"Cooking our way around North America" - Two Auxiliarists' tale circumnavigating North America aboard a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker
Long before the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy's (WAGB 20) crew took in their lines mid-July to get underway for a months-long Arctic deployment, preparations for the ship and crew were being made.
A major element of any cutter deployment is ensuring the galley is adequately staffed to prepare and serve four meals a day to the crew. HEALY, a 420-foot medium icebreaker, was making plans to serve the more than 120 crewmembers and scientists sailing aboard for their 2021 patrol circumnavigating the North American continent across the frigid Arctic through the Northwest Passage then back home through the Panama Canal.
HEALY’s command sought additional culinary specialists to support the increased number of personnel during their deployment. As the Coast Guard is currently short Culinary Specialists, a last minute request for help made it to the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary who had members from across the country qualified and immediately vying for the opportunity to assist.
Two Auxiliarists who answered the call to join HEALY for their Arctic expedition were first class culinary assistants Pat Wolcott and Joe Woodbury.
Wolcott, a retired Air Force chief master sergeant and a retired police officer, is not a stranger to underway life or working in the kitchen. Wolcott deployed aboard HEALY for their 2019 Arctic patrol and years ago, he and his wife owned a diner for 10 years in their hometown of Logan, Utah. Wolcott met HEALY in their Seattle Homeport and went to work right away.
Woodbury, a retired Army Lt. Colonel, from Lake City, South Carolina, joined HEALY a few weeks later in Seward, Alaska. They’ll both sail aboard serving hot meals to the crew until the cutter returns home to Seattle in late fall.
The two, along with HEALY’s galley staff, spend seven days a week slicing, dicing, baking, grilling, prepping and serving food to the crew. Wolcott and Woodbury estimate by the end of the patrol, they’ll have prepared and or served more than 20,000 meals.
“A ship’s morale starts in the galley,” said Wolcott. “Our job, beside integrating into the ship’s company and routine, is to allow that morale to foster with the first meal of that person’s day. We do this by a cheerful greeting, and acknowledgement of how glad we are to see them.”
By the end of HEALY’s patrol, Wolcott will have spent 277 days in 2021 cooking aboard Coast Guard cutters. Prior to meeting HEALY in Seattle, he spent more than two months cooking aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Bluebell in Portland, Ore., for their crew of 15.
An opportunity circumnavigating North America has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Wolcott and Woodbury.
In Woodbury’s eleven years in the Auxiliary, he’s cooked aboard the Coast Guard Cutters HAMILTON, JAMES and ANVIL, and at Stations Charlestown and Georgetown. But reading the opportunity to cook aboard HEALY for this patrol was unlike any he’d seen before.
“From the second I saw the request for culinary assistants aboard HEALY, I began calling and emailing everyone across the country to get a spot aboard for their journey around North America,” said Woodbury. “It was a surreal experience to read HEALY was going across the Arctic and around the continent with the unique combination of crewmembers and civilian scientists aboard. Every day I wake up aboard, I still feel like it’s surreal to be here.”
Coast Guard Auxiliarists, like Wolcott and Woodbury, augment and assist active-duty crews across the Coast Guard. From serving as watchstanders at small boat stations, to conducting vessel safety exams, to serving aboard cutters, their contributions are widespread and significant. HEALY’s galley would have been significantly under staffed during this patrol had it not been for the tremendous efforts of Wolcott and Woodbury who upended their lives on short notice to answer the call. They, like so many Auxiliarists, are such an important part of the Coast Guard.
“The Auxiliary’s culinary assistant program’s main mission is to support the Coast Guard in their galleys whether it is a land unit, aboard a cutter in port or at sea,” said Paulette Parent, the Coast Guard Auxiliary’s national director for the culinary assistant’s program. “Currently there are nearly 300 active members in the program encompassing all Coast Guard districts. The dedication and enthusiasm of the Auxiliary culinary assistants who support the Coast Guard is a tribute to our program. The ever-increasing requests for assistance from the Coast Guard reflects well on the program and we are proud to support our active duty shipmates.”
Though the days are long and the work at times seems never-ending, Wolcott and Woodbury are happy for the opportunity to interact with everyone throughout the day as one after another pass their plates over for a serving of the day’s hot meals and a warm smile.