Capt. Sean MacKenzie, the new Deputy Sector Commander at the U.S. Coast Guard’s Sector Columbia River, has been on the front lines of the War on Terrorism, largely in command of the agency’s 110-foot patrol boat Adak.

“As a unit of the military, I don’t know that there’s anyone else that has tasted the ashes of the World Trade Center and smelled the bombs that exploded over Iraq,” said the 21-year Coast Guard veteran, the second in command at Air Station Astoria. He commanded the Adak from 2001 to 2003, when it took control of operations in the New York Harbor following the Sept. 11 attacks and helped keep clear the Khawr Abd Allah estuary during the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

MacKenzie’s boat, mostly used for fisheries enforcement, was in port for maintenance at Sandy Hook, N.J., just south of the New York Harbor, when a crew member ran up and told of the attacks he saw on television.

“We arranged the agencies’ boats around the southern tip of Manhattan,” said MacKenzie, who’s job was to keep everyone except rescue personnel and ferries away from Manhattan. He said his crew members could taste the ashes of the World Trade Center towers.

A month later, the Adak coordinated the search for debris and survivors from American Airlines Flight 587, which crashed into the Queens borough of New York City, killing all 260 aboard and five more on the ground.

In 2012, MacKenzie’s patrol boat was taken for predeployment training and outfitting in Portsmouth, N.J., adding extra guns, radar and other equipment to become one of four such boats to take part in the invasion of Iraq.

“The southern part of Iraq just had a ridiculous number of bombs dropped on it,” said MacKenzie, who helped clear the Khawr Abd Allah estuary while coalition forces invaded the Al-Faw Peninsula on the southern tip of Iraq from Kuwait. From the river, the Adak took in possibly the first maritime prisoners of war in the Iraq conflict and helped save an Iraqi barge from sinking. It was loaded with mines meant for international vessels heading up the waterway to Umm Qasr, Iraq’s only deep water port.

Afterward, the Adak patrolled a safety corridor around Al Basrah Oil Terminal. “Those two offshore oil platforms sell 80 percent of the oil from Iraq,” said MacKenzie, who spent a total of five months in Iraq, adding that the Adak is still there.

Second in command

MacKenzie said he’s a stand-in for when Capt. Bruce Jones, commander of Sector Columbia River, steps out.

“I’ll spearhead whatever initiatives he wants to have,” said MacKenzie, who was chosen by Jones from a number of candidates. He is stationed at the sector through at least summer 2015 as one of only three O-6 officers, also known as captains, stationed on the North Coast.

He and his stay-at-home wife Dorothy have three daughters, Anna Lynn, 13, Emma Elizabeth,10, and Ella Rae, 8, who attend local schools.

MacKenzie had a chance at another tour in Washington, D.C., but said he’s happy to be on the operational side in Astoria.

“The U.S. has the best coast guard in the world, and our pilots and coxswain’s are the best in the Coast Guard … because of the harsh operating environment,” he said of his local units. “It’s amazing the types of proficiency they have and what they can do.”

The largest class of Coast Guard cutters are aging and being replaced by new National Security cutters. If all goes well in Astoria, MacKenzie will apply to command either one of those or his own sector. And the 43-year-old, who earned his bachelor’s degree in government and a commission as an officer May 20, 1992, has built up quite the resume over the last 21 years, including:

• His first position as a deck watch officer on the buoy tender Sorrel out of Governor’s Island, N.Y., from 1992 to 1994;

• Saving wayward mariners and patrolling fisheries off the coast of Northern California as executive officer on the Island-class cutter Edisto from 1994 to 1996;

• Earning a master’s degree in business administration from the College of William and Mary in 1997;

• The Coast Guard chief of staff’s office for financial systems at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C. from 1998 to 2001;

• His command of the Adak from 2001 to 2003;

• Helping create the first dedicated appropriations to the recently formed Department of Homeland Security as a staffer under Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W. Va., and the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Homeland Security;

• Chasing drug smugglers and confiscating nearly seven tons of cocaine during his time as commanding officer of the 179-foot Cyclone class patrol boat Zephyr in southern California and Central America from 2006 to 2008;

• Representing the Coast Guard as a staffer at the Department of Defense European Command in Stuttgart, Germany, from 2008 to 2010;

• Commander of the high-endurance cutter Jarvis based in Honolulu from 2010 to 2012;

• A master’s in strategic studies from the Air Force War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama this year.

— Edward Stratton

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