Rochester, I checked in with the local station just so they wouldn’t set GQ when they saw me climbing in.  It was actually kind of neat to climb up the structure legally.  I did my survey and was returning to my car when two Rochester cops rolled up and asked me exactly what I thought I was doing vandalizing a lighthouse.  Someone on the pier had called them from a pay phone.  I should mention I wasn’t wearing a uniform; instead I had on shorts and a tank top.  I politely explained what I was doing to the cops and invited them to check out my story with the local station across the river.  After a few tense moments, I was on my way.  Looking back I probably should have worn a uniform, but hey, I was on leave and it was a hot day.

We did a fair number of marine events in Detroit.  Every year there was a big fireworks display that would close the Detroit River for several hours.  We used the Bristol Bay as the command platform.  It was absolutely amazing to see how many people were lined up on both sides of the river.  Although I never understood the fascination, there is just something about watching fireworks over water that draws people like flies to a light.

We also had an annual Unlimited Hydroplane race.  The race was held in the back channel behind Belle Island.  I really enjoyed participating in these events.  They were extremely popular at the time.  The planning actually started several months in advance.  The meetings were a who’s who of local law enforcement.  This was my first taste of working with the Coast Guard Auxiliary.  The local Auxiliary Operations Officer was a wonderful lady name Colleen Bailey.  She was good to say the least.  Of course, she had been doing it for years and really knew her stuff.

I got to learn a little about crime in the Coast Guard thanks to the cook at one of our stations.  With about 30 guys assigned, it had had a pretty good galley operation.  They also had a criminal for a Subsistence Specialist.  He concocted an elaborate scheme to defraud the Coast Guard out of thousands of dollars.  I’m going to try to simplify it here.  First, he entered into a conspiracy with his main supplier.  Let’s just look at one item.  He would order 100 of something and pay for 100.  His supplier would only deliver 90.  His supplier would collect the money for 100 and promptly split the difference.  He would log into his inventory 100 even though there were only 90.  When he went to use the item, he would charge out 50, but only use 40.  If this seems complicated, it really isn’t, it just requires exceptional attention to detail to keep everything straight.  I need to add now that in my entire Coast Guard career, I have not met as many shady characters as I knew of in Detroit.  Getting back to the cook….

The Station Officer in Charge was suspicious for a lot of reasons.  First, the guy never took leave.  Second, he drove a conversion van and otherwise lived somewhat above his means for a second class petty officer.  Finally, the guy would never accept money if you ate lunch there.  Looking back I can certainly understand why.  I mean, he had a complex enough record keeping job without working with cash.  The Officer in Charge asked the Group Supply Officer to do a surprise audit.  Naturally he found hundreds of dollars of missing food items.  He also found out that every missing item came from a single vendor.  The vendor sang like a canary when the FBI paid him a visit.  I don’t know what happened to the vendor, but the cook was busted to E-1 and discharged.  Our Supply Officer figured that over 18 months between him and the vendor they had gotten away with 50,000 dollars.

There was a guy who worked in Supply that a lot of people thought was shady but was actually a pretty decent guy.  He was a first class Storekeeper and did all the setting up of household goods moves within the Group.  With 600 people total assigned to the Group, we did a lot of moves every year.  Well, one of the companies gave him four seasons tickets to the Detroit Lions.  They played in the Silverdome in Pontiac in those days.  Somehow, our local CGI agent got wind of this and started an investigation.  He actually interviewed me in the shower room at a place we had fitness memberships so guys could work out.  It’s kind of hard to take anyone seriously when they are interviewing you with no clothing on in a shower.  Of course I knew about the tickets, they had been offered to me a number of times when no one else wanted them.  It turned out that he actually held a raffle every time and had never sold one or even been to a game himself.  It also turned out that the company that made the donation was actually the best mover as far as number of complaints.  All that had to be done was to change the procedure and everything was good.   This incident was very educational for me.  It taught me that appearance is everything.  If anything, the guy should have been rewarded for how well he ran the household goods shipping operation but instead found him the target of an investigation.  It was a good thing that our Supply Officer was a good boss and on top of his operation.

