More Than A More Than A Surfman Pin
Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Levi Read
The call for assistance from the fishing vessel Brenna A had
already come in, and the Coast Guard Station Umpqua River crews were
preparing to swap duty sections. The oncoming duty section was led
by the Coast Guard’s newest Surfmen, Petty Officers 2nd Class
Enrique Lemos (#559) and Aaron Hadden (#560). The two of them
discussed the escort request upon reporting for duty at 7 a.m.
They knew from the morning bar report that the Umpqua River bar
was breaking at 14-feet on the series and also had 10 to 12-foot
steep swells. The vessel, a 107-foot 198 gross ton fishing vessel,
en route to Alaska had never crossed the Umpqua River bar
before. They also knew that they were supposed to stand in front of
their shipmates at 8 a.m. and be pinned with the distinctive surfman
pin, a silver-colored life ring on top of two crossed oars.
A boatcrew aboard a 47-foot Motor Lifeboat from Coast Guard Station Umpqua River stands by for the safety of a local commercial fishing vessel as it crosses the bar at the mouth of the Umpqua River, Oregon, April 1, 2020. The station often provides security watch for vessels transiting the bar. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Trevor Lilburn)
"Honestly, the pinning ceremony didn’t even come up,” said Lemos.
“It was a routine decision we made together. It was a normal
decision process that we make throughout the winter season.
We needed to get underway and ensure the crew of the Brenna A came
across the bar safely.”
The pinning ceremony is a
time-honored military tradition that signifies the
promotion, advancement or qualification to all those in attendance.
This particular pinning ceremony only happens a handful of times a
year. To those receiving the surfman qualification it is usually
four to six years in the making.
The long, arduous journey to
surfman usually starts when the basic coxswain qualification
is earned. The qualification process is painstaking and time
consuming. It includes hours upon hours of underway training and
countless rescue missions. The pin and uniform patch signifies the
highest qualification that a Coast Guardsman can attain in the
The ceremony would have to wait for the
two Station Umpqua River surfmen to return because lives were on the
line. A surfman has to be on duty and aboard any Coast Guard 47-foot
Motor Lifeboat whenever conditions on the bar extend past 8-foot
breaking waves. There also has to be two boats underway.
Lemos and myself had trained together for the past two-and-half
years,” said Hadden. “We are the only two qualified coxswains in our
duty section, and we are good friends. Throughout the qualification
process we divided up our time as evenly and fairly as possible. It
was always friendly competition, always being there and always
pursuing sign-offs and asking to go out and train.”
qualifications had already been earned for surfmen 559 and 560 after
successful check rides about a month ago. At the time, neither Lemos
or Hadden knew they were on checkrides.
“It was a two-day
evolution of inbounds, outbounds, lateraling in and out of the
surf,” said Lemos. “Day two we conducted man overboard drills in the
surf and ran through multiple other drills. We were just out there
training and getting operating hours under our belts.”
few days later Senior Chief Petty Officer Scott Slade, the
officer-in-charge at Station Umpqua River, called Lemos (far left)
and Hadden (center left) into his office and read aloud their newly
assigned surfman numbers and told them they were qualified surfman
and could go out on the planned training alone.
Most surfman pinning ceremonies are not strictly traditional.
They also signal more than a qualification. It is an entrance into a
tradition-laden community with current and retired surfmen often in
attendance to see the pin placed on a person’s chest.
“I came into the Coast Guard wanting to be a surfman because of
the challenge and the possible adrenaline rush,” said Hadden. “I was
prior service with four years in the Army as a combat engineer
including a year in Afghanistan.”
After leaving the Army, he went into the recruiting office to
rejoin the Army but met a Coast Guard recruiter instead who was a
boatswain’s mate. He then researched the Coast Guard and found a
bunch of surf videos and knew that was what he wanted to do.
“I didn’t know I wanted to be surfman going into the Coast Guard,
but my company commander at Coast Guard Training Center Cape May was
a surfman boatswain’s mate, who turned me onto the career path,”
Even though they already had knowledge of the
surfman qualification, the ceremony was not anti-climatic.
“I enjoyed the smaller in-house version of
events and really felt like I achieved something and had the
characteristics of surfmanship,” said Hadden. “I knew I had the
experience and felt I had the expertise for people to come to me if
they needed something especially in the Station Umpqua River area of
“It was still a cool experience because of
the circumstances,” said Lemos. “ It just felt right to receive my
pin and certificate while standing in my drysuit.”
qualification is symbolized by a pin and a patch, but it is the
decisions and leadership displayed by both Lemos and Hadden that
give proof to who and what a surfman is. When the call came in they
both made the call to go out. It was an easy decision for them on
April 1, 2020, and it is sure to be an easy decision next time as
well, because they are surfmen.
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