“Years from now, Andy Lee Howay and a group of his friends will be sitting around … talking about childhood memories. They’ll probably be playing a version of ‘Can-You-Top-This?’ And when Andy pipes up and tells them how he came into this world, his friends will undoubtedly name him winner of the games.”
So begins an article in the March 1986 edition of the Commandant’s Bulletin. What makes Andy the indisputable winner? Andy was born on a Coast Guard HU-25 Falcon jet.
It was New Year’s Day 1986 when JoAnn Howay began experiencing pre-mature labor pains. JoAnn and her husband, Jerry, were expecting their second child in March but when JoAnn arrived at Alpena General Hospital in Alpena, Mich., doctors decided she should be taken to Munson Medical Center in Traverse City, Mich., were neo-natal intensive care could be provided.
Traverse City was a three-hour drive but only a 20-minute flight. An Air Station Traverse City aircrew was out on a routine training flight in the area when they were diverted for the medical evacuation mission. Coast Guard flight surgeon Capt. Martin Nemiroff was aboard the 2110, joined by obstetrics outreach nurse Patti Bauer.
Having never flown before, JoAnn reluctantly boarded the plane. Halfway through the short flight she turned to Nemiroff and said it was time; her baby could not hold out any longer. “I didn’t care where I had it at that point,” said JoAnn in 1986. “But I was in pain and had no choice.”
And so, some 12,000 feet above Gaylord, Mich., Andy Lee Howay, at 3 pounds, 5 ounces, was born in the back of Coast Guard Falcon jet number 2110.
The plane, on loan to Air Station Traverse City, made its way back to its home of the Aviation Logistics Center in Elizabeth City, N.C. Documenting this moment in which a Falcon turned stork for a day, a plaque was installed with the inscription “On January 2nd 1986, Andy Lee Howay made a smooth transition into this world from 12,000 feet above it.”
Fast forward to today and like many Falcons in the fleet, the 2110 is retiring. After more than 30 years of service, the Falcon is being replaced by the newest Coast Guard aircraft, the HC-144 Ocean Sentry airplane.
As the logistics center crew readied the 2110 for retirement, they wondered what kind of missions the aircraft flew and what stories it had to tell; the one story that stood out above all others was that of Andy Howay.
“Old timers can pretty much recite the plaque; each one could recite it from memory,” said retired Capt. John Siemens, a logistics analyst at ALC. As a former Coast Guard aviator he knows firsthand the narratives an aircraft builds in its service life but admits that is not always the case for the aircraft the logistics center maintains.
“Sometimes they have corrosion. Sometimes they need a paint job. Sometimes they need an inspection. We tear them down to zero and make improvements … we put them back together and send them back out to the fleet,” said Siemens. “We put our hearts and souls into them but never see the personal side of what the planes do.”
Wanting to make the connection between maintenance and mission, Siemens and the crew at ALC invited Andy and his family to say goodbye to the 2110.
While the crew at ALC knew the story of Andy Howay well, there was one man who perhaps knew the story better than anyone else. He didn’t just know the story; he was part of it. Retired Senior Chief Petty Officer William Entriken was the flight mechanic aboard the 2110 and helped carry the incubator holding Andy out of the airplane.
“When things were quiet on the hangar deck, I would take the opportunity to walk out to the plane, look at the plaque and reflect on the event,” wrote Entriken, now working at ALC as a contractor. “I’d always wonder how JoAnn, Andy and their families were doing. I have my answer now.”
Last Friday the Howay family gathered together at a change of command ceremony held at ALC. JoAnn, Andy and Jerry were joined by Andy’s fiancé, Kayleigh Roskey, their son and their newborn daughter. The Howay family, with Siemens, Entriken and the crew at ALC, commemorated the retirement of the 2110 and Andy’s miraculous entry into the world.
Reflecting on the ceremony, Entriken wrote about seeing Andy more than two decades after his birth: “On Monday of this week, I celebrated my 58th birthday. Not to discount the efforts of family and friends to make those memorable occasions through the years, but I can sincerely say this has been the best gift I could’ve gotten.”
Like all Coast Guard assets, the 2110 has many stories to tell. While Andy Howay’s is notable, there are thousands more. Thousands of missions made possible by superior support by the Aviation Logistics Center. Capt. Werner Winz, the outgoing commanding officer at ALC, put the work of the entire ALC crew into perspective.
“You provide our aircrews who go in to harm’s way the best aviation systems available,” said Winz. “Whether you are an artisan assembling aircraft, an engineer designing repairs, an accountant paying bills, an item manager filling orders, a programmer writing code or any of the plethora of other essential work that goes on here, never lose sight of what your true purpose is. You save lives and protect our public.”
The 2110 didn’t just save a life that day; it helped bring a life into this world.