During the government shutdown, the United States Coast Guard took on national attention for being the one military branch that would not be funded by the Department of Defense, as they fall under the Department of Homeland Security. Many individual communities began to reach out, donating food and monetary items to help those families who faithfully serve, even when required to do so without pay.
Often going unnoticed, the U.S. Coast Guard station on East 4th Street maintains a crew of 16 that is responsible for maintaining and marking the 700-mile stretch of river from Smithland to Greenup, Ky. When word spread via social media that Owensboro had a local Coast Guard station, it did not take long for members of the local community to step up and try to fill a need.
A Father who Served
Darrell Vanover is an associate broker at Greater Owensboro Realty Company and the son of a former Coast Guard mechanic who has called Owensboro home since arriving in 1980.
“The Coast Guard is the reason we are in Owensboro,” Vanover said. “My dad was in the Coast Guard — the boat docked — my brother and I have lived here our whole lives.”
For that reason, the family has always felt a special tie to the “close-knit family” they found in the Coast Guard.
When Vanover received word that Coast Guard members would not be paid during the shutdown, he, his family and business associates took to social media in order to assist the local men and their families who are serving. Vanover said the public request was in no way intended to gain recognition for himself or Greater Owensboro Realty.
“We were fortunate to have the ability and the platform, but we just did it because it was the right thing to do,” Vanover said. “The support from the community was awesome and overwhelming. It was amazing the number of people that gave. We were overwhelmed with people just stopping by and dropping stuff off.”
Vanover said countless members from the community dropped off 15 to 20 different types of gift cards to grocery stores, Chick-Fil-A, Long John Silver’s, Texas Roadhouse and other restaurants, as well as Visa gift cards. His father then delivered those cards and monetary donations to Senior Chief Cameron Morgan at the local station.
“We’re glad to a part of it,” Vanover said. “We would do it again in a heartbeat.”
A Son’s First Duty Station
Gwen Falkenberry celebrated with pride as her son Hayden graduated from Coast Guard basic training last June. Within a week, Hayden arrived at his first duty station in Owensboro. At 21 years of age, Hayden is serving at the station in Owensboro as he awaits “A” school in Virginia.
Gwen said food pantries opened to Coast Guard and federal employees in their hometown of Alabama as concern of the shutdown spread and, with her son so far from home, she could not help but reach out to those near where he was stationed.
“Oh my gosh — my child just joined the Coast Guard and they’re the only branch that’s not getting paid,” Gwen said. “They’re pretty much a small boat station. I reached out and asked if there was anyone in the Owensboro, Ky. area.”
Gwen received word from the Owensboro Rotary and several others, as well as from the Senior Chief at the Coast Guard station, who assured those that needed a meal that they could eat onboard ship and save whatever money they had.
“As a mom, you do worry,” Gwen said. “They don’t have any money — they’re learning. It was a pretty big deal to be without pay, especially because they had to go to work every day.”
Gwen said it has meant a lot to her to ensure that some of the single Coast Guard members who are on their own like Hayden, are fed, during the holidays and times of need, and remember that they are cared about.
A Veteran and Student Leadership
In the spirit of serving the Coast Guard, fourth- and fifth-grade members of the Sorgho Elementary School student Lighthouse team invited all 16 members of the U.S. Coast Guard assigned to the USCGC Obion to enjoy a spaghetti dinner in the school cafeteria Tuesday evening.
Student Lighthouse team sponsor Catie Warren said this event was important to the SES staff and students because, not only is cafeteria manager Heather Haynes a veteran of the Coast Guard, it taught her students the importance of giving back to others.
“Our student Lighthouse team works hard to provide service to others,” Warren said, adding that her students have participated in a Lighthouse service project nearly every month this school year. “Our students are learning many ways that they can provide service to others, from reading to residents at the homeless shelter, walking dogs at the animal shelter and serving meals to others.”
BMCS Morgan was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from the students and staff, as well as the community.
“We have families and people to take care of,” Morgan said. “The local community support and service organizations made a huge impact on the morale of the crew and keeping our heads up.”
Morgan said, with the uncertainty of future shutdowns, he has spoken to his crew concerning being realistic about expenses and budgeting wisely.
“You don’t know what’s on the horizon,” Morgan said.
On Jan. 15, a letter was sent from Commandant Admiral Karl L. Schultz to all U.S. Coast Guard members. The introduction read, “To the Men and Women of the United States Coast Guard, Today you will not be receiving your regularly scheduled mid-month paycheck. To the best of my knowledge, this marks the first time in our Nation’s history that service members in a U.S. Armed Force have not been paid during a lapse in government appropriations.”
The letter went on to say that, with the help of a $15 million donation from the United Services Automobile Association (USAA) and the assistance of the American Red Cross, funds would be distributed to those service members requiring assistance.
The following day, the Government Employee Fair Treatment Act of 2019 bill became law, ensuring that Coast Guard members and federal workers that did not receive pay during the shutdown would be paid retroactively once the shutdown came to an end.