Elizabeth City Tourist Director Charlotte Underwood (left) serves MH-60
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Thomas J. Turney/The Daily Advance

Elizabeth City Tourist Director Charlotte Underwood (left) serves MH-60 "T" Helicopter pilot Lt. Jane Pena during Coast Guard Day at the Elizabeth City Coast Guard Base, Thursday, August 1, 2013

Coast Guard Day draws 3,000

By William F. West

The Daily Advance

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Rain or shine, U.S. Coast Guard personnel always show up and perform their missions.

The same is apparently true when they’re just having fun.

Despite an early morning downpour and overcast skies for most of the day, turnout at Coast Guard Base Elizabeth City Thursday for the annual celebration of Coast Guard Day wasn’t much different from past years when skies were sunny.

Approximately 3,000 active duty personnel, Coast Guard retirees, federal employees, contractors, and Coastie family members attended Thursday’s event, held to mark the U.S. Coast Guard’s founding 223 years ago.

“We go on, rain or shine,” quipped Chad Baldwin, the base’s new morale, well-being and recreation director.

Jessica McLeod, a health services technician at the base clinic, said she was worried about the rain while driving to work early Thursday morning. She said she was glad when the rain stopped and Coast Guard Day events were able to get under way on schedule.

McLeod, who recently was named Shipmate of the Week for the entire Coast Guard, said she likes the sense of togetherness created by Coast Guard Day.

“You get to see everybody in operations, here and there, but Coast Guard Day actually gives you an opportunity to feel like we’re all part of it,” she said.

And, of course, there was the food served by local volunteers — chicken, barbecue, baked beans, coleslaw and hush puppies.

“I’m a hush puppies fan, so as much as hush puppies I can get, I love,” McLeod said.

Elizabeth City Area Chamber of Commerce President Kelly Thorsby was among the small army of volunteers helping serve lunch to McLeod and other Coast Guard Day attendees.

“We love giving back to the Coast Guard,” Thorsby said.

Like McLeod, Airman Alexander Henry, who is in training at the base’s Aviation Technical Training Center to become a rescue swimmer, said he likes the fellowship of Coast Guard Day.

“It doesn’t matter the rank or the rate, everyone can just come and have a good time and enjoy a fairly nice afternoon,” said Henry, who came to Elizabeth City from New Orleans.

Airman Matt Yee, who, like Henry, is training to become a rescue swimmer, said there’s nothing not to like about Coast Guard Day.

“I get to get off early, get to have some free food, other goodies here,” Yee said. “So, it’s pretty cool.

As for the Coast Guard, Yee, who came to Elizabeth City from Astoria, Ore., said he’s honored to be a member.

“It’s a wonderful organization that we’re a part of and it’s cool to be able to appreciate what this has become,” he said.

Petty Officer 1st Class Edwin Garcia, an instructor at the ATTC, attended Thursday’s Coast Guard Day celebration with his wife and child. He said one of the best parts about living in Elizabeth City is the family atmosphere.

He, too, is honored to be a member of an organization with long a tradition of public service.

“I think I just generally feel fortunate that I’m able to follow in the footsteps of the pioneers of this service — and I’m glad to serve,” he said.

Joe Garrish, who served in the Coast Guard from 1960-80 and later was employed at the base as a civil service worker, also attended Thursday’s celebration.

“I like to come out and talk to the people and meet some people,” he said.