Under blue sky, with a wind strong enough to keep flags flying, and surrounded by family, friends and crew, United States Coast Guard Commander Jeannette Greene, three-year captain of the CGC Hickory, bid the ship, the crew and Homer goodbye at a change of command ceremony on May 19. Assuming command of the buoy tender was Alaska-raised Lt. Commander Shea Winterberger.
The following day, the 225-foot Hickory, assigned to Homer after being constructed in 2003, sailed out of Kachemak Bay for Baltimore, Maryland, where it will be refurbished before being reassigned to Guam. In December, the CGC Aspen, a ship identical to the Hickory, will arrive in Homer with Winterberger and the Hickory crew aboard.
Recognizing the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic that hit just months after Greene’s arrival in late 2019, as well as the recent death of a crewmember, Greene was praised for her can-do attitude and having made “all the difficult decisions,” by Rear Admiral Nathan A. Moore, Seventeenth District Commander, United States Coast Guard.
“It’s not been easy and I give her a lot of credit,” said Moore. In spite of the challenges, he recognized Greene’s ability to “perfect the platform” for which the Hickory was intended: deploying aids to navigation, search and rescue, maritime law enforcement, and marine environmental protection. For her “outstanding achievement” in the performance of her duties as the ship’s commander, Moore presented Greene with the U.S. Coast Guard Commendation Medal.
As Moore predicted she would do, Greene passed Moore’s praise to the Hickory’s crew, saying her job was to “drink coffee and just get out of your way. … You tested beyond the limits I thought possible,” she said. “Alaska is savage. And so are all of you.”
Originally from Colorado, Greene graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in 2005 with a degree in civil engineering. She also has a masters of science degree in ocean engineering from the University of Rhode Island. Her new assignment is commanding officer for the CGC Mackinaw, the first ship she served on, in Cheboygan, Michigan. Greene and her husband Eric have two sons, Grady, 9, and Sawyer, 5.
With Homer Mayor Ken Castner and Harbormaster Bryan Hawkins in attendance at the ceremony, Greene gave a shout-out to the community that’s been her and her family’s home for the past three years.
“We love Homer,” she said. Addressing Winterberger, Greene added, “I’m so happy the crew goes into your hands.”
“Uber-qualified” was Moore’s description of Winterberger as he welcomed her to her new post as the Hickory’s captain. Originally from Anchorage, Winterberger graduated from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy with a bachelor of science in marine and environmental science and from Mississippi State University’s distance education program with a master of science in geoscience and an emphasis in applied meteorology. Her most recent assignment was to the Office of Budget and Programs at Coast Guard Headquarters. Prior assignments include serving as deck watch officer aboard the CGC Aspen, for which she will take command later this year when it sails for Homer.
The enthusiasm and care the Hickory’s crew has for one another “was apparent when I stepped on board,” Winterberger said, adding that she was “humbled” to be joining them.
The Coast Guard and the Hickory have had a significant impact on Homer and the surrounding area, said Castner in a phone interview.
“We have a huge relationship with the Coast Guard,” he said of support for Alaska’s “fishing, transportation system and even international shipping. … And now, for Homer, their inspection regimes keep a big part of our vessel fleet floating and play into our ability to build inspected vessels.” In addition, he noted the Coast Guard’s role in marine safety, search and rescue. “And they’re also great members of the community. Some of them even retire here.”
“Right off the bat, the Coast Guard makes good neighbors. They live in the community with us, the families support our economy, their kids are in our schools. We are a Coast Guard community in many ways,” said Hawkins, who was on the dock to catch the first line when the Hickory arrived in Homer in 2003.
The annual Haunted Hickory has never failed to draw an eager-to-be-frightened crowd from across the Kenai Peninsula on Halloween. Used as a “food-raiser,” the event has collected thousands of pounds of food for the Homer Food Pantry. Crews have chopped wood to heat local homes during cold winters. They’ve formed snowshoe softball teams to take on the city during winter carnivals. In multiple ways, many unseen, the ship and the crews that have come and gone over the years, have left an indelible mark on the area.
“These are people that just kind of quietly go about doing things and not looking for a bunch of foofaraw,” said Castner.
The 225s, as the Hickory and that type of buoy tender are known, are going through a major maintenance period, according to Lt. Junior Grade Nathan Robb, whose role, among others he has on the Hickory, is to help with public relations.
“So what’s happening is they’re taking turns going from their homeports to Baltimore, getting a whole bunch of work done to extend their lives and then all being shifted. If they’re from a cold water port, they’re going to a warm water port and vice versa to make sure they all last as long as possible,” said Robb. “The Hickory is leaving Homer, I’m super sad to say, but the CGC Aspen will return.”
Winterberger and crew will sail the Hickory to Baltimore and then return to Homer. Once the Aspen is ready to head north, they will pick it up in Baltimore and bring it to its new home.