- Associated Press - Monday, July 4, 2016

MICHIGAN CITY, Ind. (AP) - The bright orange helicopter hovered above the boat.

In a closely choreographed dance, a rescue swimmer was lowered from the helicopter to the 45-foot U.S. Coast Guard response boat.

Amid the spray of Lake Michigan and waves generated by the wind from the rotors of the helicopter, the guardsmen on the boat safely took the swimmer aboard.

Members of the Michigan City Coast Guard Station practiced the scenario recently, working with a helicopter crew from the Detroit Coast Guard Station who had flown to Lake Michigan for the day for training maneuvers.

“We try to train with the helo every week or two,” said Petty Officer Luis Morales, explaining training keeps them current and alert in case an actual emergency happens. The closest helicopter is stationed at the Muskegon, Michigan, station and can take an hour to get to Michigan City in an emergency.

During the summer, from Memorial Day through Labor Day, Coast Guard helicopters patrol the Great Lake to enable them to respond to an emergency quicker, Morales said.

The Coast Guard has had a station in Michigan City for more than 100 years. Nestled along the Michigan City Marina in Washington Park, today’s station still reflects the building constructed in 1888 as a lifesaving station for the southern tip of Lake Michigan.

In 1915, the Life Saving Service and the Revenue Cutter Service merged to form the Coast Guard.

The building has been added onto at times and renovated at others.

Originally, said Morales, there were tracks outside the building, which would launch rowboats out onto the lake. Horses were also used to haul trailered boats to the water’s edge. Cannons would launch ropes from shore, tossing life rings out into the lake.

Today, the station houses both a 45-foot and a 25-foot response boat used for search and rescue and for law enforcement. The jurisdiction for the Michigan City station, which is considered a small boat station, is between Wells Street Beach in Gary and Union Pier, Michigan.

There are slots for 19 guardsmen at the Michigan City station, but, said Morales, they aren’t up to a full complement. Reservists, who spend two weeks of training each summer, are helping. The guardsmen work 48 hours on and 48 hours off. While they’re at the station, they eat, sleep and work. Because of the size of the station, there are no barracks. Members stationed in Michigan City live off station in the community.

Morales, 23, is from Miami. He’s been in the Coast Guard for four years, originally stationed in Oregon before being transferred to Michigan City.

“It is a noble, selfless service,” he said, adding he was influenced by family members. “Ever since I was little, I wanted to be in the military. I was in the Naval Sea Cadets in high school.”

Morales, like other enlisted personnel, trained at the Coast Guard Training Station in Cape May, New Jersey. Potential officers attend the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.

Morales said there is a lot people don’t understand about the Coast Guard. It is the fifth branch of the U.S. military, along with the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. It is the only branch with law enforcement capabilities.

While the Michigan City Station is responsible for search and rescue and law enforcement, the Coast Guard has 11 missions, including marine environmental protection, drug and migrant interdiction, port, waterway and coastal security and aid to navigation. He said there are Coast Guard stations across the world and, while most people might think of them serving the oceans and Great Lakes, there are also stations on inland waterways.

“Did you know it was members of the Coast Guard that piloted the boats on D-Day that took soldiers to the shore of Normandy?” he said, adding during times of war, guardsmen can be called to service under the auspices of the U.S. Navy.

Last year, the Michigan City station participated in about 30 search and rescue missions and boarded about 350 boats along Lake Michigan and its waterways, such as the Burns Waterway, for law enforcement reasons, including checking for safety issues and violations. He said they issued about 175 violations.

Todd Rosenstein is a reservist. He said he became interested after doing a career paper in the eighth grade and found it intriguing. There was also a station in his hometown of Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

“It seemed like the thing to do,” he said, adding that after four and a half years of active duty, he went into the reserves. He was activated again for 13 months after 9-11 and then again for seven months in March 2003. Today he’s a reserve training officer.

Petty Officer Matt Stonequest, from Chicago, has been in the Guard for 10 years, four years at Michigan City. He’s also been stationed in Long Island, New York, and San Diego.

“I got into it when I was in high school and life guarding on the beach in Chicago. I watched the Coast Guard respond to a boat crash and I knew I was going to join,” he said, adding when he does decide to leave the Guard, he hopes to become a police officer.

Michael Maggio of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is also a reservist training at Michigan City. A full-time firefighter in Lansing, Michigan, he was stationed in California.

“I went to all the other recruiters. This one seemed like the best bet for me,” he said, adding, growing up in Florida, it was a prominent service that always drew his interest.

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Source: The (Munster) Times, http://bit.ly/29knspS

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Information from: The Times, http://www.thetimesonline.com

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