It was a who’s who in the workboat world Friday night as 350 people packed into the Boeing Center at the National World War II Museum’s U.S. Freedom Pavilion in New Orleans for a tribute to the Eighth Coast Guard District. It was also the 25th anniversary celebration of the Coast Guard Foundation, the group that sponsored the awards dinner.
Big local names in maritime — Blessey, Bollinger, Candies, Smith, Chouest — were all there, as was the commandant of the Coast Guard, Adm. Paul F. Zukunft, and Rear Adm. Paul Thomas, commander of the Eighth Coast Guard District.
But the focus of the evening was on the agency’s rescue efforts following Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm that made landfall three times over a six-day period along the Texas Gulf Coast. At its most prolific, it had flooded a full one-third of the city of Houston. The rescue efforts, particularly those of the Coast Guard, were well documented on TV, in newspapers and on social media. But this night was more about what was happening to Coast Guard personnel out of the public eye.
Thousands of Coast Guard men and women involved in the rescues lost everything themselves. That’s where the Coast Guard Foundation stepped forward, putting up hundreds of thousands of dollars to help the rescuers.
Just a day after delivering his latest state of the Coast Guard address in Washington D.C., Zukunft came to the podium looking relaxed and in his element as he thanked foundation members for their help. “These are my men and women,” he said. “Who rescues the rescuers? You do.”
Zukunft reminded the audience that the swimmers, helicopter pilots and other rescuers deserve all the credit they receive and more. But he also said it’s the crews people don’t see on television — the men and women who keep the helicopters flying, for example — who are just as important. Without them, rescues couldn’t be made. And without the Coast Guard Foundation, rescuers wouldn’t have the peace of mind while rescuing others that someone “had their back.”
The commandant also recognized aviation electronics technician Ashlee Leppert, who President Donald Trump praised for her bravery and had as one of his special guests at his January State of the Union Address. Leppert was given a standing ovation.
Additionally, over $160,000 was pledged during a fund raising portion of the program, helping refill the foundation’s coffers.