A time honored U.S. Coast Guard tradition played out last Friday as a new captain of the Coast Guard Cutter Hickory took command.
Lt. Cmdr. Jeannette Greene’s assumption of command ceremony held special significance. Greene, 36, is the first woman to command the buoy tender Hickory, and the second woman to command a cutter in Homer. Lt. Cmdr. Lauren Milici commanded Naushon.
Greene also assumed command from Cmdr. Charter Tschirgi, who led Hickory during a stressful five months as the crew dealt with the loss of Chief Warrant Officer Michael Kozloski, who died Jan. 31 in a crane accident.
Last May, Rear Admiral Matthew Bell Jr., commander of the 17 Coast Guard District, Juneau, relieved commanding officer Lt. Cmdr. Adam Leggett from command of the Hickory and temporarily assigned Tschirgi as CO.
Tschirgi took over Hickory on May 21 after a Coast Guard report and investigation cited “an error chain of consistent and long-standing leadership deficiencies and complacency with shore side heavy lift operations” that contributed to the death of Kozloski.
Kozloski, 35, of Mahopac, New York, died of injuries when a Shuttlelift crane rolled over and the boom fell on him.
Capt. Patrick Hilbert, who presided over the change of command ceremony, spoke of Tschirgi’s service.
“It was a difficult time many months after the death of Bosun Kozloski,” he said. “There was uncertainly about the operational readiness of Hickory and the command structure. Cmdr. Tschirgi provided stability and leadership during that time.”
In his invocation, Chaplain Gary Pepper also praised Tschirgi.
“We thank you for the leadership, steadfastnesses and friendship of Charter Tschirgi as he has led the Hickory crew and their families through a transition of difficult and challenging days to now.”
Hilbert welcomed to Homer Greene and her husband, Eric, and their two sons, Grady and Sawyer.
“I feel very fortunate, as does Admiral Bell, that OPM — office of personnel management — chose you and selected you to take command of Hickory,” he said. “I know you’re well prepared and you’re ready to take on this challenge.”
Hilbert spoke of one of Bell’s watch phrases, “Mission first; safety always.”
“Keep that in the forefront in your mind as you move forward with your command,” Hilbert said. “Please focus on leading with compassion, exercising with humility, and acting decisively when needed. I encourage you to look outside from your crew to the Coast Guard area crew … you’re the senior Coast Guard officer here in Homer and you represent the Coast Guard in the wonderful community of Homer.”
In his remarks, Tschirgi quoted from Romans 5:3-4 in the Bible: “Suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character and character produces hope.”
He recalled the day he took command.
”I stood before you and I saw many faces filled with hurt, confusion and shock. What had just happened? Who is this person? Where is our CO? What would happen next? … In short I saw suffering, suffering I couldn’t really share or know because I had not walked in your boots, been through what you had been through.”
But the Hickory crew prevailed, Tschirgi said.
“In less than a week you showed me you that you all had plenty of endurance, struggling with pins, pushing the brow, battling rain and cold to get us prepared. … Today I see hope: hope in a new CO, hope for a time to work together as a team with all the members in place.”
“This is an amazing crew,” he said to Greene. “They’ve taken care of me and accepted me as one of their own, even though they knew my time was limited. Do your best to take are of them and I assure you they will take care of you.”
Greene followed in the footsteps of her older sister, Molly, who also attended and graduated from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. A 2005 academy graduate, Greene served as a deck watch officer on USCGC Mackinaw in Cheboygan, Michigan from 2005 to 2007, as operations officer on USCGC Juniper in Newport, Rhode Island from 2007 to 2009, and executive officer on USCGC Maple in Sitka from 2014 to 2016.
Tragically, her sister Molly died in a motorcycle accident last May while on duty in Washington, D.C.
“She was my North Star,” Greene said of her sister after the ceremony. “If I can help them (the Hickory crew), they can help me as well. In that way I feel they’re specially equipped for me. … I think I’m extremely lucky to have this opportunity.”
In her remarks after officially taking command, Greene spoke of her loss.
“In just a week’s time you’ve shown everything the commander described,” she said. “You’ve shared the excitement of new homes, new babies … trauma that we’ve been through, both you and I. You’ve opened your souls to me.”
Greene praised her new crew.
“Above all else, you are mission capable,” she said. “I am humbled by your excellence, by how well you look, by the pride you carry yourselves with. I only hope not to mess you up too bad and I can rise to your level. I look forward to a few years with you. Thank you so much.”