Always prepared to hit the water in case of emergency, this boat sits just outside the watch commander’s window.

Always prepared to hit the water in case of emergency, this boat sits just outside the watch commander’s window.

I recently had the great privilege of meeting one of our local ‘defenders of freedom’ at the POC Coast Guard Station. Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew Hernandez is currently serving in the Coast Guard (CG) Reserves. This unassuming young father of two served 9 and ½ years active duty. He served on a cutter with lengthy patrols at sea in the northern Atlantic states and later was stationed more than 4 years at the POC station. When he joined the reserves, he completed a Criminal Justice Degree utilizing his GI Bill benefits, and works for the USAA Insurance Group, an agency tasked with serving vets and active duty military home and auto insurance needs. He joined the smallest branch of our military after fishing with his grandpa in POC and admiring the Coast Guard (CG) Station and its members. Born and raised in Texas, he found the Cape Maine, New Jersey weather not to his liking during Basic Training, and was happy to be ‘home’ when was assigned to POC CG.

Usual duty assignment to POC is 3-4 years, and most like the assignment. The small town can make it a challenge for housing, social opportunities and other logistics. The guy to girl ratio in the CG is about 5:1. All recruits go to the New Jersey location for Basic, and may go to Connecticut for further training. POC CG has 40-50 full time assigned guardsmen and women at any given time. They work rotating shifts of 2 days on and 2 off. Many live in nearby or even more distant larger cities, and travel to POC for duty days. They have annual assignment transfers in June for higher ranking CG, but new recruits arrive as assigned.

They stand watch, meaning literally standing and watching over our coastal area, from an impressively technology equipped watch room at the station on a rotating 24/7 schedule 365 days a year. You can rest assured that someone is watching, always. Even as the crew took a break for ‘chow time’ the assigned watch stander stood in the watch room on duty and vigilant to their job. When their shift ends, a fresh ‘watcher’ will arrive ready for duty.

The station participates in tactical training every Tuesday and Thursday and periodic weekends and special training opportunities. The station has two cooks, but the assigned crew is responsible for their own housekeeping, upkeep and maintenance of boats, station, dorm areas, and gear and other. The CG Station is on Federal Property where it was rebuilt after the hurricane destroyed the old station. As Federal Property, it is not supposed to be photographed, but Boatswain Mate Matt Hernandez graciously got permission for me to take pictures on my recent tour, and assured me I was not compromising CG security by doing so.

They have six total boats, some as long as 29 ft. and able to travel up to 60 mph. they are tasked with enforcing Federal Maritime Law, providing search and rescue if needed, answering distress calls on internationally recognized emergency channel 16, supporting the Parks and Wildlife State enforcement of law, offering safety and education to the boating public, providing rescue and recovery services to watercraft of all sizes. They only interact with our many tugs and barges in case of emergency or requested assistance. These crew members volunteer in our community regularly above and beyond their assigned CG duties. They train in all kinds of weather and have helicopter support out of Corpus Christi if needed. Off shore cutters can be called to assist in case of major emergencies.

The POC Station guards up to two miles outside San Antonio Bay, Matagorda Bay, areas all the way to the Matagorda Locks, and up to 50 miles offshore. All CG crew are Basic First Aid and rescue trained and when on patrol have EMT personnel with them. The CG will safety inspect personal craft at the CG station by appointment, but it is not required.

There is a second division of CG housed next door that is strictly a Navigational Maintenance Team. They monitor and maintain the buoys, lights, beepers and markers in the ICW 24/7. They observe electronically and check, monitor and repair hands on regularly. They replace buoys and beepers dislodged by freighters and barges.

The Coast Guard may be underappreciated for all they do. They have fewer international patrols and see fewer injuries and international incidents because they are the smallest branch and fewer of them serve on land than water. It is a great career choice, with many serving 20 and even 30 years before a decorated retirement. Tuition assistance and college credit while serving is common for guardsmen. While the closest large CG recruiting station is in Corpus Christi, most school counselors have information and all CG members would happily talk with interested parties about opportunities in the CG.

Next time you see some of our hometown Coast Guard Crew in and around town, tell them Thank You for a job well done! They deserve it!

Matthew J. Hernandez, Petty Officer First Class was an excellent guide for my visit to the Coast Guard Station.

Matthew J. Hernandez, Petty Officer First Class was an excellent guide for my visit to the Coast Guard Station.

 

The Port O’Connor Coast Guard Station is federal property, accessible only with permission or by appointment. There is an intercom at this gate.

The Port O’Connor Coast Guard Station is federal property, accessible only with permission or by appointment. There is an intercom at this gate.

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