Most Americans don't know what the U.S. Coast Guard does. Some don't know it's a branch of the armed services. And some don't even know it exists.
If any of the thousands of people who attended Coast Guard Appreciation Day at Harbour Town in Sea Pines on Sunday included themselves in any of those three categories, they aren't uninformed anymore.
The second annual event hosted by the Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 10-11D7 Hilton Head-Bluffton staged a dedication and dignitary presentation on the main music stage, conducted a helicopter search and rescue demonstration, installed a Coast Guard exhibit in the Lighthouse, and set up an information tent regarding activities and missions of the local uniformed civilian auxiliary created nationwide by the U.S. Congress in 1939.
Many active-duty Coast Guard members and their families attended. The event coincided with Sea Pines Resort's annual Spring Fest celebration.
"You can probably go out and ask a hundred people what the Coast Guard does, and 80 percent don't have a clue what they do," said local flotilla commander and organizer of the event John Handfield. "As far as the auxiliary, I'd say that raises to 98 percent that don't know the auxiliary exists."
What this team did on March 24 achieved one of their primary goals.
"One of our missions is to tell the Coast Guard story and that of the auxiliary, so we use the public affairs events to explain to the public what the Coast Guard and auxiliary are all about," Handfield said.
"We want to let the active duty know that we are a team and to support them and thank them for their service," he added.
The event also introduced to many attendees the Coast Guard Museum located inside the Harbour Town Lighthouse.
The centerpiece of the museum is a long, high and heavy replica of the Eagle. The actual Eagle is a 295-foot-long training vessel for cadets and candidates from the officer candidate school. It is the only active sailing vessel in America's military forces. It was built in 1936 by the Germans.
The 16-foot long, 9-foot high, 350-pound wood replica resides on the third level of the lighthouse; it was a challenging logistical issue to install it intact, Handfield said.
The auxiliary basically does everything the active Coast Guard does in a support capacity, except for military and law enforcement. It conducts safety and security patrols, performs search and rescue, inspects local river ports, trains intensively, and handles distress calls.
"Because we're part of Homeland Security, we have to take federally mandated courses," Handfield said of the local auxiliary, which was founded 53 years ago and has 55 men and women volunteer members. "It's pretty extensive what we do as volunteers."
During the three-week federal government shutdown earlier this year, the active Coast Guard still worked 24/7 unpaid. The local auxiliary raised $16,000 to support them and their families during the crisis.
"They're so thankful that the community comes out and shows great support," Handfield said.
Lowcountry resident Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer.