There are some old Group Astoria signs around the U.S. Coast Guard’s Sector Columbia River Air Station that Capt. Daniel Travers says he still has to change. He has been the new commander since late June.
Besides extinguishing the last vestiges of Group Astoria, which changed to a sector in 2010 and took on the command structure from Portland, Travers said he’s focused on helping an already capable staff do their jobs.
“It’s been a blur, I’ll be honest,” said Travers, 47, who’s been traveling all around the sector meeting members of its various units. Learning the lay of the land has also meant meeting with various stakeholders along the Columbia, Willamette and Snake river basins the Sector Columbia River covers.
As the new commander, Travers wears several hats, including captain of the Port, commander of Air Station Astoria, maritime security officer, officer in charge of marine inspections.
As chief of incident management in at the 17th Coast Guard District in Juneau, Alaska, his forte was search and rescues and environmental cleanup in a command stretching 3.8 million square miles of ocean and 44,000 miles of coastline.
Smaller coverage area, bigger responsibilities
“I wear a lot more hats down here,” said Travers of his new sector, covering 420 nautical miles of coastline and 465 miles of navigable rivers. “It dwarfs the responsibility I had in Alaska.”
Travers is still learning about all the big issues of Sector Columbia River, including the transport of fossil fuels by rail and river and labor disputes with longshoremen.
“When they ask a question about LNG (liquefied natural gas), the part we own is what impact will it have on the waterway,” said Travers. “Our angle for crude by rail, is ‘Do we have the resources to respond to a spill?’”
The projects and applications to export LNG and transport fuel by rail are in the early stages, he said, mostly not ready yet for Coast Guard review. Earlier this month, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a lawsuit against the Coast Guard that challenged its approval of proposed liquefied natural gas shipping on the Columbia River, stating that it was not a “final agency action,” and thus the court lacked jurisdiction for review.
“The biggest thing I can do is learn from people,” said Travers, lauding the professionalism of his staff from top to bottom.
He avoided losing much of his senior management to transfers this summer, but Travers said he’ll need to replace several key members of the sector in the next year, including Deputy Sector Commander Capt. Sean McKenzie, Cmdr. Nevada Smith in the logistics department and Master Chief Brett VerHulst, the most senior enlisted member in Sector Columbia River.
Coming to Columbia
Travers applied to stay an extra year in Juneau so he could apply for the command of Sector Columbia River, his first choice. Rear Adm. Richard Gromlich was one of his former commanding officers, he said, which helped in his application.
Alaska also doesn’t have 11 river bars to cover, said Travers, and only had small pockets of population.
“In the Aleutians, it’s all about finding resources to respond,” said Travers, who during his latest tour in Alaska was named 2013 International Association of Emergency Management Uniformed Member of the Year for managing several response operations. Starting in 2003 as an engineering officer, Travers flew and oversaw maintenance of HH-60 Jayhawk helicopters as part of a three-year tour at Air Station Sitka.
“There are a lot of people who will bounce down from Sitka to here, and back,” said Travers. “People like it. They like fishing for salmon. They like to surf and be outside in the mountains. You get used to the weather.”
Coming with Travers are his wife CC, who starts in the fall as an eighth-grade math teacher in Warrenton, and his daughters Jenna, 12, and Kristen, 15, who start this fall at Astoria middle and high schools, respectively. His son Ben, 19, is a sophomore at the University of Michigan. The family lives in a Coast Guard-owned house on Tongue Point.
Overall, his family has made 11 moves around the country, including back and forth three times between the East and West coasts. His two oldest children have been part of eight moves, and his son Ben attended three different high schools.
“I love to teach math,” said CC, who earned her master’s in teaching during the family’s most recent tour in Alaska. “I was teaching high school in Juneau.”
So far, she said, there hasn’t been much issue with her credentials transferring from Alaska to Oregon. What teachers across the country are getting used to, she added, are the Common Core standards, an effort to nationalize educational attainment goals.
Capt. Travers said it was all new to him, as he attended vocational high school before being accepted into the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn.
“My eyes were always on 20 years,” he said of his career aspirations, adding that his grandfather had been in the U.S. Army for 38 years. “Once I went into the academy, I figured I was a lifer.”
And when he needs advice, Capt. Bruce Jones, who retired locally, is just a quick jog down the Astoria Riverwalk.