Coast Guard Honors New Ancient Keeper


In the world of Coast Guard boat forces, Master Chief Petty Officer James Clemens is ancient; the Ancient Keeper that is.

Clemens was honored July 12 with the Joshua James Ancient Keeper Award as Chief Warrant Officer Thomas Guthlein, the former Ancient Keeper, retired from the Coast Guard. The Ancient Keeper is a title presented to an active duty Coast Guard member in recognition of their longevity in command of a boat force unit and outstanding performance in boat operations.

“The foundation for today’s Coast Guard boat forces was laid by the pioneering efforts of individuals like Joshua James, the Ancient Keeper namesake, and are exemplified today by Chief Warrant Officer Guthlein’s exceptional three decades of dedicated service,” said Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp who presided over the ceremony as the Coast Guard’s current Gold Ancient Mariner.

Holding the title of Ancient Keeper means you represent all keepers who continue to live by the creed of those who have served before them; those who continue to go to the sea’s rocky realm at the peril of their own lives, in pursuit of the safety and security of others.

“The Joshua James Ancient Keeper title is much more than an honorary position that pays tribute to our heritage of dedicated service,” said Papp. “It is a sign of respect for achieving mastery of craft and leading our Service’s commitment to proficiency.”

And master his craft he has.

A native of Canton, N.C., Clemens enlisted in 1985. He was first stationed aboard Coast Guard Cutter Rush but shortly after was transferred to his first station at Bodega Bay, Calif. The young Clemens could hardly predict that his duties in Bodega Bay would kick-start 25 years of service to the boat forces community and in 1990 he was assigned to Station Grays Harbor, Wash., where he officially became a “surfman.”

In 1995 Clemens became executive petty officer aboard Coast Guard Cutter Point Heyer in Morro Bay, Calif., followed by a tour at the National Motor Lifeboat School in Ilwaco, Wash., where he was a surfman instructor. Clemens went on to command stations Hobucken, Bodega Bay, Chetco River and Umpqua River.

From learning the ins-and-out of small boats to teaching future surfmen and then commanding them, he has no doubt collected quite the assortment of sea stories… or surf stories.

“Etched in my mind is the memory of the motor lifeboat Invincible rollover at Grays Harbor in the early 1990s. I was the surfman on the 44-foot motor lifeboat acting as the back up safety boat. It just happened to be my first day in the surf after gaining my surfman certification. That mishap taught me the value of a second boat during surf training and I have seen that proven many times,” recalled Clemens.

The experience prepared him to be a better leader in the boat forces community where he knows he must always keep his crews safe and at the highest level of readiness.

“As we transition to new platforms we often replicate the growing pains from the past. I have lived through several platform transitions and the challenge of a new platform transition is always on the horizon,” said Clemens. “I think the most important issue for me is to make sure that everyone in our organization recognizes the value of readiness at the station level.”

While he has learned from the past, he is also inspired by what he sees by Coast Guard men and women each day. A particularly recent example was what he calls his unit’s “impeccable performance” as tsunami waves, generated by an 8.9 magnitude earthquake in Japan, ravaged the port of Brookings, Ore.

“I am very proud of the tremendous bang for the buck taxpayers get from the boat forces community,” said Clemens. “I think it is pretty amazing that a crew of perhaps two E-4s and two E-3s can independently conduct a wide array of missions on a million dollar vessel. It never ceases to amaze me how much responsibility we in boat forces, place on our junior and mid-level enlisted folks.”

Sumner Kimball, superintendent of the U.S. Life-Saving Service, reflected on Joshua James and his legacy as he paid tribute at the lifesaver’s funeral in 1902:

“Here and there may be found men in all walks of life who neither wonder or care how much or how little the world thinks of them. They pursue life’s pathway, doing their appointed tasks without ostentation, loving their work for the work’s sake, content to live and do in the present rather than look for the uncertain rewards of the future. To them notoriety, distinction, or even fame, acts neither as a spur nor a check to endeavor, yet they are really among the foremost of those who do the world’s work. Joshua James was one of these.”

Following the example set by Guthlein, Clemens will continue to lead the boat forces community in living up to this legacy left by James. To pursues life’s pathway, living in the present.

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