Great Lakes Warriors
October 22, 2012
Buffalo District's area of responsibility covers some 38,000 square miles of land from Massena, New York in the east to the Indiana state line in the west. There are forests, mountains, and valleys; there are plains and streams. But there is also what has also been referred to as "America's Fourth Coast," or "The Inland Sea." Most of us know them simply as "The Great Lakes." Lake Erie and Lake Ontario and the network of rivers and streams that connect to them comprise yet another area of responsibility and it is this area that our Great Lakes Warriors, the sailors of the Tug Cheraw and Derrickboat McCauley call their "office."
This office comprises 16 commercial and 19 recreational harbors; five of the top 100 ports in the United States; 110 miles of federal navigation channels; 1,683 miles of shoreline along the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River and 38 miles of piers, jetties and breakwaters. This office can be blisteringly hot or bitterly cold. This office offers resplendent sunsets that take your breath away or fierce storms that can smash a 729-foot lake freighter like it was made of matchwood.
Not exactly your normal office, but as it says in Psalm 107, "Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the mighty waters; they saw the deeds of the Lord, his wondrous works in the deep."
Who are these Great Lakes Warriors? There's Captain Tim Colburn of the Tug Cheraw, whose shoulders carry a heavy load, for it is he who is ultimately responsible not only for accomplishing the mission, but for safeguarding the lives of his sailors. The Cheraw is home to First Mate Bartosz "Andy" Kotlarz and Marine Oiler/Deckhand Timothy Zbin. The other half of the team is the McCauley crewed by Derrickboat Operator Frank Luce; Marine Machinery Repairer James Boyd; Head Deckhand Anthony Gilmore and Deckhands Raymond Mass and David Bognar.
What does this combination of men and machines do? Their "normal" missions include precisely placing stone and concrete blocks or rip-rap that weigh several tons to repair breakwalls, jetties or piers; keeping the federal navigation channels open to safe and efficient passage and in general, fixing what's damaged and maintaining what isn't. And sometimes in the course of what started as an ordinary workday, while most of us are sitting at our desks, their marine band radio crackles and a distress call comes over the airwaves. These men drop everything and speed to help a fellow mariner in distress. It's all in a day's work for these all too often unheralded Great Lakes Warriors.
Tim Colburn, the tough, former Recon Marine summed up these men best. Recently, he, his crew and the men of the Corps' Black Rock Lock teamed-up to save a fox kit that had fallen into the water from a cold death in the Black Rock channel. Tim wrote in a Facebook post, "Kudos to my crew and big men with soft hearts at the Black Rock Lock."
Yes, they are indeed big men with soft hearts. They are Americans.