One of my favorite hang outs was Eddie Thomas’ Bar and Grill.  Located at the corner of Jefferson and Iron, it was unlikely that any white man would ever step into the place, unless you were in the Coast Guard.  In those days, the Group worked until 1300 on Fridays and the Group Commander made damn sure that everyone was on liberty unless there was a damn good reason to be working on a Friday afternoon.  He then pretty much headed to Eddie’s where most of the Group staff could be found.  If you were an officer, you were pretty much expected to be at Eddie’s on Friday afternoon.  The guy I relieved told me he got his marks lowered with the comment that he didn’t meet social responsibilities – translation – he didn’t like going to Eddie’s.  Of course, I never had such a problem.

This may be hard to believe today, but one time I had an assignment that the Group Commander wanted done as soon as possible.  I had planned on finishing it Friday when the boss stuck his head into my office and announced that we were all heading up to Eddie’s.  The following Monday at our weekly staff briefing, the Group Commander asked if I was done.  I told him I would have finished except we all went up to Eddie’s.  He smiled and just told me to get it to him that day.  That was the only time I can recall that being out drinking was an acceptable excuse for not getting your work done.

Eddie’s was in a pretty rotten neighborhood.  The former Group Commander actually had his car stolen from the parking lot at Eddie’s while he was inside drinking on a Friday afternoon.  Some people actually think it was a set up for insurance because the guy seemed to take it too nonchalantly.  I probably would have been upset if someone had stolen my car.  From what I heard about the guy, in spite of being an O-6 he was chronically short of money and the insurance scheme was quite plausible.

We did have one funny episode involving a (not really) stolen car.  Our Hospital Corpsman, a lovely young lady, drove a silver Toyota Tercel.  She parked it in her reserved spot in front of the admin building.  One afternoon at about 4:30, she came out and her car was gone.  We had a gate, but during the day we left it open.  Well, a quick review of the tape showed her car being driven off the base that afternoon.  Of course, you couldn’t identify a driver from the tape.  So we called the cops and essentially went to “General Quarters”.  The next day we planned on having a big staff meeting to discuss bolstering our security.  Since I lived down the street from Karen, I gave her a lift home and took her in the next morning.  She was really upset about the whole thing and understandably so.  The following morning, we roll in and as I turn towards my spot, I notice a car parked in her spot – a Silver Tercel.  We walk over to the car and look inside to find a McDonald’s coffee cup, 5 bucks and a note explaining that “Boats – I didn’t have time to get gas but this should more than cover it.  I had some trouble with the key, but got it to run ok”.  At the same time, the BM1 from the Mariposa came running down the pier towards us.  It turned out they he also owns a silver Tercel and loaned it to one of the crew since he had watch.  He parked in the Mariposa lot (behind the Depot), but his buddy saw the silver Tercel (the corpsman's) and got assumed it was his.  The BM1 knew there was a problem when his pal returned the keys and asked him why he had parked in the corpsman’s spot.  Even the cops thought it was pretty funny when we called to let them know what had happened.  Needless to say, our big meeting on security was cancelled that day.

Security was an issue with a lot of our neighbors too.  One of our neighbors at the time was the Stroh Brewing Company.  Remember, they had bought Schlitz in July 1982 and were still doing well just a couple years later.  Stroh’s sponsored a big meeting of all local businesses to discuss neighborhood security.  I was detailed to attend along with our base security petty officer.  The meeting was held at the Stroh House, their corporate hospitality center.  I knew it was going to be a good meeting when we were greeted by a hostess dressed like someone you’d expect to see in a German biergarten who took our drink order for a couple “Stroh Signatures” which was their answer to Michelob.  It turned out we were the only 24 hour operation in the neighborhood and as such, we became the de facto head of security.  When I reported the details of the meeting to the Group Commander, he advised me that he wanted to be more involved in future meetings.  The man never turned down a free beer.  It was actually a good initiative as we got to know our neighbors a lot better and our cooperative effort did make it a little safer.

Speaking of the neighborhood; some scenes from “Beverly Hills Cop” were filmed very close to the Group Office.  For one chase scene, the production crew actually came to us and asked for us to move a couple buoys that were being stored behind the base since they interfered with the shot the director wanted.  Of course, they were shooting on the weekend and came to us on Friday afternoon.  Our BM1 and his crew totally rearranged the buoy yard that afternoon with the promise that they would appear in the credits for the movie.  I remember how funny it was when I went to see the movie.  The scene ripping by the Coast Guard Base had ended up on the cutting room floor and any mention of the Coast Guard with it.  Oh well, that’s show business for you!

