Welcome to the World of Mariners,

Pirates, and the Eternal Sea.

Devotion to Duty

I’ve had the most amazing experience this past week, an experience that ranks up there with the capture of Blackbeard or the invention of the spyglass. A lot of people use the word amazing recklessly, but this was truly amazing. Shortly before the Fourth of July, I had the pleasure of witnessing my daughter’s promotion from lieutenant to lieutenant commander at the Coast Guard Station Sector Charleston in SC.

Commanding Officer, Captain John Reed, presents Lieutenant Commander Maureen Hegerich with her promotion at Sector Charleston.

What made it especially exciting is that I was given the privilege of participating in the event. Commanding officer, Captain John Reed, presented Lieutenant Commander Maureen Hegerich with the document that officially promoted her to her new rank. The second part of the ceremony centered on the removal of her old shoulder boards marked with two stripes, one on each of her shoulders. Once removed, the new shoulder boards with three stripes, were pinned to her uniform.

Joshua Olsen and myself replace Lieutenant Commander Hegerich’s shoulder boards at her promotion July 02, 2018.

Her son, Seaman Joshua Olsen, a second generation Coastie, whose father is Master Chief Jason Olsen, did the left shoulder. I had the distinct honor of pinning the new board on her right. I’ve never been prouder of my daughter.

It was a moment she worked hard for. No one achievement placed her in that time and place. Years of hard work, commitment and sacrifice did.

My daughter has served proudly in the Coast Guard for over 21 years, a feat not easily achieved in today’s era when many military personnel are forced into retirement long before they reach that 20-year milestone. It’s hard to beat knowledge, dedication and experience.

And make no mistake about it. Her experience is extremely diversified. Her first billet from 1997 to 1999 was at Station Fort Pierce, Florida as a member of the boat crew and boarding team.

Not one to coast, in 1998, she struck yeoman completely on her own. Most Coasties enlist in a specially designed program to make yeoman in Petaluma, CA.  Lieutenant Commander Hegerich pursued yeoman independently while serving at Coast Guard Station Fort Pierce.

From 2000 to 2005, she served at Activities, New York where she witnessed the tragedy of 911 firsthand. In 2005 and 2006, she served at Group Fort Macon at Atlantic Beach, NC where she served as yeoman.

It was after that tour that she enrolled in Officers Candidate School in the fall of 2006. The rigorous training regimen she faced helped make her who she is today. Her first billet after graduation in February 2007 took her to the training center in Yorktown, Virginia where she served on the Command Center Standardization Team till 2009. Her work carried her to command centers around the country making sure protocol, regulations and policy were being followed.

In 2009, she went to Sector Southeast New England on Cape Cod as assistant intel Chief till 2012. That experience prepared her for her next billet at Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, DC where she served as program manager for Intel training. Between 2016 and 2018, she remained in Washington working as part of the Sexual Assault Prevention Response Campaign, and then on Human Capital Strategy. Her most recent assignment takes her to Sector Charleston as Logistics Department Head where she oversees engineering, administration, and supply. That entails support of the sector and its outlying units which includes small boat stations, cutters, and aids-to-navigation units.

My daughter’s duties varied widely in each billet. Because of security reasons, she couldn’t divulge some details to me. I will say this, however. The Coast Guard’s motto is Semper Paratis. Along with that, are three virtues their members highly cherish. Respect, Honor, and Devotion to Duty. Because of her commitment to those values and her willingness to put the Coast Guard and her country above herself, she has achieved some remarkable things over the years.

Lieutenant Commander Hegerich savors the moment with her mother, Maureen Hegerich and her son, Seaman Joshua Olsen. .

She received the MaryLou Whitney Military Leadership Award in 2005 for Woman of the Year. She has also received several prestigious commendations, but among her favorites are three good-conduct medals, a 9/11 medal, and a number of team commendation awards. Like a mother asked to choose her favorite child, she refuses because all are precious. But she does remember fondly team commendation awards for drug busts and a multi-heritage celebration.

