While the federal government remains shut down, the men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard are among those continuing to work without pay. But the local food bank and American Legion are pitching in to provide for service members.
The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Osprey, which is based at Port Townsend’s Boat Haven, were received as dinner guests Jan. 16 by the Marvin G. Shields Post 26 of the American Legion.
Master Chief Petty Officer Michael Jennings told the crowd how the 87-foot cutter and its crew handles nearly all types of major Coast Guard missions, including pollution response, search and rescue — “That’s a big one for us out here,” he said — law enforcement and boating education.
“And we have a mixed-gender crew,” Jennings said, noting the cutter has a capacity for fewer than a dozen crew members. “I have to admit I was skeptical at first, but in our world, they’ve become brothers and sisters.
“Which I suppose makes me the grandfather, as they make sure to remind me,” he added with a laugh.
Jennings said the Osprey represents a relatively unique experience for enlisted personnel because its lack of officers puts the enlisted men and women in charge of all aspects of running the vessel.
“It’s one of the only opportunities we have to be charged with this much responsibility, and it’s a great honor,” Jennings said. “Port Townsend is my No. 1 pick of duty assignments for that reason.”
That’s not to say the Osprey doesn’t go significantly further afield than the Puget Sound. Its deployments have included trips to the Columbia River three times a year, as well as to California and Alaska.
“We were sent to Alaska for seven weeks,” Jennings said. “Especially with the size of our vessel, you’d think we’d be at each other’s throats. But we actually got along and looked after each other.”
Jennings said one of the differences between the Coast Guard and other military branches is how its enlisted personnel have an experimental period of more generalized work before they’re trained in their occupation specialties.
“We’ve investing an incredible level of responsibility in our E-2s and E-3s,” Jennings said. “Their peers elsewhere are handling maybe one or two tasks at a time, but just two of them on board our cutter account for 20 percent of our workforce.”
When Jennings acknowledged the impact of the government shutdown on his crew members and their families, Andrew Okinczyc, finance officer for Port Townsend American Legion Post 26, presented Jennings with 1,300 Safeway cards, each one worth $100.
Shirley Moss, manager of the Port Townsend Food Bank, extended an invitation of her own to Jennings and his crew.
“If you’re able to let your crew off on Wednesdays, they can come by our food bank,” Moss said, adding that the Tri-Area, Quilcene and Brinnon food banks would also be happy to serve them. “Just because you’re not getting paid doesn’t mean you don’t still need to be fed.”
Moss said the Port Townsend Food Bank located at the Mountain View Commons is open from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesdays, and 8:30 to 10 a.m. serves as its “quick pick” period.
“We have a variety of quality healthy food,” Moss said, adding the selection includes wild salmon, black cod and catfish. “There’s no qualifiers to be served. We don’t want to make it any harder than it already is to come in. All we want to know is how many are in your family.”
Moss told the Coast Guard crew members or their spouses to stop by at 9:30 a.m. “if you can’t wait,” or to stop by the front desk if they can’t make it that early.
“I can’t guarantee we’ll get you in right away, but we’ll help you out as soon as possible,” Moss said.
Those interested in helping the crew of the Osprey may visit the GoFundMe page for “Port Townsend, WA, Supports our Coast Guard,” which is pledging to donate Visa prepaid cash cards to the crew members.