Balmaceda replaces Bolanos on Astoria-based cutter
By Edward Stratton
The Daily Astorian
The U.S. Coast Guard on Friday marked the retirement of 38-year veteran Cmdr. Jose Bolanos and transferred his command of the Astoria-based cutter Steadfast to Cmdr. Alain Balmaceda.
Bolanos took the helm of the Steadfast in 2015 from Mark Walsh, who had been brought in to finish the term of John Bitterman, who was relieved from his command in August 2015.
At nearly 50 years old, Steadfast is one of the Coast Guard’s older assets, patrolling the West Coast along North and Central America and enforcing marine laws and intercepting drugs, smugglers and migrants. But Bolanos said the real asset is the ship’s crew.
“Steadfast is just a vessel,” Bolanos said. “The real credit goes to the Coast Guard men and women who have sailed her.”
Under Bolanos, the Steadfast has intercepted more than 6,000 pounds of cocaine, 200 pounds of marijuana, 19 suspected drug smugglers and 28 undocumented immigrants, along with fisheries patrols and rescue missions. Bolanos highlighted one in which the crew came upon three Mexican fishermen waving frantically from their sinking boat.
“There’s no better feeling than knowing you have saved a life and they’re going home,” Bolanos said. “Over the past two years, the men and women of Steadfast have safely executed all our missions with pride, perseverance and professionalism.”
Bolanos said there is no greater feeling than a sunset at sea and the thrill of the chase. “Going to sea has been my calling in the Coast Guard, being on the tip of the spear.”
Bolanos is retiring to Mobile, Alabama, with his wife, Susanna, and five children Katherine, Wilson, Hannah, Sarah and Cooper. Replacing him is Balmaceda, who has more than 20 years in the Coast Guard since graduating from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. He most recently served as deputy commander of the Coast Guard’s Patrol Forces Southwest Asia, overseeing 260 Coast Guardsmen and six patrol boats deployed in Bahrain in support of Middle East operations. He comes to Astoria with his wife, Ann-Marie Balmaceda, and their three children Isabel, Lucas and Mateo.
“I commit to my new shipmates that I will give nothing less than 110 percent,” Balmaceda said.
He said Bolanos was exactly what the Steadfast needed at such a critical time in its history.
Rear Adm. Pat DeQuattro, deputy commander of the Pacific Area command that overseas regional cutters, said the Coast Guard could just transfer command quietly. But no other civilian position equates with a commander of a ship carrying arms, he said, with the authority to use them in the service of the U.S.
“There are lives at stake,” he said. “The reputation of our service is at stake. And by extension thereof, the reputation of our nation is at stake.”
He called Bolanos a true professional whose passion for the service has been a lesson to all. The Steadfast, which returned from its last deployment in April, heads out on its next counter-drug mission in about a month.
“I ask that you now shift your loyalties to Cmdr. Balmaceda,” DeQuattro said.