Not many people associate the U.S. Coast Guard with Montana, but a new volunteer unit in Billings hopes to change all that.
Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 02 of Billings was chartered in a ceremony on Saturday afternoon at the Naval Reserve Training Center. The gathering included speeches, the swearing in of leadership and even bagpipe music by two members of Caledonian Pipes and Drums of Billings.
The 26 members of the flotilla, all civilian volunteers, will focus their efforts on recreational boater safety in the eastern part of Montana. That includes public education, patrolling waterways, checking boats and search-and-rescue assistance.
The flotilla is part of District 13, which encompasses Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana. Commodore Dean Wimer of Oregon, who heads the district, challenged the members of the flotilla to look for innovative ways to carry out their responsibilities and to strive for proficiency.
“Keep going, keep up with the challenge and never stop learning,” he said to members of the newly formed group.
Wimer talked about the national auxiliary’s history. In 1939, he said, the Coast Guard Volunteer Reserve was formed and two years later it was renamed an auxiliary, rapidly expanding during World War II.
In 1966, the Coast Guard Authorization Act broadened the responsibilities of the auxiliary to include everything the regular Coast Guard does, except for law enforcement and combat.
Wimer said auxiliary members in the four-state area have their work cut out for them. Fifty-five percent of deaths in the district happen in non-motorized craft, such as kayaks, canoes and paddle boards.
Education and safety are top priorities, he said, to keep boaters safe.
The men and women of the new flotilla then came forward to shake hands with and salute Eastern Area Captain Jim Armstrong and Division Commander David Hansen. Hansen also swore in Flotilla Commander Jonathan Wells and Vice Commander Lindy Graves.
After the ceremony, Wells said that the Billings area previously had a flotilla that disbanded in the mid-1980s. Through recruiting and training over the past two years, the flotilla was able to reestablish itself.
In addition to its focus on recreational boater safety, public education and vessel exams, the group will also do search-and-rescue and security patrols at Cooney Lake, Yellowtail Reservoir and Fort Peck.
“We’re here now, we’re established, we’re here to help the community of Billings,” and other Eastern Montana communities, he said.
Members will focus their training in the near future on swift-water rescues so they’ll be ready when the call for help comes. And for those who still wonder about the need for the Coast Guard in Montana, Wells shared a little-known fact.
“We’ve got more shoreline in the state of Montana than the state of California does,” he said. “People don’t realize that we’ve got a lot of water in the state – it’s just spread out.”