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My Coast Guard
Commentary | June 16, 2023

Joint operations event sees active duty and Auxiliary crews prepare for a busy SAR season

By John Saran, AUXPA1, District Captain — Area East, Auxiliary District 9WR

The SAR alarm sounded, beckoning active duty and Auxiliary crews to the Station Michigan City’s communications room. “We have a report of a vessel that just made the trip from New Buffalo to Michigan City and noticed they are missing one passenger. That means you have 1 PIW about a mile offshore and they could be anywhere in that 10-mile stretch. How do you want to proceed, and do you need the assistance of a 45’ RBM?”  

These were the instructions and questions provided by the watch stander — Auxiliarist Ed Carroll — and the active duty Officer of the Day to Auxiliarist Paul Bornstein, a coxswain visiting from Chicago during a June 10-11 training exercise at Station Michigan City. Over the course of the two-day event, 25 auxiliarists from Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan conducted three SAR drills and studied operations policy with their active-duty shipmates. A 45’ RBM, a 29’ RB-S II, one Auxiliary facility from a nearby Michigan City marina and two Auxiliary facilities visiting from Coast Guard Station Chicago all participated in these exercises. 

Bornstein was made the on-scene coordinator and provided direction to an active-duty break-in coxswain, BM3 Oscar Garcia, to conduct the search patterns. The search started out with a real-life engine casualty for the RBM, which meant the Auxiliary boat had to proceed on its own. The Auxiliary crew started its track line search and ultimately recovered the person in water (PIW), who happened to be station officer in charge, Chief Petty Officer Steven Klika, in a dry suit. Later that day, BM3 Garcia conducted tow where the scenario vessel suffered a mock fire with PIWs. He had to coordinate with another Auxiliary facility, led by Auxiliarist Josh Zajac, to support his tow and pick up the PIWs. Little did everyone know, BM3 Garcia was having his check ride that he passed with flying colors.  

“This was a great way to start the patrol season, and my crew from nearby units in Michiana was ready to jump right into it,” said Auxiliarist Todd Nitz, who coxswained a local Auxiliary facility during the event. His crew started off the exercise with a successful tow of a mock-disabled RB-S II — a task this brand-new facility had not completed before. 

After each exercise, the joint crews debriefed, shared chow and engaged in fellowship. “Food is morale and the Aux culinary team kept our crews energized during the exercise. One of my BMs came up to me saying that the Aux are welcome any time, they left the galley cleaner than when they got there,” said Klika.  

At the end of the event, Klika and BM1 Anthony Hanusiak provided a preview of new active-duty PQSs involving the RBM and RB-S II available at Station Michigan City for auxiliarists. Station leadership worked with Auxiliary national leadership to develop this pilot program.  

“A special thanks to our active-duty shipmates at Station Michigan City. Everybody came together as Team Coast Guard over the course of the weekend,” said Auxiliarist Steve McCarty, commander of the St. Joseph Division.