I was on local TV twice during my tenure in Detroit.  I was interviewed once at the studios of one of the local stations and once at the Group Office.  Sadly I don't have a recording of either.  The first time was in support of safe boating week.  There had been a couple high profile accidents and the media was really cooperating with getting out the message for safe boating.  The interview was on a Friday afternoon on the six o’clock news.  I did a pretty good job and was pretty happy with the interview.  I found out on Monday that everyone was watching at Eddie’s and they told me I looked completely loaded on TV.  I guess they did a teaser shot before going to a commercial break before I was on.  The Group Commander told me that he figured I was nervous and hit the booze before the interview.  Fortunately I hadn’t done that and as I understand it there was a huge sigh of relief when I started talking.  The interview at the Group Office was just a lot of fun.  It was, again, on a Friday afternoon and was focusing on 4th of July weekend safety.  I can’t remember the reporter’s name, but she was really nervous.  I don’t think that either me of the Coast Guard guys that were on duty helped to calm her.  I had never seen a woman chain smoke like she was the half hour before the live shot.  Naturally, when the camera started rolling live, we all got serious and the interview came off great.  She was very thankful and as much told me that she had actually considered calling in a cancelling the whole thing but decided to give it a chance since her producer really wanted the spot.  I apologized for our guys (and I) cutting up so much but explained that if we took ourselves too seriously all the time we’d all go nuts.  The media are a funny bunch.  Just about every day we would get calls asking if anything was going on.  Most days the answer was “no”.  It just wasn’t that exciting.  What was funny was that the media pretty much though we were hiding stuff.

During my time in Detroit, the Coast Guard’s random drug testing program was still in its infancy.  The way a unit found out someone had tested positively for drug use was via and official message.  Well, one evening such a message arrived at the Group Detroit radio room.  The problem was that the radioman on watch recognized the social security number; it was his.  After some clever maneuvering, he disposed of the message.  I wonder if he honestly thought that would be the last of it.  About a month later, the District Office in Cleveland called asking about what we’d done with the young man.  Of course, we knew nothing but with not much research or effort, the chief radioman had the scam figured out.  It was even more ironic that the guy was actually on watch at that moment.  He got in more trouble for falsifying the record than for the actual drug offense.  Needless to say, his time in the Coast Guard was not long.

I got to do a lot of work with the Auxiliary in Detroit, particularly with marine events.  Since the Director of Auxiliary was in Saginaw and was a bum (meaning he really wasn't engaged with the Auxiliary) anyway, the Group acted as pretty much as a satiliate Director’s Office.  I quickly determined that there were two types of Auxiliarists, those who bought and those who didn’t.  One other thing I determined was that most of the Auxiliary was old.  Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed my association with the Auxiliary in Detroit. The vast majority of Coast Guard Auxiliary members are hard working decent people who love the Coast Guard and will do anything they can for the operation.

There was one particular Auxiliarist that I have very fond memories of, Jim Dziadosz.  He was an engineer at Ford and one of the biggest operators I have ever known.  His had a wonderful family and in a way they “adopted” me.  Jim didn’t live too far from me and I was often invited to his home.  I am somewhat sore at myself for losing touch with Jim after I was assigned to Kodiak.

There was one area of the Auxiliary that scared the hell out of me in those days; Auxiliary Aviation.  I had the occasion to do two area familiarization flights with a couple very nice Auxiliary aviators in the spring of 1985.  The first flight was OK, but the second flight left me in wonder of how these people managed to stay alive so long.  They were from out of town and when talking to the tower, they didn’t even know what direction they were from the airport.  I wrote a report which the original, unedited version is attached.  It is undated, but I would put a best guess on the date being around May 1985 (give or take a month).

