Great Lakes Mission
Now-retired Rear Adm. Michael N. Parks
outlines Ninth District’s unique challenges
The Coast Guard’s Ninth District, headquartered in Cleveland, spans the
five Great Lakes, includes 1,500 miles of international border and has
more than 6,000 active-duty, Reserve, civilian and auxiliary men and women responsible for boating safety, law enforcement, search and rescue,
icebreaking and other missions in a region that is known as the eighth sea.
The Great Lakes region has 21 percent of the world’s fresh water
supply, and a climate that shifts dramatically from Arctic conditions in
the winter to tropical in the summer. It is a well-travelled trade route
for commercial vessels and home to one-third of the registered recreational boaters in the United States.
Rear Adm. Michael N. Parks was the operational commander
of the district for more than three years until he retired, after 35
years of service, during a change-of-command ceremony June 27
that saw Rear Adm. Fred M. Midgette take command.
U.S. COAST GUARD
Parks, who calls the region a national treasure, had a decorated career that included serving as the deputy
director of operations for U.S. Northern Command headquarters, being the commanding and executive
officer on numerous cutters, and working ashore as the chief of staff of the Atlantic Area Command in
Portsmouth, Va., among other duties.
Prior to his retirement, Parks sat down with Associate Editor John C. Marcario in his Cleveland office to
discuss the challenges within his district. Excerpts follow:
Why do you think your district remains something of a mystery to the general public?
PARKS: This district has always really been somewhat
isolated. It’s a contained system here. It’s not on the
coast. It does not have a lot of the glamour of the
Seventh Coast Guard District [headquartered in
Miami] or the notoriety that some of the West Coast
units have. We don’t have any of the large ships or the
fixed-winged aircraft. A lot of those [rescue] cases that
get notoriety, the cruise ships or large fishing vessels,
we don’t have a lot of that activity here.
There are eight states in this district and I think
that’s something people don’t fully understand. It
freezes up here and [people] think that because of this
nothing happens on the Great Lakes in the winter and
they don’t understand the domestic icebreaking mission. Unless you have actually lived here or spent time
here, I don’t think you actually fully appreciate the
unique nature of the region’s seasonality.
What types of challenges does this district
have that others in the Coast Guard do not?
PARKS: The biggest difficulty that we experience is the
quest for operational proficiency for our people because
of the inability to do something year-round. When we
compare ourselves to our counterparts, in some of the
coastal areas where maybe they are able to keep boats in
the water year-round, we can’t do that because we have