PUBLISHED: 1:45 PM on Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Coast Guard Auxiliary celebrates 50 years
On June 23, 1939, the U.S. Congress created the Coast Guard Reserve, which was given the mandate to use civilian volunteers to promote safety on the high seas. In 1941, this group of volunteers was renamed the Coast Guard Auxiliary, otherwise known as "America's Volunteer Lifesavers."

Fifteen years later, on July 20, 1956, Juneau established its own Coast Guard Auxiliary. Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, the group has evolved over time from what was originally an organization geared mainly to public education, to providing lifesaving services to the residents of southeast Alaska.

"Things have changed quite a bit since we got our start 50 years ago," said Marilyn Coffman, Juneau flotilla staff officer for marine safety. "When we initially started, we were mostly involved in public education, teaching people about boating safety and doing vessel exams. Since then we have evolved more into the operational field, providing training for our members to act as a force multiplier for the Coast Guard. Our basic task is to assist them in any way we can."

Helping the Coast Guard can take a myriad of forms, from working on small boats to standing communication watches to helping with port security.

"Since 9/11, the Coast Guard Auxiliary has become more involved with the Coast Guard," Coffman said. "More fields have opened up to us and we are involved in many more tasks."

Members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary are guided by the four cornerstones of the charter, which include providing education to the pubic and to Auxiliary members; providing operational support wherever needed, including in the areas of search and rescue and port security; and providing free vessel exams to recreational boaters to ensure that their crafts comply with federal boating regulations.

"Our fourth cornerstone is fellowship, which binds us all together," Coffman said.

There are 44 members of the Juneau Flotilla, which is the longest continuously established flotilla in the 17th District. To become a member of the Auxiliary, a person must be 18 years old, a U.S. citizen, and pass an exam about the history of the Auxiliary and the role it plays today. Since 9/11, prospective members must also go though an initial screening check.

Each month, members get together for a formal meeting, and they also often gather at classes that are provided to further train them to meet their goals.

"We provide advanced training courses for our members, as well as provide public education classes ranging from basic skills and seamanship to coastal navigation courses," Coffman said. "That keeps us busy pretty much all year long."

In addition, the Coast Guard Auxiliary also teaches water safety classes to children in local grade schools.

Like many members of the Flotilla, Marilyn and her husband, Lee, decided to join the Auxiliary to help make a difference.

"We were interested in the educational opportunities that it provided, but more than that, it was a way of giving back to the community," explained Marilyn, who along with Lee, have been members for 29 years.

To celebrate the organization's 50th anniversary, plans are underway to provide information to the public about what the Coast Guard Auxiliary does, to educate them on what classes are available, and to encourage others to volunteer their time in the 17th District.

"We thought that we'd hold a year-long celebration to bring more attention to what we do in this town," Coffman said. "We don't have all of the plans together yet-we're just beginning to gear up."

In the meantime, the Coast Guard Auxiliary will continue to do what they do best, which is helping people stay safe when they're on the water. To find out more about the Coast Guard Auxiliary, visit To learn more about the Juneau Flotilla, call Commander Monica Renke at 523-6017 or Training Officer Terri Telkamp at 523-8082.