ST. MARYS — Camden County has the distinction of being the first county in the nation to be designated a Coast Guard Community.
The designation, endorsed by congressional committees that have oversight over the Coast Guard and approved by Coast Guard headquarters at Washington, D.C., is in recognition of the outstanding support the community provides to the Coast Guard, its personnel and families.
Camden County joins 15 cities already designated as strong supporters of the Coast Guard.
"We applied for this designation 16 months ago after Commandant Adm. Bob Papp spoke to our community," said Sheila McNeill, president of Camden Partnership, an organization created to support the Navy and Coast Guard in Camden County.
McNeill, a former national president of the civilian Navy League, said the Coast Guard plays a critical role in the safety and well-being of Camden County residents. Almost 300 Coast Guard personnel live in the community.
The two Coast Guard units in Camden County are the Maritime Force Protection Unit, which protects vessels arriving at and departing from Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, and the Maritime Safety and Security Team 91108 (MSST) at St. Marys. The security team was established after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"We are just thrilled that we have been approved and that the designation is for the community and not just one of the cities," she said. "We will continue to advocate for the national needs of this service that does so much to protect our homeland."
When the community learned of the Coast Guard's budget reduction that threatened to disband the MSST team in St. Marys several years ago, McNeill said supporters united to successfully lobby on its behalf. The Camden Partnership made visits to 210 congressional offices during the campaign, she said.
The community does many other things to support the Coast Guard units. Every year the local Navy League honors the Coast Guard Sailor of the Year and works with the Coast Guard units in recognizing the service's birthday. The Camden County Chamber of Commerce honors a military member each month.
A luncheon is slated for April 25 and a public picnic is scheduled for May 17 at the St. Marys waterfront to commemorate the designation.
McNeill also announced another military-related event in Camden County. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert will be honored March 18 at Camden County's annual Community that Cares event. Greenert will speak at Magnolia's at the Kings Bay Conference Center at 11:30 a.m. To register to attend the event, go online to www.thecamdenpartnership.org.