Locals collect funds for unpaid Coast Guard personnel

U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-Rhinebeck) talks with Coast Guard personnel in Saugerties recently.

The Navy Times estimated that 43,000 Coast Guard members missed their first paychecks of 2019 due to the partial government shutdown; 21 of them work alongside the Hudson River with the Saugerties Aid to Navigation Team (ANT). A local Navy veteran, Allen McDowell, has taken it upon himself to collect donations on their behalf through word of mouth, local clubs and churches and intense social networking.

“When this happened, I thought, ‘Well, we have active duty people who have to be at work and they’re not getting paid’,” said McDowell this week. “About half of those people have their families with them. I remember, living in the service, I was paycheck to paycheck. The pay rates that these guys have, these guys are living in an area that’s expensive. The military doesn’t make a lot of money. They aren’t in a military town with a PX and shopping and stuff with prices adjusted for the military. Here, they’re paying rent and grocery shopping. That’s what prompted me — the community should help.”

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The duties of the local Coast Guard, which crew the cutter Wire, aren’t limited to search and rescue. They maintain waterways, placing buoys properly to mark areas of the river deep enough to traverse by boat, and methodically break up ice floes so as not to hinder marine traffic.

“Their work here is incredibly valuable — not only search and rescue, but ice-breaking on the Hudson River that’s critical to our economy here. It is plain wrong that they have to show up and work every day without getting paid,” said Congressman Antonio Delgado, who visited the Saugerties Coast Guard team earlier this month. “Getting to talk with them was yet another demonstration of the urgency of the need to reopen our government.”

Delgado brought up the local personnel in remarks Wednesday on the floor of the House of Representatives. “Take the Coast Guard, who I met with in Saugerties last Friday,” he said. “They’re providing invaluable service to our community up and down the Hudson River: not only search and rescue, but ice cutting critical to our local economy. They are out there working in the freezing cold and not being paid.”

Thus far, McDowell has raised about $1,400, taken from individuals, the Blue Kats Men’s Club, local Veterans of Foreign Wars post 5034, the American Legion and area churches. 

“Talking to the [team] chief the first time I went to the base there, and he said ‘I can’t imagine I’m the only one doing this’ he said no, that other people have been very generous,” said McDowell. “I’m I guess gratified that people are doing something — little bits. That means a lot. We’re not going to, I don’t know, fix it, but this is our little part of the world and we could make it a little better.”

VFW post 5034, for example, hosted a benefit on Wednesday to raise funds, and the Vietnam veterans of the American Legion Post 72 have donated over $2,000 to the cause. 

On Sunday, at the Reformed Church of Saugerties at 3 p.m., a non-denominational service will be held, and the latter of two offerings will be donated to the Saugerties Coast Guard contingent; McDowell will read the litany and speak on his efforts on workers’ behalf. Donations can also be sent to his home address, 49 Appletree Drive, Saugerties, NY 12477; for additional questions, McDowell can be reached at (845) 246-4888.

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