McGregor man now a division commander for U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary

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Steve Gress

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Earlier this month, McGregor resident Steven Gress was promoted to division commander of the second division of the 8 Western Rivers District of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.

As division commander, Gress will oversee the second division’s four flotillas: Prairie du Chien, La Crosse, Rochester and Winona.

“It’s a privilege to serve,” said Gress, who’s been a member of the Prairie du Chien flotilla since 2012. He’s held several flotilla and division positions during that time, including flotilla commander.

Gress said he was first introduced to the Coast Guard Auxiliary by a friend. Recently-retired from a 34-year career with Sysco, he decided to give it a try.

“It was such a welcoming environment. You’re immediately accepted,” he shared.

Gress chose to become involved with the flotilla’s surface operations, serving on the boat crew that patrols the Mississippi River.

Not an avid boater until his retirement, Gress said he’s had fun with the Coast Guard Auxiliary, while also learning a lot. A desire to pay that back motivated him to pursue the division commander position.

“I learned early on that people gave so much to train me,” he explained. “I felt this was a good way to pay that back to the community.”

After stating his willingness to serve in the division commander position, Gress said it was then put to a vote of his peers. He was sworn in at a change of watch ceremony on Jan. 7.

Gress said his term will run for two years, then someone else will be elected to the position. At that time, he can decide whether to move up the ranks or not.

Even with the additional duties, Gress will remain active with the Prairie du Chien flotilla, serving as flotilla operations manager, member training officer and coxswain of the flotilla’s operational facility, the Kaley-Annie. As coxswain, he goes on patrol and is responsible for the vessel’s crew and overall safety.

Gress encourages others to get involved with the Coast Guard Auxiliary. Established by Congress in 1939, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary is the all-volunteer uniformed component of the U.S. Coast Guard. The auxiliary supports the Coast Guard in nearly all areas of operation. One does not have to be a member of the military to serve, Gress noted.

“It’s for anyone who’s interested in boating and making new friends,” he said. “We’ll train you in a variety of aspects. Everybody from different walks of life can certainly be of service. You can do as much or as little as you want.”

The Prairie du Chien flotilla currently has 15 members, including Gress’ wife, Laura, who serves as the flotilla staff officer for information technology.

Volunteers can serve in capacities such as navigational services (checking lights and buoys) and communications (radio operations), as well as website management, food preparation, safety training and public education and affairs. The list goes on, said Gress.

According to Gress, the Coast Guard Auxiliary’s primary goal is to promote boater safety and fellowship. Among those efforts are boater safety classes, particularly for kids. They also perform vessel safety exams, assuring boaters are following state and federal requirements.

“We’re also trained to assist voters in distress, and to do so quickly and professionally,” Gress shared. “We’ve trained for hours on end to perform these tasks.”

Gress said his favorite part of being involved with the Coast Guard Auxiliary is the opportunity to meet so many nice people.

“You would think people would be hesitant,” he quipped, “but we give advice, not tickets.”

To learn more about the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and how you can get involved locally, visit www.cgaux.org.

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