Departing Coast Guard Station New London commander recognized for dedication to her crew
New London — Lt. Nina McDonald relinquished command of Coast Guard Station New London to Lt. Robert Garris in a ceremony Wednesday at the station, situated on the Thames River in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood of the city.
Capt. Kevin Reed, commander of Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound, which oversees Station New London, recognized McDonald for taking care of her crew and strengthening relationships with other port and law enforcement officials.
Watching the crew go about their business, Reed said, it was clear they were performing their duties well and also enjoyed their jobs. "It's that sense of enthusiasm that always let me know that as a leader and being in command, you were achieving a smart balance," he said.
He said he regularly asks commanding officers, "Do your people feel good about coming to work?"
"Do your people feel good about being part of this team? I believe that's the calling of leadership and command," he said.
McDonald was presented with the Coast Guard Commendation Medal, which recognizes heroism or meritorious service. Under her leadership over the last three years, the station carried out 301 search and rescue cases, resulting in 348 lives saved and $5.6 million of property preserved. She spearheaded a joint law enforcement training on how to safely and efficiently respond to an active shooter, among other achievements.
Reed brought up a "humbling instance" that occurred one night when McDonald was unreachable. He sent local police to her house to do a wellness check. McDonald was fine. It turned out her house was a dead zone for cell service.
"Let's just say AT&T gained a loyal customer that very next day," McDonald quipped during her remarks. "Since that day, I made calling both my phones a ritual before going to bed every night to ensure I had no dead spots."
Much of McDonald's remarks centered around her crew.
"It's never the grind of the work that you remember about a particular unit, it's the people you work with and the relationships that you develop that stick out, and this unit was no different," she said.
Station crews are often made up of younger Coast Guard members, McDonald said, and most of the more serious law enforcement and search and rescue cases happen at night, when the commanding officer is at home and asleep.
"I feel blessed to have had a crew that I've never had to worry about and that I've trusted in every situation," she said.
McDonald, who has a 4-year-old daughter, Payton, with her husband, Jesse, will next report to Coast Guard Atlantic Area Command to be the maritime safety and security team force manager and K-9 team force manager.
Garris most recently served as the school chief for the Chief Warrant Officer Professional Development School in New London. He and his wife, Cindy, have three daughters Haleigh, Kyleigh and Ashlin. Garris said he could tell "immediately that he was walking into a great unit."
"With the crew's help, I look forward to continuing the proud tradition of excellence that Lt. McDonald has established with all of our maritime partners and community," he said.
Reed had this piece of advice for Garris: "Take care of your crew."
"Guide them to be better and remember to take time to enjoy the command," he said.