I learned the value of oversight thanks to the crew at Station Port Huron, and in particular a certain BM3.  The guy wanted to be a cop more than anything and he really liked law enforcement.  It was Coast Guard policy at the time to complete an “after-SAR CG-4100” at the close of a Search and Rescue Case.  Well, sometimes the report of the SAR case and the 4100 weren’t reviewed at the same time or necessarily by the same person.  Couple that with the fact the Group units did a couple thousand SAR cases a year and even more law enforcement boarding’s and you can see how one could slip though.  In this case, he did a 4100 charging a boater with fuel in the bilges, discharged fire extinguishers and no visual distress signals.  These are pretty serious violations when taken in total.  What he forgot to mention is that the boater had a fuel leak that had started a fire.  He put it out with his fire extinguisher and signaled for help with his flares.  Needless to say, the boater didn’t appreciate the 5000 dollar initial civil penalty and went straight to his congressional representative.  In retrospect it was comical, but no one seemed to be laughing at the time.

I also had the opportunity to do some helo ops with the station.  We went out on the 41 foot utility boat and met the helo to practice some lifting from a small boat.  Unfortunately, there was about a 5 foot swell running that day and when we closed everything up I started to get really queasy.  I think the crew was surprised at how calmly I asked about the location of the trash can below deck.

I owe it to the crew of Station Port Huron for teaching me that SAR Controllers don’t make life and death decisions, small boat coxswains do.  I was out with these guys on an awful night on their 44 foot Motor Life Boat.   We had been sent out on a Search and Rescue case.  The crew showed me the search pattern that the controller had sent and defied me to actually draw it on the chart and execute it in 6 foot waves with it raining.  Needless to say, I found the task quite impossible.  The good news is that we found the guy – at a bar in Port Huron!  That actually happens more than you may think; a boater’s family reports them overdue and the authorities find them parked someplace – typically a bar.

We had a lot of interesting people in Detroit that I got to meet and spend some time with.  I just wish I had some pictures of some of these guys.

April 1985 was a horrible month in the Detroit area.  A late freeze and storm was followed by rapidly rising temperatures which caused a great deal of flooding.  What would happen was the ice would jam up rivers and smaller streams and essentially work like a dam.  We put in a lot of hours and received a Meritorious Unit Commendation for the period of April 5th to April 30th that year.

I was promoted from Ensign to Lieutenant (Junior Grade) on June 2, 1985 (exactly 18 months from the commissioning date).  We held quarters in the parking lot and I probably should have been suspicious as to why there was a small boat off the Bristol Bay in the slip.  Of course, the reason was in case I couldn’t swim when they tossed me in.  This was back in the day when we did real wetting downs.  Fortunately, I was a decent enough swimmer and everyone enjoyed the event.  I recall they enjoyed the open bar at Eddie's later in the day too!

I was in charge of the unit Change of Command in July 1985.  We put on quite a show.  It was funny, the CO of the Neah Bay didn’t realize that he needed a sword and showed up without one.  Fortunately, I would be standing in ranks and was able to loan him mine.  The problem was that he was over six feet tall and swords are fitted by height.  While everyone else could sneak their sword tip onto the pavement, this poor guy had to hold his up.  It was hot that afternoon and we were in Service Dress Blue Bravo.  It was actually funny (in a non-humorous way) to watch a couple guys pass out from the heat.

Late in my tour I walked into the office one morning to find the Officer in Charge from one of the stations sitting at one of the desks in his Service Dress Blue uniform.  The reason the guy was there was because he was about to be fired, or as we say, “relieved of command.”  What the guy was doing was running a charter boat service using the station’s small boats.  Even though the station was a long way from the Group Office, word of these antics got back to the Group.  It turned out that he was forcing the off-duty section to come in on what should have been their weekend off to operate the boats.  The guy was dumb enough to be drinking on the small boat to the point of intoxication.  One of the guy’s spouses was unhappy that her husband was being forced to work his off weekends.  She ended up talking to someone at the district office in Cleveland about it and that spawned the investigation.  It was almost sad to see the guy beat down, but this guy had asked for it and in reality got what he deserved.

