A Life of Service

DOLLAR BAY – This year’s National Guard Readiness Center’s Veterans Day dinner will explore the history of one of the most visible military presences in the Keweenaw – the U.S. Coast Guard.

Edward Iversen, officer in charge at Coast Guard Station Portage, and Casey McDonald, executive petty officer at the station, will be the lead speakers at the Veterans Day dinner Sunday.

An Auburn, N.Y., native, Iversen joined the Coast Guard in 1988.

“I really wanted to get into law enforcement and liked the water, and I was able to sign up with a local recruiter.”

McDonald, a 17-year Coast Guard officer, got exposure to the coastline and the Coast Guard while growing up in Olympia, Wash.

“It always interested me as a kid,” he said. “I didn’t want to go to college, and I joined right out of high school.”

As officer in charge, Iversen oversees the unit, making sure missions and training are completed for the officers. McDonald is in charge of personnel, the budget and assisting Iversen.

Iversen and McDonald are also the main leaders of training in handling the boats. Station Portage is the only heavy-weather unit on Lake Superior now; McDonald is one of the few heavy-weather coxswains for the area. As opposed to a basic coxswain, who can only take out lifeboats in 10-foot seas and winds less than 30 knots, McDonald can go out in 20-foot seas and 50-knot winds.

Members of the Coast Guard are rotated to a new location every three to four years. Iversen’s been in 11 units – the last two in Southwest Harbor, Maine, where he was in charge of a search and rescue unit before transferring to a small icebreaker. But he’s also worked on numerous sites on the Great Lakes, including Detroit; Fairport, Ohio; Oswego, N.Y.; and Alexandria Bay, N.Y.

The Southwest Harbor posting, where Iversen spent seven years, was the most memorable. A photo from one of his most memorable cases hangs behind his desk.

“After Hurricane Bill, a couple of people were swept in the water by Thunder Hole (Maine),” he said. “We were able to get on scene and recover two of the three people out of the water.”

McDonald’s on his eighth duty station. The last two in Coos Bay were as operations officer and on a 110-foot patrol boat in Coos Bay. Most of his time has been in the Pacific Northwest, including Portland, Anacortes, Wash., Bellingham, Wash., and Astoria, Ore.

Of those, he said, Portland, where he was executive petty officer, was his favorite.

“It was busy,” he said. “Lots of good cases – both law enforcement and search and rescue.”

McDonald enjoys educating the public on the hazards of the water, as well as training the Coast Guard’s younger generation.

“I think the Coast Guard gives you the opportunity to visit places you wouldn’t normally visit,” he said. “Two years ago, I couldn’t tell you where the Upper Peninsula of Michigan was.”

Iversen likes the crew camaraderie.

“Moving every three to four years, you get to learn everyone’s different habits and the family dynamics of everyone who you work with,” he said.

Iversen said they would show slides of what the station’s crew has done through its careers, as well as go over the Coast Guard’s history and its capabilities.

“We have a longstanding history of being in every conflict or war this nation has had,” he said.

The Coast Guard also has deep roots in the community, McDonald said. There was a station at Eagle Harbor, as well as two stations at the Upper Entry of the Portage Canal, and a lighthouse keeper at the Lower Entry. The late Ripley native Anthony Petit also has a Coast Guard cutter named after him in Ketchikan, Alaska. He was heading a five-man crew in Alaska in 1946 when a massive tsunami struck his station.

Tickets for Sunday’s banquet are available at the Office Shop on Scott Street in Calumet for $15. Social hour is at 5 p.m., with the banquet following at 6 p.m.