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    Wednesday, August 10, 2022

    Connecticut Coast Guard leaders recall how 9/11 changed the mission

    Coast Guard Commander Michael Glinski stands at Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound in New Haven on Sept. 3, 2021. (Chief Petty Officer Stephen Woodbury/U.S. Coast Guard)

    New London — Michael Glinski remembers being in the barber shop at the Coast Guard Academy on Sept. 11, 2001, when an underclassman ran up to him to ask if he had heard the news that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.

    At first, it was unclear how big of a plane it was and the scale of what happened. It wasn’t until right after his haircut, that Glinski, now a Coast Guard commander, but then 19 and in his second year at the Coast Guard Academy, went up to a common area and saw on the television the second plane hit.

    [naviga:img class="img-responsive" src="/Assets/news2019/911weremember.jpg" alt="9/11 We Remember"/]

    Click here for more stories in our 9/11 We Remember series.

    Immediately after, questions and confusion arose around the Coast Guard Academy and the Coast Guard as a service, he said. Were the upperclassmen going to graduate early? Were they still going to be cadets? Was the country going to war? Were they going to be sent to New York to help?

    While the cadets ended up continuing their education and graduating as planned before going on to serve in their own ways, overall, 9/11 shaped the Coast Guard and brought the homeland security mission to the forefront, he said.

    From a young age, Glinski, who grew up in Thompson and who had family that had served in different wars, had been interested in serving the country and joining the military. His high school principal, former Groton Superintendent Michael Graner, was a Coast Guardsmen who got him interested in joining.

    The focus on homeland security opened up new ways for Glinski to be of service.

    "I've always been interested in the law enforcement side of things and with the homeland security realm, it was kind of right in step with that so it really helped my career kind of develop throughout as the Coast Guard grew in our roles," he said.

    Today, Commander Glinski, 39, runs the command center at Sector Long Island Sound in New Haven. Since graduating from the Coast Guard in 2004, he has been stationed anywhere from New England to Alaska. He has served as the chief of law enforcement at Connecticut Sector Long Island Sound and taught leadership and management as well as accounting at the Coast Guard Academy.

    With patriotism running high after 9/11, Glinski saw a lot of people he knew serving in the military, including his sister who was in the Air Force. Glinski was eager to serve too, but had to first finish his training and education.

    "We were in the training role at the time, so it was a little frustrating to not go out and do the mission given the sense of uncertainty at that time," he said.

    But the cadets also were at the academy at a time when there was increased awareness of the role of the Coast Guard, he said. The cadets shared a sense of purpose that they were "going to be in the new world with new missions, new assets, new things to work with, new challenges," he said.

    Coast Guard Academy Superintendent Rear Adm. William Kelly said the Coast Guard's humanitarian mission and the sense of commitment to being part of something bigger than oneself was clearly evident when he came to the academy in 2003 to be in charge of officer candidate school.

    In the days following 9/11, cadets likely pondered questions, such as how is the Coast Guard's role going to change, and is this what I signed up for? He said the Coast Guard was able to evolve — and still is evolving today — and continues to do what the nation asked of the service.

    "Like the cadets that came before us, whether it was World War II, whether it was the Vietnam War, Korean War or now the War on Terror, Coast Guard Academy cadets and then the Coast Guard officers and literally the entire Coast Guard is going to step up to do whatever the nation asked of it," Kelly said.

    "We are a stronger and better Coast Guard today because of the hard work and dedication of the women and men of the service," Kelly added.

    Kelly said the period following 9/11 transformed the Coast Guard as it moved into the Department of Homeland Security once it was established. The Coast Guard's missions also changed. Coast Guard patrol boats were deployed to the Persian Gulf, and today more than 300 women and men serve in the Persian Gulf.

    Kelly, who was born in the Bronx and grew up just north of there in Westchester County, recalls going to the World Trade Center multiple times as a child. On 9/11, he was stationed in Boston, Mass., as the executive officer on the Coast Guard cutter Spencer when he heard of the news and knew life had changed for everyone.

    The Coast Guard Cutter Spencer was later deployed to stand watch off the port of New York. He remembers on Dec. 2, 2001, the entire crew lined the side of the vessel and saluted and paid their respects as they passed ground zero.

    When the vessel pulled into port, Kelly said he put on his running shoes and ran down to the site. He could smell the burning wires from blocks away and saw the fires still being put out in December, and it shook him to his core.

    "It was gut-wrenching," he said. Kelly himself had a high school teammate who was working at Cantor Fitzgerald and was lost in the tower. All of Kelly's brothers assisted in helping out in some capacity at ground zero. 

    For the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Kelly is delivering a message to the cadets, who were babies or not born yet on 9/11, about remembering as students and future military leaders to read, listen and learn about what happened that day and what happened afterwards.

    Looking back on his time in the Coast Guard, Glinski said he’s proud of what he’s done. He said there are many people that contribute to the country in a lot of different ways, and his service in the Coast Guard is the way that he can contribute and do his part.

    “I hope I’ve accomplished making it a safer place for us to live,” he said.

    Glinski said the sense of patriotism, the sense of camaraderie and the togetherness of the country after 9/11 was huge.

    “It’s something to keep in mind, that this country is capable of those great things instead of some of the divisions that we see sometimes nowadays in this country,” he said. “Pulling the country together, that shows us the strength of the U.S., and I think that’s important.”

    He said it’s also important to think of everyone who was involved with responding to 9/11 from all different aspects: first responders, firefighters, police, the military, and the civilians that helped.

    “It really showed the solidarity and the strength of the American people,” Glinski said.

    k.drelich@theday.com

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