Tragedies and triumphs are all part of the Coast Guard life
Life on Galveston’s U.S. Coast Guard base is a lot like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates — you never know the kind of day you’re going to get, said Kailea Blankenship, Boatswain’s Mate Second Class.
“One of the reasons I love this job is because every day is different,” Blankenship said. “One day we’re engaged in a search and rescue, and the next we’re hosting a sea camp tour.”
Blankenship, 31, typically begins her 48- to 72-hour rotation at 7:30 a.m. As Officer of the Day, she’s responsible for carrying out day-to-day operations on base. She dons nearly 15 pounds of equipment and heads out to inspect the boats on base for proper operations. After she conducts safety checks of all vessels in service, she sends boats and equipment in need of service for repairs. She ensures that all training is on course and, after an accountability check, or roll call, of officers on duty, she makes sure waterway patrols and recreational boarding operations get under way.
And that’s where her routine duties end. What happens throughout the rest of her shift might differ wildly.
“The majority of my day runs according to what happened the night before,” Blankenship said. “If there’s an ongoing search and rescue, we’ll maintain that search for days. Or, if an incident occurs in the shipping channel, we will work to maintain order on that front. And, if a holiday weekend is coming up, we may increase our safety checks for recreational boaters.”
Regarding the latter task, Blankenship reminds anyone the Coast Guard doesn’t want to stop people from going out on boats and having a good time.
“Our goal is to ensure they all make it home safely,” she said.
The same is true for the many tankers and cruise ships traveling in and out of Galveston’s harbor each day.
“It is also our mission to safeguard and protect high-value assets traveling through our waterways,” she said.
Blankenship captains the 29- and 45-foot boats used for search and rescues or safety checks for recreational boaters.
“Most of the time, we board a smaller vessel to make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” she said. “Not to look for things they’re doing wrong. That being said, we do keep an eye out for violations.”
Blankenship is a Texas native and attended La Marque High School. She lives off base with her husband of five years, Seth Blankenship, 32, who is a fellow Coast Guard officer stationed on the Cutter Tiger Shark in Freeport. Kailea Blankenship was stationed in Freeport just before her Galveston assignment and before that, Ilwaco, Washington, and Key West, Florida.
As the “eyes and ears” for the officer in charge of the Galveston base, Kailea Blankenship has seen good days and bad. The worst of times is when there is a “negative recovery” from a search and rescue, such as the tragic drowning of Kemah Police Chief Chris Reed, who died in a June boating accident.
“The atmosphere becomes very sad in that kind of situation,” she said. “We treat each loss as if it was our own.”
But most days on the water are good days, Blankenship said. And the best days end with the relieved faces of people who have been in distress out on the water and realize the Coast Guard has arrived to help, she said.
“There have been many times when I’ve worked around the clock on a rescue and it’s been successful,” she said. “Those are the best days. When you know you’ve made a difference and you think, ‘That’s what I signed up for.’”