Keeping the Great Lakes Safe with the U.S. Coast Guard

moke fills the room at the rear of the ship as the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) fire team waits in line formation to charge, fire hose first. The door is hot with heat as the team eagerly readies itself to enter the room and tackle what is inside.

Fortunately, on this day, the smoke is a sugar-water vapor-and the entire procedure is a well-orchestrated drill.

"When we are out on the water, we can't just call the fire department, explains Coast Guardsman E3 Ivory Green. "It's just us out there."

Green serves in the USCGC Bristol Bay unit on a 140-foot icebreaking tug stationed on Detroit's downtown riverfront just off Mt. Elliot Avenue. The ship is one of only nine of its kind in the Coast Guard, weighing in at 662 tons.

As seasons change, the unit's responsibilities include ice breaking, switching out navigational buoys and, most importantly, saving people lost at sea.

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"A lot of things changed my life," says Green of his career, which reaches three years in August. "You get to save people, see all these crazy things where somebody falls off their small boat, and you're right there. (It) could've ended up worse. They could've died, and you prevented that."

He adds, "It's a pretty good experience. I think I made a good choice of a career."

As a kid in inner city Chicago, Green says he only had dreams of playing basketball growing up. But a career with the USCG has been more fulfilling than he ever could have envisioned.

"I never thought I would learn how to drive a boat. Also, being a fire team member, having four other guys backing me up, I didn't expect that either," Green says. "I understand why a lot of people get in the military and make it a career, because who gets to do this? You get to travel. You learn all these different techniques and trades. I think what the Coast Guard has done for me is pretty amazing."

Although being away from his family is tough, Green says the family atmosphere and camaraderie among his crew is a strong system of support.

"The biggest surprise to me was how family oriented everything is. You don't expect to come in and everybody being so close," he says. "I can go up to my chief and ask him if he wants to catch a basketball game. You don't see that in movies. You don't see that in the pamphlet." But Green sees and lives it every day.

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