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Without submarine escort duty, local Coast Guard downsized

By Jennifer McDermott

Publication: theday.com

Published 11/14/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 11/15/2013 12:20 AM
Nearly a quarter of New London station jobs to move elsewhere

New London — Now that it is no longer responsible for escorting submarines, Coast Guard Station New London will lose nearly a quarter of the jobs assigned there.

While there has been no discussion of closing the station, 14 of its 62 positions, known as billets, will be dispersed to other stations throughout the country, Lt. Joe Klinker, spokesman for the First Coast Guard District in Boston, said.

The station also will lose one of its response boats as the number of vessels throughout the district decreases from 118 to 97. The Coast Guard is in the process of minimizing the number of boats and boat types at each individual unit.

These changes will not affect the station's ability to respond to search and rescue cases or take on other missions, Klinker said Thursday.

Lt. Dan Tavernier, the station's commander, said on Wednesday that he knew he soon would have five boats instead of six, but he had not yet been told of personnel changes related to the elimination of the submarine escort mission. He said he would not be surprised if some of his resources were diverted.

The Navy's Coastal Riverine Force has been protecting submarines on the Thames River since Oct. 1.

"It kind of makes sense that if the work goes away, the possibility exists for some of the resources to go away," Tavernier said.

Coastal Riverine Squadron 8, headquartered in Newport, R.I., now has a detachment that operates out of Groton. Twenty-one sailors escort the submarines using four boats.

Previously, the Coast Guard Station escorted about 200 "high-value units" that traveled through the area each year. It costs about $2 million annually to escort the Groton submarines, according to the Navy.

The Coast Guard first offered to escort submarines after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks because the Navy was busy preparing for combat in Afghanistan and later, in Iraq. At that time, Coast Guard crews were armed and trained to protect submarines against attacks by terrorists or saboteurs.

Five years ago, the two services began discussing whether the Navy could resume escorting its submarines nationwide so Coast Guard ships and personnel could be used for other missions.

After Groton, the transition is expected to happen in other ports along both coasts.

The members of the Coastal Riverine Squadron trained aboard Coast Guard boats this summer to see how escorts were conducted, Tavernier said. Since then, he added, they have contacted the station only with minor questions. Tavernier said he assumes everything is going well because he has not heard more from them.

Now that the Coast Guardsmen are not escorting submarines, Tavernier said, they have spent more time on other missions, such as ensuring the safety of recreational boats, and training to increase their proficiency. But, he added, there will come a point where everyone is caught up on their training, and there are far fewer recreational boats in the Thames River now that it is colder.

The reaction at the station to the loss of the submarine escort mission was mixed, Tavernier said.

"We go in the service to serve, so we like having work to do," he said. "That mission, if that is what the Coast Guard and the American people want us to do, we're happy to do it. On the flipside, this opens up the door to do more things and increase our proficiency in other subject areas."

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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