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My Coast Guard
Commentary | Dec. 24, 2021

Chicago's Christmas Ship delivers 1,200 trees to at-risk youth and families

By Aux Public Affairs First Class John Saran and Chief Petty Officer John Masson, Ninth District Public Affairs

When it comes to the Coast Guard’s role in the 22-year tradition of Chicago’s Christmas Ship, the effort is definitely an all-hands evolution.

For this year’s event, held Dec. 4, 2021, at Navy Pier in downtown Chicago, participants included active duty and reserve members, and auxiliary Coast Guard volunteers. The event followed months of planning by Chicago’s Christmas Ship Committee, the Coast Guard, and the local non-profit organizations that distribute the donated Christmas trees to Chicago families that otherwise wouldn’t have one.

This year, Mackinaw transported 1,200 trees – purchased with donations to Chicago’s Christmas Ship Committee – from northern Michigan to Chicago during one of the ship’s seasonal aids to navigation missions.

Since the modern Christmas Ship tradition began in 1999, Coast Guard ships, usually the Mackinaw, have transported more than 26,000 trees from northern Michigan to Chicago. The ship follows a course that mirrors one taken by the original Christmas Ship, the schooner Rouse Simmons, which brought trees to Chicago for years before being lost with all hands during a 1912 gale on Lake Michigan. 

Active duty Coast Guard units from the Mackinaw, Sector Lake Michigan, Marine Safety Unit Chicago, Station Chicago, and reservists and auxiliarists from Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan volunteered countless hours this year supporting the event. These volunteering hours included planning, offloading trees from the cutter, loading them onto trucks with high school volunteers, and providing event security. 

The Coast Guard Academy Glee Club sang holiday songs during a Navy Pier ceremony commemorating the loss of Rouse Simmons and all other mariners lost on the Great Lakes over the centuries.  Active duty and reserve personnel participated in all-hands sessions with Rear Adm. Michael Johnston, the Ninth District commander, and Rear Adm. James Kelly, the Assistant Commandant for Reserve. 

Auxiliarists from District 9WR, meanwhile, provided much-needed support by cooking in Mackinaw’s galley, giving cutter tours, manning a refreshment tent and the Mackinaw ship’s store, and providing public affairs support. Marine Safety Unit Chicago stepped in to coordinate Auxiliary assistance, with support by Division 35 Chicago leadership. 

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