I’ll say this for my daughter. She’s persistent. When she sets her eyes on a goal, she’s unbeatable. And she’s loyal. Something her family and coworkers can attest to. If they were to give an award to someone who boosts morale at a billet, she would win hands down, even if she were competing with the Dalai Lama or Mother Teresa.

I once told my daughter you don’t get to the top of a mountain by falling there. It takes a lot of hard work, persistence, and grace under pressure. But it also takes street smarts. And despite one’s acumen and ability, you’re no leader at all if you don’t know how to bring out the best in people. It’s a trait she has in spades and will serve her well in her present command.

Lieutenant Commander Hegerich is ready to tackle the responsibilities of her new assignment.

I wish Lieutenant Commander Hegerich much success in her new billet. I’ve met Commanding Officer, Captain John Reed. and several other officers who head key departments as well as a number of yeomen at the Sector. It’s a delicious mélange of skills, experience, and perspectives. I know it’s a fine team assembled in Charleston. Everyone’s keen sense of dedication and commitment to their jobs and one another is as palpable as the ever-present Charleston humidity.

Blackbeard once held Charleston captive with a blockade. He took one of its leading citizens, Samuel Wragg, hostage and would not release him till a bag of medicine was rowed aboard his ship. Till then not one ship moved in or out of the harbor.

With the fine men and women serving Sector Charleston today, Blackbeard wouldn’t dare such a stunt. I’m betting my last doubloon he’d rather take his chances in the shoals of North Carolina with his nemesis, Lieutenant Robert Maynard, who literally handed him his head.

God bless everyone in the Coast Guard who serves our country so selflessly and honorably. May your luck run as deep as the sea and your worries be as light as its foam. And a special blessing to Lieutenant Commander Maureen Hegerich. You do us proud.

                                                     Bill Hegerich

                                                     The Uncommon Mariner

 

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Caribbean pirates nab $654 million; plundering to continue indefinitely

Pub signs like this one always welcomed pirates home after hard months of pillaging and plundering. Jack Sparrow would have loved it!

It was the last week in June, 2003, that pirates sailed into the Caribbean, led by what may be the strangest pirate that ever lived. Captain Jack Sparrow. Not even Blackbeard could have guessed that Johnny Depp, in Disney’s swashbuckling film, Curse of the Black Pearl would plunder the hearts and wallets of pirate fans around the globe for years to come.

What most people don’t realize is that when Johnny Depp began to portray his character as a saucy, almost effeminate pirate, several of the executives bristled. Depp won out, and Disney was buried under an avalanche of cash. They didn’t complain much about that. Grossing over $654 million, Curse of the Black Pearl went on to become the most successful film of the year.

Other films in the series include Dead Man’s Chest (2006) which earned $1.1 billion. At the World’s End (2007) earned $960 million, On Stranger Tides (2011) over a billion dollars, and Deadmen Tell No Tales in 2017 plundered nearly $800 million. Not a bad take for a bunch of hapless, unwashed pirates.

Depp never won an Academy Award for Curse of the Black Pearl. He never won an Academy Award for the other five Pirates of the Caribbean either. In fact, of all the movies he’s appeared in, and that includes: Sweeney Todd (2007), Charlie and the
Chocolate Factory
(2005), Edward Scissorhands (1990), and Sleepy Hollow (1999), he’s never once won the coveted award. Is he that bad of an actor or do the people who vote on such things actually live with their heads up their astral?

Pirates never get old. Each generation must face the possibility of encountering some very real ones out on the high seas. Yet, as the Golden Age of Piracy, which lasted from around 1700 to 1720, fades into history’s rearview mirror, the appeal of pirates has never been stronger. Within a span of 14 years, Disney has sensed this, and continues to pillage the box office around the globe for the foreseeable future.

There are a few things that might surprise you about pirates. In fact, there are a few things that might surprise you about Johnny Depp. For example, did you know that he carries his pirate costume around with him so he can visit sick kids in the hospital? He’s not going to intimidate too many people with that kind of attitude. In fact, after playing the role of Ichabod Crane in Sleepy Hollow, he found out the horse he rode was going to be put down so he adopted it. Softie!

