ILWACO, Wash. — Lt. Lawrence Ahlin said there are a lot of young men and women at U.S. Coast Guard Station Cape Disappointment who believe they’re the best boat drivers on the Columbia River.
“Let’s be realistic; we’ve got a lot of good people here, seriously ... and I’m the best boat driver,” said the departing commander.
Ahlin leaves soon to train other boat drivers at the Coast Guard’s Boat Forces Center in Yorktown, Va.
Lt. Scott McGrew, previously a military aide to the Ninth Coast Guard District Commander in Cleveland, Ohio, took over as the new commander at “Cape D.” Thursday.
“Change of command ceremonies are bittersweet for the outgoing commanding officer, sweet for the incoming CO and just a pleasure for the presiding official – a pleasure because changes of command signify to me what absolutely outstanding enlisted and officer leaders we have in the Coast Guard small boat station community,” said Capt. Bruce Jones, commander of Sector Columbia River.
“Those who’ve earned the right to serve in command of a station shoulder an incredible breadth of responsibility.”
Jones said the head office of the Coast Guard in Washington, D.C., looked for a qualified candidate – preferably a boatswain’s mate – with plenty of experience to work at Cape Disappointment, along one of the nation’s most important and treacherous stretches of coastline.
“People told me I was heading into the best job in the Coast Guard when I was heading over here,” said Ahlin, who started in September 2009. “And often times it is the best job in the Coast Guard, but just as often there are obstacles and challenges that nobody warned me about.
“So Scott, trust yourself, your chiefs, your leading petty officers – use your resources. I have no doubt that the station’s in good hands.”
Ahlin said Station Cape Disappointment needed some course corrections when he arrived, but the staff responded well. While at the station, he commanded 70 active duty and reserve personnel on search and rescue, maritime law enforcement, ports waterways, coastal security and marine environmental protection missions, in all types of weather and at all times of the day.
“The crew could tell you that a rarely missed an opportunity to drive a boat in the surf,” he said. “It was possible they didn’t want the boss out there every time they went out on the surf, but I didn’t care.”
Ahlin recounted his love of driving boats on the large waves, timing his movements precisely to avoid rolling and injuring people and “seeing what the sea tasted like that day.”
During his time in command, Station Cape Disappointment answered more than 300 calls for assistance, conducted more than 525 law enforcement boardings and more than 250 ports, waterways and coastal security missions.
Ahlin, his wife Cathy and sons Ben, Zach and Jake will travel to Yorktown. Ben Ahlin starts Coast Guard basic training at Cape May, N.J., in August.
McGrew enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1998 and spent some time early on as a petty officer at Station Cape Disappointment. He attended officer candidate school in New London, Conn. While serving in North Carolina, he oversaw nine Coast Guard stations and execution of all search-and-rescue and pollution response missions in the state. In Ohio, he served as a search-and-rescue controller and command duty officer.
He comes to Astoria with his wife Brianne G. Pennza and daughters Emma and Olivia.
“I don’t necessarily see it as filling someone else’s shoes, but more of building on their successes,” said McGrew about replacing Ahlin. “I like to say that ‘we’re all riding on the shoulders of giants,’ and nowhere is this truer than at Cape D, where a quick glance at the command board in the front of the building reveals names that are recognizable to many.”
After introducing himself, McGrew gave his orders to Chief Thomas Molloy, the station’s executive officer.
“The change of command ceremony is a time-honored tradition, which formally symbolizes the continuity of authority, as command is passed from one individual to another,” said Molloy. “The change of command is a transfer of total responsibility, authority and accountability.”
As the Coast Guard commanders assembled began to depart, a motor lifeboat in Baker Bay sounded a long horn blast to signify that the Station Cape Disappointment was officially under new command.
This story originally appeared in Daily Astorian.