The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

November 17, 2013

Coast Guard officer in charge has varied skill set

Staff Writer

ASHTABULA — David Phillips has not seen the Hollywood hit movie “Captain Phillips” but has lived many of his own exciting times on the high seas.

Phillips, chief petty officer and officer in charge at the Ashtabula Coast Guard station, has served his country in the U.S. Coast Guard for 22 years and now is the man in charge of the Ashtabula station.

Phillips said he has spent time at seven different search and rescue stations but also served on a law enforcement unit, for three years, that traveled all of the world and did a variety of missions.

“I remember getting ready to board a small boat (on the open ocean) and I look over and there is a pod of killer whales,” Phillips said.

He said missions to catch drug runners was one of the unit’s roles. He said there were boat chases but not in the old “Miami Vice” mode.

Phillips said there would occasionally be resistance but usually they would just surrender.

The unit also taught foreign, and American, soldiers how to do a boat inspection during the first Gulf War. He said they trained soldiers from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, France and the U.S. Navy to help uphold the blockade of Iraq.

Back in the states the unit did a lot of work in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. He said they would work with U.S. Customs, Border Patrol and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Phillips recently spent five years as officer in charge of the Fairport Harbor station and has been very impressed with Lake Erie boaters.

Phillips spent much of his youth in the South and claims Savannah, GA., as home after living there from seventh grade through his graduation from high school.

The cold weather is still a bit of an adjustment. “I’ve lived all over the country and I’ve seen snow but nothing like northeast Ohio has to offer,” he said.

The quick changes of weather in northeastern Ohio seem to help area residents prepare for the worst. “The mariners on the Great Lakes tend to pay more attention to the weather,” he said.

“You see folks moving in at the first signs of bad weather,” Phillips said.

While much of Phillips position is administrative in nature he still gets to spend time on the water. Training younger Coast Guard members is often the focus of his time.

“There is nothing better than going out to teach and see somebody starting to get it,” Phillips said.

The very day that Phillips officially took over the station (in mid July) the station had to jump into action during a major search and rescue operation in Saybrook Township.

He said the staff responded as a team and worked for hours looking for a missing swimmer.

“It was not just impressive. It was comforting,” he said of the group’s ability to work together.

Trust building is a key part of the development of any coast guard station, Phillips said.

“It is a two-way street,” he said.

Phillips said the Ashtabula station has a good reputation for excellent work but he wants to find areas in which the group can improve.

“We are a crew. If one person fails we fail together,” he said. Phillips said the group also succeeds together.

Phillips said he waited 18 years to start his college education and is now nearing the completion of his bachelor’s degree in business management.

He hopes to help younger Coast Guard personnel to start that process earlier.

Phillips said he is proud of the work station members have done in Ashtabula. He said they have worked on an Earth Day cleanup program with area Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts; participated in a school supply program with Goodwill Industries and is presently operating a canned food drive to help local food pantries.

He said a station member will run, bike or swim a mile for every can donated by December 1.

Phillip said details of the food program and other details regarding the Coast Guard station are available at the Coast Guard Station Ashtabula facebook page.