Johnny Depp has been close friends with Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones for years. Depp used him as an inspiration for his portrayal of Jack Sparrow.

Anyone who’s seen Sweeney Todd is probably aware of what an excellent singer Depp is, but don’t ask him to dance anytime soon. It’s one of his biggest fears.

When God made Johnny Depp, he threw away the mold. As a man of contradictions, he isn’t easy to explain away as the executives in Hollywood know only too well. When he was cast as Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, not many people knew he was allergic to chocolate as a kid. While he was filming the first Pirates of the Caribbean, he fell in love with an island he came across in the Caribbean. He was so enamored by it that he bought it for $3.6 million. My brother-in-law would be proud of him. Everything there runs on solar power.

If you think Captain Jack Sparrow is a strange character, you’ll be more than amused at the real-life character of Depp. He has 30 tattoos on his body. In fact, he once said: “My body is my journal, and my tattoos are my story.” I don’t know if any of those tattoos are of saucy wenches or skull and crossbones, but he is known to have tattooed Winona Forever on his body. When he and Winona Ryder broke up, he had it altered to Wino Forever, a nod to his wine-keeping hobby.

You can’t say Johnny Depp hasn’t immersed himself in the persona of a pirate over the years. He was once accused of having trashed the room of a five-star hotel in New York City, something he flatly denies. To this day he swears an armadillo did it after jumping out of a closet. When questioned by police where it went, he pointed to the window. “Jumped out!” he exclaimed.

All the films in the Pirates of the Caribbean series serve up a lot of fun even if they are a little lean on historical accuracy. For example, did you know that most pirates never made anyone walk the plank. If they got around to disliking you, they simply threw you overboard.

Then, of course, there’s the Flying Dutchman. The historical account is actually simpler than what the movies portray. A Dutchman trying to round the Cape of Good Hope off South Africa kept being pushed backwards by ferocious winds and mountainous waves. Exasperated, he swore to the devil that if he would let him through, he would sell him his soul. Since then any sailor who sees the Flying Dutchman is doomed to die prematurely.

As for the depravity and slovenly dress of pirates, the crew of the Black Pearl got it right.  The more unkempt and dirty pirates were, the happier they seemed to be though Jack Sparrow dressed more closely to real-life pirate Jack Rackham who sported fancy clothes. As for pirates’ finances, I’m afraid my financial planner would starve if he were around pirates of the Golden Age. When in port, most spent every last doubloon on wine, women, and debauchery. Of course, there were exceptions. Buccaneer, Henry Morgan, whom all that rum has been named after, saved a generous portion of his booty and bought several plantations in the Caribbean.

When the next Pirates of the Caribbean comes out, I wonder where the adventure will take us. It doesn’t matter much. When Johnny Depp transforms himself into Captain Jack Sparrow, and his mascara is barely dry, we’ll be running for our lives trying to keep up with him. See you then. I’ll be the one in the movie seat behind you, swinging my cutlass wildly and curdling your blood with the fiercest scream I can muster. “Aarrggh!”

                                                Bill Hegerich

                                                The Uncommon Mariner

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Long May It Wave

Ever since Betsy Ross stitched the first few threads of Old Glory, our flag has become a symbol of freedom, liberty and fair play throughout the world. 

I’ve always been intrigued by mankind’s use of flags throughout history. They’ve been used to symbolize a variety of things. Governments have used them to evoke pride and patriotism in their peoples. Military leaders have used them on the battlefield to rally their troops. Flags have been used throughout history to instill fear in one’s enemies. Pirates were infamous for this. The mere sight of the Jolly Roger turned many courageous men into quivering jelly.

The U. S. Coast Guard flies a flag at small boat stations to indicate weather conditions. A single triangular red flag indicates a small craft advisory.  Two piggy-backed ones warn boaters of gale conditions. A single, oblong red flag with a black box in its center indicates a storm warning. When these are piggy-backed, boaters better take notice. A hurricane is on its way. Ignore the flags, and sail at your own risk. I just wish the fools who ignore the flags didn’t expect the brave men and women of the Coast Guard to risk their lives to save them.

