Big suits, tips on catching 'bad guys' delight kidsWith the metallic coat reaching past his knees, and the pant legs bunched up in baby-fat rolls around his ankles, Matthew Rainey looked like a planetary science fair project.

The fifth-grader, dressed up in a U.S. Coast Guard "hot suit," waddled up to the fire hose, wrapped his small fingers around the stained orange tube, and stood ready to aim the water over the side of the ship.

The hose was loose, a little bit like Jell-O, before it was charged. Then it stiffened with water.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Rafael Rodriguez hands eager volunteer Matthew Rainey a pair of handcuffs in a demonstration of handcuffing a "bad guy." Petty Officer 2nd class Kinney Blas, right, assists.

LORI ASSA-The Daily AstorianMatthew grinned as he watched the stream arc into the Columbia River.

"I thought I was going to get hit by water!" he said, adding that he could probably manage to work the hose by himself.

Firefighting was among the activities Capt. Robert Gray Elementary fifth-graders tried out during a tour of the cutter Steadfast Thursday.

The ship and the fifth-graders adopted each other earlier this year, and the students received letters from C.G. Bear while the ship was under way.

"It's just a great way for the local students to become more familiar with the Coast Guard and their presence here and what they do," said Betsey Ellerbroek, education director at the Columbia River Maritime Museum, which started the project seven years ago.

On this day, the kids gathered on the sunny flight deck to learn about law enforcement, tried on Coast Guard gear, toured a 47-foot motor lifeboat, pulled the triggers on an empty .50 caliber machine gun and chowed down on the noon meal: hot dogs and hamburgers.

One of their favorite activities was the "bad guy" station.

"Sir, you're going to be placed under arrest!" Petty Officer 2nd class Rafael Rodriguez told a "perpetrator." "Put your hands out to the side, palms facing up, and turn around."

He stepped wide and leaned over as instructed, putting his arms back to be cuffed.

Thursday morning, the flight deck of the Steadfast is rife with activity as fifth graders from Gray Elementary learn about safety, personal floatation devices and law enforcement.

LORI ASSA - The Daily Astorian"Lock 'em tight, Matthew, lock 'em tight!" Casey Yates yelled at his classmate as he snapped the handcuffs around the wrists of a Coast Guardsman.

The students learned how pepper spray is made, and how every Coast Guard person who carries pepper spray has had it sprayed in their own face - a requirement of carrying the weapon.

"Have you ever had soap in your eyes? It's like that, only 20 times worse," Rodriguez explained.

The kids also tried to out-do each other in a sit-up and pushup challenge, because being in law enforcement means being in shape.

Seaman Michael Twito held the four feet of two kids as they turned red and huffed their way to the 30-second mark.

"Can we stop now?" more than one student panted.

On the motor lifeboat, the kids bombarded the crew with questions.

Have you ever run over any seals or sea lions?

"Nope. They get out of the way," Seaman Karl Niedermeyer said.

Is that a toilet?

LORI ASSA - The Daily Astorian

Flanked by fellow fifth-graders Zach McElfresh, left, and James Geelan, Casey Yates lets out a "Yes!" after being told by Seaman Thomas Garcia that he tied his knot correctly."Yes, but it's not like the ones on the big boat," Niedermeyer said. "If you use it, you clean it."

What's all this space for?

"Air," he said. "The boats can right themselves in eight seconds."

Students took a lesson in survival gear when Boatswainsmate 2nd class Clint Payment showed the kids a Mustang suit.

"We'll wear these if it's really cold," he said. "If they have to rescue someone with a small boat. It will float if you fall in."

Grant Osborn tried it on, his freckled face peering out of the hood.

"It feels weird," Grant said. "It feels like a normal jacket, but the legs feel like snow pants. It feels like you could go play in the snow."

By the end of the morning, with the excitement of aiming machine guns and getting a close look at the bridge, many of the kids were making career plans.

"Who wants to be in the Coast Guard?"

"Meee!!" they shouted enthusiastically.

Zach McElfresh, whose father is in the Coast Guard, said it's cool looking.

"And I like saving people at sea," he said. "I don't want the water to be filthy from people who throw drugs overboard."

Then the rest of the truth came out.

"I have a bridge wing that needs to be painted," said Petty Officer 2nd class Ronnie Mason.


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