San Diego's Ocean Beach

Tybee Heads Christmas Parade

Dec, 2003 The Log
by Jim Kelly

Pirate ships and Santa sleds bobbed madly in the water as they followed the Tybee past cheering crowds on Shelter Island and Harbor Island, setting an eastern course by the Star of India.

In the darkness and drizzle, some in the crowds might have missed what looked like two Ralph Lauren models in Coast Guard uniforms standing on the flying bridge. The models smiled and waved to cheering watchers onshore, but they also seemed to be piloting the ship.

And that's exactly what they were doing. The ladies in charge were the commanding officer and the executive officer of the ship.

Lt. Dawn Black, the CO, assumed her command of the Tybee in June 2003. A native of Montrose, Colorado, Black is the only person she knows of who has entered the Coast Guard from her little town nestled in the foothills on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains.

Lt. Dawn Black, the CO, assumed her command of the Tybee in June 2003. A native of Montrose, Colo., Black is the only person she knows of who has entered the Coast Guard from her little town nestled in the foothills on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains.

"I'm sure I'm the only person from my town who has gone to the Coast Guard Academy," she said. "It's odd, but when I go back there I'm a little bit like a hometown hero."

A career officer, Black is in her third tour of duty in California and is proud to be commanding the Tybee. "The Tybee is a San Diego ship," she explained. "It was built in 1989 and has always been stationed here." Her husband is also in the Coast Guard and stationed in San Diego. "He's an officer on one of the bigger ships," she explained, "and it's ok that he outranks me."

Black's second in command, Lt. j.g. Kate Higgins, is also a Coast Guard Academy graduate. Having a female commanding officer and executive officer is highly unusual in the Coast Guard, if not unique. "There might be one other situation where it happened," Higgins said. "But I'm not entirely sure."

It is also unusual to have two Coast Guard Academy graduates as the only officers on the Tybee. Unlike the other military academies, the Coast Guard Academy has no congressional appointments and, according to their web site, they evaluate candidates on their "...academic standing and personal merit, skills, talent and achievements."

This evaluation process is severe. In the case of the Class of 2007, 305 students were selected from an initial 6,028 applicants.

Also a high percentage of those selected do not make the grade. Higgins said approximately 45 percent of her class washed out before graduation. In Black's class, it was over 50 percent.

A Southern Californian, Higgins was born in San Diego and has been the executive officer of the Tybee for 18 months. "My father was submariner," Higgins explained. "He was stationed in San Diego when I was born." She graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in June of 2000 and has served 18 months of a two-year assignment aboard the Tybee. Like Black, Higgins wants to make a career of the Coast Guard and thinks she will be going to San Francisco for her next duty station.

The cutter's crew includes nine males and eight females. According to Black this was purely a luck of the draw. She requested a duty assignment aboard the Tybee's sister ship, Edisto, when she applied for her current assignment. Ironically, the current commander of the Edisto had requested assignment to the Tybee.

The Tybee is a 110-foot vessel with two Paxman-Velenta RP200M diesel engines that can reach speeds in excess of 26 knots and has a range of over 1,800 nautical miles.

There are three ships in her class homeported in San Diego and all were initially assigned to help in the war against drugs according to Black.

In more recent months, however, the emphasis has shifted to homeland security. "The Coast Guard has actually been doing homeland security for the entire 213 years of its existence," Black said.

Although the crew has an array of small-arms weapons and two 50-caliber machine guns mounted port and starboard outside the bridge, the Tybee has the additional firepower of a M242 Bushmaster cannon on its bow.

This 25mm cannon, manufactured by McDonnell Douglas, is also used on the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and the Marine Corps' Light Armored Vehicle, and delivers a powerful punch of armor-piercing or high-explosive ammunition.

In addition to its homeland security role, the Tybee is also used to rescue boaters in distress. Recently, the Edisto pulled two fishermen from the water after their boat sank 10 miles off Mexican waters.

Since Black took over as the commanding officer, her vessel hasn't had the opportunity to rescue anyone, but she said they were always ready to do so. She also said she was really proud of the crew of the Edisto and their recent rescue of the boaters.

The Tybee might look like it's out for a pleasure cruise but anyone threatening San Diego Harbor should be forewarned. Higgins, the attractive but deadly executive officer put it perfectly.

"I'm a really good shot," she said.