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By BILLY SINGLETON
Daily News Staff Writer
After a period of reduced activity, Ketchikan’s U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary group is again making waves.
The U.S Coast Guard Auxiliary is a volunteer-based, civilian service of the Coast Guard, geared toward promoting boating safety and supporting Coast Guard operations. Formed in 1939, the service has more than 24,000 members nationwide and is made up of groups called “flotillas.”
In late 2015, Ketchikan’s long-standing auxiliary flotilla had lost several key members. Lacking a leader, the group was demoted into a detachment of Petersburg’s flotilla, which allowed it to remain in service but cost it some of its autonomy.
But this year’s activities have “definitely” exceeded those of the previous couple of years, Ketchikan’s detachment leader Anthony Karvelas said.
So far in 2018, the group has performed more than 60 recreational vessel examinations and eight commercial passenger vessel examinations. They have increased their number of certified vessel examiners from three to six people. In the spring, they hosted a boating safety class and participated alongside Ketchikan’s emergency response organizations in the 2018 Safety and Preparedness Exposition. They were recognized formally by both the City of Ketchikan and the Ketchikan Gateway Borough for their work.
The detachment now has a chance to regain its flotilla status. The change would allow the group to appoint its own officers and make more of its own decisions.
The comeback has taken a lot of work. Karvelas said that recruiting dedicated members is especially difficult for the auxiliary because of the level of commitment involved. Depending on their area of involvement, requirements for auxiliary members include completing an entrance exam, passing background checks, taking classes and passing more in-depth certification tests.
“The auxiliary’s not easy,” Karvelas said. “It’s not like when people think of volunteering for something, you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, you just show up and start volunteering (and) everything’s good.’ This is a process. You’re actually joining a government agency.”
Auxiliarists wear uniforms nearly identical to those of the regular Coast Guard, called Operational Dress Uniforms and Tropical Blues. Their uniforms are distinguished by their silver markings, in the place of the Coast Guard’s gold.
Ketchikan’s detachment meets monthly, usually in a training room at Coast Guard Base Ketchikan. Their training includes disaster relief instruction, and they have the option to undergo training as a crew member in order to fill in during Coast Guard missions.
In addition to performing safety inspections on vessels and hosting boating safety classes, the Ketchikan detachment has safety information on display at four local businesses and in the harbormaster’s office.
Auxiliarists also can patrol waterways and aid in search and rescue missions. Ketchikan’s detachment lost its two certified vessels in 2015 when the boats’ owners moved away, but it is currently working toward certifying another vessel and resuming its activities on the water.
Given all of those projects, the members who stick around tend to be dedicated.
“You try to find people that are willing to offer that commitment,” Karvelas said. “... It’s a little more difficult finding volunteers compared to some other organizations, but the people you do find, they really tend to be committed.
Though the detachment currently has only nine active members, its members are very involved. Karvelas said that this makes the group more resilient than it has been in years past.
“If something was to happen to me tomorrow, I’m confident that other people would be able to pick things up and continue forward,” he said. “It doesn’t all depend on me.”
One of those members is Dody Morrison, who has served as vice flotilla commander during her 20 years volunteering in the auxiliary. One of Morrison’s favorite memories is flying as a passenger in Lockheed C-130 Hercules airplanes on official trips to Anchorage.
But what she’s enjoyed most has been meeting people and helping her community.
“You meet so many wonderful people in the Coast Guard Auxiliary,” Morrison said. “It’s amazing. And you stay friends with them forever.”
“It’s nice to be able to be a part of something in your community where you can give something back,” she added. “And we’ve got a wonderful community here. I’d say one of the best.”
Karvelas plans to visit Juneau this month — a chance to restore the flotilla by as early as Jan. 1. He said he doesn’t know what will happen, but that it isn’t his main concern. Either way, the group will stick to its primary goals: working toward the growth of the detachment and its members, and helping the public.