A Service of Another Kind

Christopher Klarmann, US Coast Guard

Christopher Klarmann, US Coast Guard

If someone were to ask you to define military service in America, you might conjure up images of tough soldiers and marines running into battle in some far flung country; a navy sailor on a submarine, quietly waiting as an enemy vessel passes close by; a pilot being pushed back into their seat by inhuman amounts of pressure as they conduct close combat maneuvers. What doesn’t come to mind is some 20 something year old Coasty leaning off the back of a john boat trying to take a sample of a sheen as it passes through a small creek off of the Passaic River in New Jersey. This contrast is what usually leads to the Coast Guard being the “forgotten service,” or in more eloquent terms, the red headed step child of the Department of Defense.

I have served this small branch of the military for nine years now as a Marine Science Technician, squaring up with threats of an entirely different nature: those posed to the environment. My local department is based out of Staten Island, NY and we ensure that the waters of New Jersey and New York remain as undamaged by human actions as possible. My 12 coworkers have, in the past, supervised on water clean ups ranging from vessels on fire, to spills from hidden cables which snake from one coast to the other across the harbor.

Having a mission so specific and often overlooked, it is always amusing to be mistaken for gas station attendants in Jersey, or a mechanic in Red Bank. Though whenever we take the time to explain who we are, there is undoubtedly a moment where someone recollects a relative who was once saved by the Coast Guard, or a friend who tried to take up boating with disastrous results, only to have a team of blue suiters tow them back to safe harbors. Once they realize we are here for pollution, we will get all kinds of intel such as, “Oh, that truck down there has been dumping oil into the creek every day, I wish someone would do something about it” or, “Can you do something about these drums that washed up on the beach?”

We go out and look for the drums, and we stake out late at night for the truck. Every day we do our small part for the country. We don’t get deployed overseas; there is no trauma that we endure which lingers over into our civilian life. We all are aware of how safe we are in our duties compared to our brothers and sisters abroad, so when the call comes in at 2:00 in the morning that we need to get on a plane to Texas for a barge that sank, or for some uncontrolled well head in Louisiana, there is no fanfare at our departure, nor any welcoming parties at our return. We are all ok with that. It’s a different kind of service, but it’s our service.