Signal flags, with each flag representing a letter of the alphabet, are used to indicate a wide variety of events or dangers a ship may be facing. The science of using them requires training and skill. For example, did you know the Juliet flag means “Steer clear. I’m carrying dangerous cargo and am on fire?”  The Whiskey flag means “I have a medical emergency aboard.”  And the Oscar flag means “Man overboard.”

In old times, when a captain died at sea, a blue flag was flown. As the ship arrived in port, anyone watching it dock immediately knew the crew was in mourning. Hence, the expression in our language “feeling blue.”

One of the most famous flags in the world is, of course, the American flag. The United States has set aside June 14 to honor it. It’s simply called Flag Day. A type of Flag Day was first observed one hot summer in Hartford, Connecticut in 1861, but by the late 1800’s Flag Day observances were being held all over the country as a way to incorporate foreign children into our society. If that were to happen today, I don’t think it would go over too well in some communities on the Texas border. There foreign children are more likely to be deported or their parents shot at.

Most folks don’t know that Pennsylvania is the only state where Flag Day is a legal holiday. The forward-thinking citizens there made it so in 1937. Other states across the nation observe it, but only Pennsylvania citizens deemed the flag sacred enough to merit a special holiday.

It’s a shame more people don’t fly the flag regularly. Most folks wouldn’t think of going a day without cable service, but not many seem too concerned about not seeing Old Glory on a regular basis.

Did you know that the American Flag is flown year-round by Presidential decree in five different places? For clarity sake, it wasn’t Donald Trump who first ordered it. You can probably guess a couple of places it’s never taken down. The White House, the Washington Monument, the USS Arizona in Hawaii, Fort McHenry in Baltimore, and the moon. I bet a lot of Raven and Oriole fans didn’t even know that.

It wasn’t until President Harry Truman signed a bill into law in 1949 that Flag Day was nationally observed. I wonder why it took such a long time for so sacred a symbol to achieve such a venerable status. Can’t bombastic, self-serving politicians ever get anything done without dragging it out for decades? I bet if they were told no cocktail hour till some work is done, Flag Day would have been a reality back in 1927 when President Coolidge championed the idea. .

Not everyone in the United States is a big fan of Old Glory. Many protesters believe it’s their God-given right to burn it in protest of their government’s policies. The Supreme Court has ruled they have the right to freedom of expression, but I can’t help but wonder if those brave enough to burn the flag in broad daylight would do so if they had faced down deadly enemy fire in the dead of night in some remote outpost in Afghanistan or a dark jungle teeming with Viet Cong. Those who want to burn the flag should talk to my wife’s cousin, Johnny Gilroy, one of this country’s true heroes. He can tell you about some of  those Vietnam jungles and the men who fought by his side for your freedom.

If you really want to protest our government’s policies, smash your X-Box, burn your paycheck, or lend your debit card to a homeless Vet. A thousand protesters doing that will really get our nation’s attention.

I’m proud to be an American and if you come visit me, you’ll find the American flag flying along with the Jolly Roger and the flag of the Conch Republic. That’s the flag of the Florida Keys, a country unto itself, but that’s a story for another time.

It’s not a perfect country that Old Glory flies over, and like Blackbeard’s crew, we certainly have our blemishes. Bigotry, prejudice, and racial hatred don’t even begin to scratch the surface.

But when just one American stands up for another whom he doesn’t even know or even care for, the invisible threads of our unity are knit tighter than the threads of our flag. Great divisiveness has strangled our nation in recent years, but if we remember that only by working together can we survive, then our future is bright. But if we let anger, fear, hatred, and greed divide us, then we are doomed and no amount of flag-waving is going to save us. The choice is ours. Flag Day is a good day to remember we need to focus on what makes us Americans and not Republicans or Democrats.

                             Bill Hegerich

                              The Uncommon Mariner

 

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