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The Giving Season

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This time of year carries with it the reminder to help those less fortunate. So it was kind of a strange kickoff to the year’s last quarter to have the federal government shut down for a couple of weeks, essentially showing us all how not to behave. Nothing has the potential to derail a good economic recovery like the background noise and uncertainty of a legislative snafu.

And so it was during the shutdown that my wife and I attended the Coast Guard Foundation’s 33rd Salute to the U.S. Coast Guard dinner in New York City. The foundation raises money to enhance the lives of members of the U.S. Coast Guard and their families, and this means funding scholarships for their children, outfitting fitness centers and other facilities for their use, and providing for morale-boosting programs. Full disclosure: My wife and I are invited to these dinners as guests of the foundation. We find it interesting to meet other guests, including U.S. Coast Guard personnel who are being honored for their accomplishments in the line of duty. 

Jason Y. Wood and Anne Brengle

One such serviceman is AST2 Abram A. Heller, who serves as a rescue swimmer out of Air Station Barbers Point in Hawaii. He was honored for his efforts in August 2012 when his helicopter crew responded to a midnight distress call to help a seven-person sailboat crew that had abandoned ship. Because the HH-65 helicopter has limited seating, Heller gave up his spot and stayed in the life raft with the remaining three survivors until additional units could save them. A remarkable story, more so because it seemed the obvious solution to this impressive young man.

Now to be frank, the celebration at this year’s dinner was a bit muted. The Coast Guard brass that usually turns up to give speeches instead joined the party via prerecorded video, and the U.S. Coast Guard Band and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Glee Club were not in attendance as usual. But the ballroom had 700 seats filled and the foundation’s Executive Director Anne Brengle told me the event topped the million-dollar fundraising mark.

Huh. So even when our institutions let us down, the resourceful chaps in the room still come through? No surprise there.

We have to face facts. There is often no cavalry coming to the rescue. And we may have to put up with more division and derision as leaders demarcate the boundaries of our society more clearly to further their initiatives. But we’re the ones who will have to chart the course out of various messes.

It stands to reason. Think about both the rewards and the perspective that boating gives each of us. I think you’ll come to realize that it’s no surprise we find ourselves in this role. Think back to when you started out with boating, and how your thought processes formed, your skills grew, and your confidence burgeoned. 

Maybe you can remember finding yourself in a boating situation where you ultimately realized for the first time that you were on your own. Every one of you who’s reading this probably has such a story or maybe even two. We’d like to hear them, so please drop me an e-mail and share your tale.

You may have been very young when the itch began, and the scratching had to wait. I can remember my father saying no to me when I wanted to run our family skiff on a central Massachusetts pond. (I could just smell that ancient six-horse Evinrude puffing a blue contrail in my wake.) I was pretty sore about it, willing to learn my lessons the hard way. He didn’t see the same upside at the time. I got my turn soon enough, and as a father today I understand his decision.

The finer lines today seem to get obliterated in the lockstep of choosing sides: People who are told no often hear the word never. But it’s in our time at the helm and on the water that we’ve learned the nuance of leadership and the generosity so sorely missed in our national discourse. 

Enjoy the season with loved ones, and I look forward to seeing you on the water.