PORT ANGELES — Six months into his command of Air Station Port Angeles, U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Brent Schmadeke said he was thankful to have been assigned to the Olympic Peninsula.
“This is my third tour back in Port Angeles. We love it here,” Schmadeke told a Wednesday meeting of the Port Angeles Noon Rotary.
“I’m very thankful that I was assigned here,” Schmadeke said.
Schmadeke took over as commanding officer at USCG Air Station Port Angeles in July but had twice been assigned to the region before.
Just before taking over command of the air station on Ediz Hook, Schmadeke was Deputy of Aviation Forces at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C. His last tour in Port Angeles was as operations officer from 2016-2019, and he was first stationed here in 2005.
There were eight different Coast Guard commands working at the end of Ediz Hook, Schmadeke said, some of them controlled from as far away as San Francisco, and he was responsible solely for the air station.
The air station’s three H-65 helicopters were responsible for the entire Puget Sound, Schmadeke said, an area that extends from near Blaine to as far south as Aberdeen and includes Tacoma and Olympia.
“We, as the air operations, are basically a maritime search and rescue, so anything over the water is ours, anything over land we assist with,” Schmadeke said.
For search and rescue efforts on land, USCG will partner with the various local agencies such as the Port Angeles Police Department or Olympic National Park but also with the U.S. Navy and Air Force. The air station also partners with Canadian peace officers to patrol and arrest people traveling over the international maritime border, Schmadeke said.
Some of the biggest issues facing the air station are issues impacting the Coast Guard as a whole, Schmadeke said, including aging assets and recruitment and retention issues.
The Coast Guard and other branches have offered retention bonuses to aviators, Schmadeke said, but pilots can ultimately make more money flying for commercial airlines and many are choosing to do the minimum services requirements before moving to the private sector.
Staffing issues are impacting the Coast Guard and the military as a whole, but Schmadeke said his command is mostly full.
“We are short a couple of billets out there,” Schmadeke said, referring to postings. “It’s a lot worse in other places. But as soon as (recruits) are graduating boot camp, they’re getting assigned to fill those gaps.
“But the Coast Guard recruitment efforts, along with (the Department of Defense), it’s just through the roof. They’re trying like crazy to get people to join.”
Many of the Coast Guard’s assets are aging too, Schmadeke said, including the three helicopters stationed at Ediz Hook, one of which was built in 1984 and has about 20,000 air hours.
“That’s a lot of hours to be putting on an aircraft,” Schmadeke said, “that’s like a 200,000-mile car that you’re driving.”
The Coast Guard as a whole is looking at retiring the H-65 entirely and converting the entire helicopter fleet to the MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters.
There are 330 Coast Guard members stationed on Ediz Hook, Schmadeke said, with an average salary of $75,000, making up about $25 million worth of economic activity.
“We have a lot of people out there that have a lot of services, have kids in school, buy their groceries here and buy houses,” Schmadeke said.
Schmadeke, who began his career as an elementary and middle school teacher, said his tour as commanding officer is for two years and will finish in summer 2024.
Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at email@example.com.