I had been trying to get to a cutter since the day I arrived at Group Detroit.  I was put in an assignment data card (better known as a “dream sheet”) basically listing any cutter, anywhere.   Around the first of July, I received a call from the cutter assignment officer asking me what I thought about the USCGC Ironwood in Kodiak, AK.  Naturally I wanted to say yes, but know that since it would be an early rotation, I needed to get the command to go along.  I walked up to the second floor of the main building to talk to the Deputy Group Commander.  He wasn’t in his office.  The new Group Commander, Captain Brandsma saw me and asked me what was up.  I told him about the call from the detailer.  I gave him the abbreviated version of the call.   “The Ironwood!” he exclaimed, “Kodiak!  You’re going to love it.”  I mentioned that I needed to clear it through the Deputy and he just roared.  “Get back on the phone and tell the detailer you’ll be there.  I’ll let the Deputy know.”  As luck with have it, right about that time the Deputy walked up the stairs and came over to us.  “Jim is going to the Ironwood” the Captain said.  “When?” asked the Deputy.  “The detailer said 1 October.” I said.  “No way” the Deputy said, “Who’s going to take over all his jobs.”  The Captain just laughed and said that” if you can’t live without a JG for a couple months, you have some serious problems.”  He told me to get busy and dismissed me.  Needless to say, I had to walk softly around the Deputy until I left.  He was one unhappy camper and accused me of going around him.  What a great guy.  He cared more about the next morale report to the district than about my career.  I was determined never to be like him.  But like I said earlier; believe it or not, he was not the worst Executive Officer I have ever had.

The 1985 Coast Guard Day Picnic was one to remember (or forget!).  It started out all good.  We had a dunking tank (I’m not sure who was a more popular target, me of the Commanding Officer) to raise money for some charity and man did we raise some cash!  There was a ton of food and a bunch of stuff for the kids.   It kind of went downhill a little later.  This was back in the day when just about everyone got hammered at such events.  Drinking way too much was almost a requirement.  We held it at Selfridge ANG Base.  The local Budweiser distributor was a “good friend” of the Coast Guard and they loaned us one of the refrigerated keg trailers.  Here’s where the story starts to get “good”.  A couple had recently broken up..  They both came to the picnic and of course didn’t exchange a word.  For lack of a better term, the “battle lines were clearly drawn.  The women got really drunk and was stopped by base security after spinning out while approaching the gate to leave.  To this day I have no idea how she managed to spin out on dry pavement going under 30 mph.  There must have been some gravel or stones in the roadway.  At the time, I didn’t realize how loaded she really was.  Of course, in those days Base Security just held her until she had a chance to sober up a bit.  In the interest of full disclosure, a group of us was going to meet at another bar to continue the party and we actually got worried when she didn’t show up.  Of course, cell phones weren’t quite around in 1985 so we had to do a little calling to find out what the story was.  When we found out she was being held at the base, we gave some thought to going for her but since all of us in various states of intoxication ourselves, our hands were somewhat tied.  Seriously, they weren’t going to release one drunk to another. 

Well, the following Monday, I find out that her ex-husband (who by the way was one of the biggest dirt bags I have ever met) had found out about her detention and went to his buddy, the First Class Boatswain’s Mate who was the Command Drug and Alcohol Rep (CDAR for short) and wanted to make a big deal out of it.  As I said above, the battle lines were pretty clearly drawn on this one.  It was no secret that I was a friend of the gal (this was one of those deals that you couldn’t stay neutral; folks HAD to take a side here) and was hanging out with her at the picnic.  Like I said earlier, she was supposed to meet me and a couple other people at a local bar after the picnic and we were actually worried where she was until she called the bar to let us know had had happened.  So the BM1 comes to my office and tells me that he needs a complete statement on the events of the day.  I knew exactly what was going on here so I asked him if that included the fact that he was so drunk that his wife took him home in the back of his pickup truck just in case he hurled.  Or perhaps that the young lady's soon to be ex-husband was staggering around having consumed more beer than one might otherwise imagine?  I also inquired if the "command" was aware of his freelance investigation.  Needless to say, the matter was quickly dropped.  I was very glad that we both had orders out of town.  We both needed to get the hell out of Detroit!  I have never been a big fan of someone getting railroaded and this would have set up perfectly

I departed Group Detroit on Monday, September 2, 1985.  I left with little fanfare.  I shook some hands, collected my orders and headed out.  In those days, junior officer's leaving shore units generally didn't get "departure" awards and I was no exception.  My household goods had been picked up a couple weeks earlier so I had basically been living out of what I could carry in my car.   I left the base around lunch time and drove to over to Rochester.  I spent some time at my parent’s house before heading to Kodiak later in the month.  Detroit was an ok place, but I wasn’t going anywhere in the assignment and it was time to go.  After the Coast Guard day picnic incident, I wasn’t exactly the most popular guy in some circles.  If they only knew.


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