ILWACO, Wash. - Lt. Jamie Frederick looked out from the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse at the waters of his new command and gestured at Peacock Spit, where, even in calm weather, the surf was breaking into periodic white caps.
He said the U.S. Coast Guard boat drivers and rescue swimmers know this bar, the most dangerous on the Pacific.
"You go out with them in a boat on the Columbia River Bar, these kids are some of the best boat drivers in the world," he said. "And they have to be."
Which is why Frederick said his job as commander of the station is to take care of the men and women who pull people from the water, who help grounded boaters and patrol the entrance to the river. The Coast Guardsmen are already experts on the bar.
Frederick assumed command of Station Cape Disappointment this month after interim commander Wesley Parker left for Coast Guard Station Barnegat Light in New Jersey. Prior to Parker's three-month stint, Lt. Richard Burke commanded the station for three years.
At 29, Frederick is a 10-year veteran of the Coast Guard. His first assignment was to the USCG cutter Bittersweet in Massachusetts. From there he went to school to become a machinery technician; he was assigned to a small boat station on Lake Michigan where he drove search-and-rescue boats and worked as a boarding officer. He was selected to attend Officer Candidate School in 1999, and after completing OCS was assigned to Coast Guard Group Key West.
He was nominated for Search and Rescue Controller of the Year for helping coordinate the rescue of 29 people after a migrant-smuggling boat capsized in the Florida Strait.
"A case like that is challenging for a lot of reasons - a lot of current and typically no safety gear onboard," he said.
Frederick spent the last two years working in Washington, D.C., for Vice Adm. Thad Allen, the Coast Guard's third in command.
Fancy coins, traditionally given by high-ranking officials for exemplary work, are lined up soldier straight on his bookshelf, including one from departing CIA director George Tenet. But Frederick dismissed the coins he earned in D.C. for a newspaper clipping of his grandfather, a Bataan death march survivor.
"Coins pale into comparison to that," he said.
Frederick says he's honored to command "Cape D," one of the most prestigious Coast Guard stations.
"It has a long tradition of great people who have done heroic things," Frederick said. "It's humbling. It's an unforgiving environment. There isn't much room for error."
The station performs anywhere from 400 to 600 search-and-rescue missions per year. With the Buoy 10 season still to come, the station has participated in just 100 missions, with the year half over.
"I think any responsible leader can't step into a high risk time without a certain hint of apprehension," he said.
The New York native, who is still getting used to the sight of the lush greenery of the Northwest, plans to spend much of his free time outdoors with his family. His wife, Kimberly, and children Alexandra, 6, and Aiden, 3, will be arriving in August.