Camden is first Coast Guard Community

By GORDON JACKSON The Brunswick News

ST. MARYS -- Five admirals from the Coast Guard and Navy were among the guests at a ceremony Friday to commemorate the designation of Camden County as the nation's first Coast Guard Community.

Numerous cities have been designated Coast Guard cities, but Camden County is the first county to become a Coast Guard Community.

The event, held at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, is the first of two celebrations. Another will be held May 17 in St. Marys for the entire community.

Sheila McNeill, president of Camden Partnership and former National Navy League president, said she and others asked for the designation because Camden County has two Coast Guard units, both with strong community support.

Camden County residents helped restore $300 million in cuts in 2010 that would have forced the Maritime Safety and Security Team operating in St. Marys to close.

But it's not the only thing business owners, elected officials and residents have done to make the estimated 240 Coast Guard members assigned to the MSST team and another unit providing security for submarines at Kings Bay feel welcome.

Rear Adm. Steven Poulin, judge advocate general and chief counsel for the Coast Guard, was the keynote speaker for the luncheon.

He described the long relationship the Coast Guard had with St. Marys long before bases were established in Camden County.

"Camden County has always been a Coast Guard community," Poulin said. "The proclamation only validated that fact."

Coastal Georgia was patrolled regularly in the early days of the Coast Guard more than 200 years ago. A cutter was named after St. Marys.

"It's an area with common interests and common heritage," he said. "Camden County and the Coast Guard have a rich history together. It's a relationship that is unique."

He said the request to be a Coast Guard community, joining 15 municipalities designated as Coast Guard cities, was a relatively simple decision because of the strong support Camden County has given over the years.

He said the 240 Guardsmen serving in Camden County represent a "sizable population" for any community.

"It represents the strategic value to this community," he said. "It reflects the enduring support of the Coast Guard."

Poulin said those serving in Camden County have been made a welcome part of the community.

"It is a community that truly cares," he said. "You are ambassadors for our service."

Other admirals who attended the event were Vice Adm. William D. French, commander, Navy Installations Command; Vice Adm. Terry Joseph Benedict, director Strategic Systems Programs; Rear Adm. Ricky Williamson, commander Navy Region Southeast; and Rear Adm. Charles Richard, commander, Submarine Group 10.