Camden County celebrates designation as nation's first Coast Guard community

By Terry Dickson Fri, Apr 25, 2014

BRUNSWICK — Camden County celebrated its designation as the nation’s first Coast Guard community Friday.

At a celebratory luncheon at Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base, Sheila McNeill, president of the Camden Partnership, called it incredible to be the first community recognized as Coast Guard friendly in a program designed for cities. And to prove her point, five admirals, one from the Coast Guard, four from the Navy, attended the luncheon at the base.

“We had to prove we were supporters of the Coast Guard and their families,’’ said McNeill, a former national president of the Navy League.

The first city designated was Grand Haven, Mich., on Nov. 13, 1998. Among the others to achieve the designation since then are Clearwater, Newport, Ore., Mobile, Ala., Kodiak, Alaska, and Portsmouth, Maine.

McNeill said she had heard another community was receiving the designation.

“We may not be the only. We’ll always be the first,’’ she said.

McNeill said it wasn’t easy, that the Camden Partnership with the help of local governments and agencies, submitted “pages and pages’’ of documentation. It was submitted Aug. 14, 2012, and everything was quiet until Feb. 5, 2014, when a call came from Coast Guard headquarters.

“You have been designated a Coast Guard community,’’ the caller said.

Rear Adm. Steven D. Poulin, the judge advocate general and chief counsel for the Coast Guard, came to the luncheon where he was given a proclamation from the county, Kingsland, St. Marys and Woodbine designating Saturday U.S. Coast Guard Day.

Poulin responded in kind with a proclamation from Coast Guard Commandant Robert J. Papp Jr. making the designation official.

The proclamation recognized, among other things, the local Navy League’s advocacy that helped reverse budget cuts that threatened the future of the Maritime Safety and Security Team at Kings Bay and its sponsorship of the commissioning of the Coast Guard Cutter Sea Dog in July 2009 and the Cutter Sea Dragon in 2008 and adopting the security team in 2012.

The Coast Guard security team escorts submarines in and out of the port and its members showed off some of the weapons they have available to protect the subs and Tommy, a bomb detecting dog, showed his prowess sniffing out some hidden fertilizer like that used to fashion bombs.

That was for those who arrived early for an hour of meeting and greeting before the luncheon.

His time with the locals made an impression on Poulin who told the crowd, “What a friendly and inviting place.”

He noted that there are 240 members of the Coast Guard stationed at Kings Bay.

That may not sound like many, but for the Coast Guard it’s a substantial force and demonstrates the strategic value of Kings Bay, he said.

“By seeking designation as a Coast Guard community, you are in turn honoring us,’’ Poulin said.

The Coast Guard and Camden County have common interests, among them to ensure the seas are used only for legal trade and other legitimate uses, he said.

He also said that the community’s motto, “Every day is military appreciation day,’’ indicates the strong support the area has for the base.

Poulin said the designation just makes it official, and that “You’ve always been a Coast Guard community.”

Of the decision to approve the community, Poulin said, “It was an easy call.”