If he had his way, Lt. Scott A. Rae would stay at the Bayonne U.S. Coast Guard base forever.
After three years serving as part of a fleet of Coast Guard vessels that watch over New York Harbor, Rae is being reassigned to a job at the Cape May Training Academy, saying farewell to what he says has been a dream job.
Hailing from the Michigan area, Rae had a chance to go back to his old stomping ground this winter when his ship, the Sturgeon Bay Coast Guard Cutter, was assigned to the New York Great Lakes area to help with flooding and ice breaking.
“The Surgeon Bay is an ice breaking cutter, and we’re responsible for ice breaking duties in the New York-New Jersey area,” Rae said. Ice breaking is generally done in January and February.
“I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years.” – Lt. Scott A. Rae
“Since there is no Army or Navy here, we’re it,” he said. “We walk the beat.”
This means covering a huge amount of waterway that includes Sandy Hook in the northern portion of the Jersey Shore, the Hudson River and New York Harbor, through the Kill Van Kull to Newark Bay and ports Newark and Elizabeth, the East River, and up the Hudson River to Kingsport or Saugerties and the Albany area.
“We’re responsible for Homeland Security and security patrols,” he said, claiming the area has at least 75 different important areas they need to check on.
Arrived in Bayonne three years ago
Rae was assigned to the Bayonne beat in July 2007.
“Normally, it is a two-year assignment,” he said. “I’ve been here a year longer than normal.”
But he said being the commander of his own vessel is a dream job. He will move on to the Cape May Coast Guard training facility, where he will be involved in preparing new recruits for duty. This is the only remaining Coast Guard training facility in the country, where he did his own training, graduating in 1991.
“I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years,” he said.
Originally from Michigan, Rae had not previously come to New York until he got assigned here in 2007, at which point he was put in charge of one of the key local tasks of Homeland Security – guarding some of the most significant icons of American culture, economics, and transportation.
He went from having never seen the Statue of Liberty and the George Washington Bridge to supervising a vessel protecting them.
And looking back, he believes he did a good job as gatekeeper to the nation’s largest city, and believes the Coast Guard will remain vigilant because New York City will always be a target for terrorists.
A majority of his ship’s assignment is part of the Port Waterway Coast Security.
“About 75 percent of our hours involve patrolling the waterways,” he said.
This involves checking on small craft in the waterways, especially those which are situated in forbidden areas.
“We have a check list of areas that was developed as a result of 9/11,” he said. “Craft are not allowed in those areas, and if they are, we check on them and make them leave.”
While some sites might seem logical, such as the foot of a bridge or near the United Nations building, others sites might surprise you, such as the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
A great honor
“Being the commander of a ship is a huge responsibility and a great honor,” he said. “I’m very proud to have been the commander of a military unit, and it is the best job I’ve ever had in one of the busiest ports in America. It is not a responsibility I’ve taken lightly.”
Sometimes, the ships in the fleet of five escorted ferries and kept watch over other boats.
During terroristic threats, the Coast Guard was out on the water. When the plane crash-landed in the Hudson River, the Coast Guard was there.
By serving as a beat cop for the harbor and patrolling key areas, Rae and his crew had a good idea if something seemed out of place.
Recently, he and his crew had the privilege of escorting President Barack Obama’s wife and kids to see the Statue of Liberty and other harbor sites.
“They were really down to earth,” he said. “They sat down with us in the mess to chat. It must have driven the Secret Service nuts.”
His ship has also escorted Prince Harry of England as well as a number of other public figures and VIPs.
Education was a big part of his job
Yet perhaps the most satisfying of his duties was the educational initiative. He began reaching out to local schools to teach them about the harbor and about the role the Coast Guard plays in maintaining it.
“We teach them about how to get involved, and about the hands on, real life aspects of what we do,” he said.
During one three-month period last year, the Sturgeon Bay logged in almost 1,400 volunteer hours by mentoring kids and providing educational programs to students throughout the New York and New Jersey area. For the “Partnership with Education” program, crew members go to area schools to teach, or students come to visit the facilities in Bayonne.
He said he could have done none of these things without his crew – men and women, he said, who were professional and enthusiastic, and people he will very much miss when he leaves this month.