North Las Vegas isn’t the first place one expects to find the Coast Guard.
Landlocked some 30 miles northwest of Lake Mead, Nevada’s fourth-largest city has long been known for fighter jets housed at nearby Nellis Air Force Base but not as a likely home for rescue patrol boats.
Next month, longtime Coast Guard volunteer Mark Himes will help break in a second group of Southern Nevada volunteers set to work under the 9th Division of the Guard’s civilian 11th Auxiliary District.
Himes, who serves as public affairs officer for the Henderson-based Central Las Vegas Valley Flotilla, admits the decision to base a second volunteer unit out of North Las Vegas looks like a bit of a head-scratcher.
In practice, Himes said, it makes all the sense in the world.
“There’s a lot of retired military officers up there in the Aliante area who used to work at Creech (Air Force Base) and Nellis (Air Force Base),” he said. “Those are exactly the type of volunteers who, we hope, will be up for the job and have the time to do it.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun, and those are the type of people who want to give back to their community.”
North Las Vegas Flotilla Commander Barry Keller, who introduced Himes to the Coast Guard’s auxiliary unit five years ago, expects a new batch of volunteers will give a big boost to veteran auxiliary units stretched thin by dozens of boaters stranded daily with a dead battery or thirsty fuel tank on Lake Mead.
Keller said recent record-low water levels haven’t made the lake any safer, explaining even those most familiar with Southern Nevada’s largest body of water have found themselves beached on a newly drought-exposed sandbar in recent years.
Because the lake is on National Park Service property, no commercial towing companies can operate to help remove those stranded on the lake’s ever-expanding shorelines.
That means North Las Vegas’ new crew of weekend warriors can look forward to lots of tow-boating with full-time public agency staff at the National Park Service and Nevada Department of Wildlife.
“It surprises most people because they don’t know there’s such a thing as a Coast Guard in the desert,” Keller said. “But a lot of people don’t understand there’s land where there didn’t used to be and that a (10-year drought) is all the more reason for us to be out there because the calls for service we’re getting are because of the lowering water levels.”
Keller’s new flotilla, like every other Coast Guard auxiliary in the country, is made up entirely of civilian volunteers, who he said must be “at least 17 years old, of good character and able to pass background checks,” but won’t be expected to pass basic training.
The group has collected applications from six volunteers so far. Among vessel safety training, boating safety classes and giving a lift to those stranded on a newfound island, they look to stay busy.
“Like anything, you get out of what you put into it,” Keller said. “We have some members who only attend the meeting once a month and only help out when they can, and some have the flexibility to treat it like a full time job.
“Our members come from all walks of life: doctors, lawyers, tradesmen, retirees. … What I like to say is that no matter what you do, the Coast Guard Auxiliary has a place for you.”
Keller and the rest of the North Las Vegas Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla expect to meet at 7 p.m. on the third Monday of the month at the North Las Vegas Airport, 2730 Airport Drive.
For more information on the group, call Keller at 702-219-2236 or visit www.goaux.us
Contact Centennial and North Las Vegas View reporter James DeHaven at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3839.