The change of command ceremony Wednesday at U.S. Coast Guard Station Brunswick was marked by all the high regard and pageantry that has come to define this time-honored maritime military tradition.
And then Rudy stepped up.
When it came to the navigational challenges that characterize the Golden Isles, outgoing commander Rudy Radakovich did not pull any punches. Or punchlines.
"If you didn't know, station Brunswick's AOR (area of responsibility) is pretty challenging," Radakovich said. "When you're driving the boat in the backwaters, it's like a pterodactyl should just come up out of the woods and scoop up your boat. There's nothing, it's just boonies. And there's all these tributaries. You look at the chart and it will make your eyes hurt — there's all these ones and twos for the depths. I'm like, oh my God, am I supposed to drive a boat through here?"
As Chief Warrant Officer Radakovich moves on to administrative Coast Guard duties in Washington, D.C., Station Brunswick falls under the command of Senior Petty Officer Justin B. Irwin.
"He's a rock star," Radakovich said of his successor. "And he knows what he's coming into, so the command is in capable hands."
Irwin's scheduled four-year stint at Coast Guard Station Brunswick marks first command for the Nashville, Tenn., native. He previously was stationed as second in charge in Grand Isle, La. As Radakovich noted, Irwin is familiar with the Golden Isles, having previously served here as third in command from 2011-2013.
"I stand here humbled and excited to have the opportunity and the privilege to command this Coast Guard Station," Irwin said. "I am fortunate to have inherited such a fine Coast Guard team. I look forward to serving with you in the next four years."
If Radakovich's farewell address was marked by levity, maybe it was because the preceding speaker stole all of his serious material. Capt. Gary Tomasulo of USCG Sector Charleston, S.C., had high praise for Station Brunswick's performance during Radakovich's one-year term of command.
"Mr. Radakovich and the crew here epitomize everything that is great about our country," Tomasulo said. "They represent our dedication to serve this country. Rudy Radakovich and the crew at Coast Guard Station Brunswick make a positive difference every day in the community they serve."
Under his watch, Coast Guard Station Brunswick conducted 27 search and rescue operations, saving 10 lives, Tomasulo noted. "I know those 10 people and their families are grateful for this crew and what they do for this community."
And while folks were rolling the dice on the Emerald Princess casino ship that sails daily from Gisco Point, Radakovich left nothing to chance, Tomasulo said. Radakovich orchestrated a plan for rescue operations should the Emerald Princess encounter an emergency at sea, and conducted drills to execute such a plan, he said.
The local Coast Guard patrol also is responsible for policing and protecting the steady flow of freighter traffic in and out of the port, which is the largest roll-on/roll-off ship destination in United States, Tomasulo said.
"Coast Guard Station Brunswick is critical in maintaining the safety and security of that port," he said. "I cannot underestimate the importance of that mission to this area."
Local Coast Guard crews additionally conducted 38 boardings of commercial fishing vessels, operations intended to ensure compliance with harvest limits and boat safety, Tomasulo said.
"I want to take this opportunity to thank you for the outstanding job you've done here, not only for the community but for this station," he said to Radakovich.
The crew of Coast Guard Station Brunswick stood solemnly in formation to one side of the podium — alternating between parade rest and attention, as the proceedings warranted. The staid formality melted momentarily during Radakovich's final inspection of the crew.
Boatswain's Mate Chris Mercer stood to the fore of the crew, sharing a hearty chuckle with Radakovich over some anecdote lost on the rest of crowd. Radakovich then proceeded through the ranks, addressing each crew member with a similarly personal goodbye.
"Never once did I have to come in here and give these guys a pep talk," Radakovich said. "I had to pep talk myself some. But never once did I have to sell them on the mission. They fully accepted it, 100 percent. I thank God for that. You're a great crew, a great bunch of self starters and I'm going to miss you guys."