His eyes lit up as he climbed into the driver’s seat. He took over the controls and carefully split the throttles, spinning the boat in circles. A huge grin spread across his face. With a Coast Guard ball cap resting neatly on his head, Christopher Marten felt like a member of the crew.
“It is easy to take things for granted some days and to not see yourself as necessarily important,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Charles Buchmeier, a boatswain’s mate assigned to Coast Guard Maritime Force Protection Unit Bangor in Silverdale, Washington. “And then someone like Chris comes into your life and is so excited about everything you do, which feels great.”
When Chris and Buchmeier met months before, neither of them could have predicted that their friendship would lead to this special opportunity to share a common interest: the Coast Guard.
Buchmeier met Chris, a 46-year-old grocery bagger with exceptional needs, during a routine trip to a local grocery store. “Chris is always helpful, smiling and engaging with people,” said Buchmeier. “He was very excited the first time he learned I was in the Coast Guard.”
Chris would greet Buchmeier when he visited the store and follow him around, exclaiming that the Coast Guard was “number one!” They developed a friendly relationship.
One day while walking into the store, Buchmeier saw Chris leaving. He quickly returned to his car and retrieved an old Coast Guard ball cap of his. Chris was climbing into his father’s truck when Buchmeier caught up with him and gave him the hat.
Marten also learned how to drive the SPC-SV and operate its onboard weapons system during his day underway on the small boat.
Chris’ father, Norman Marten, a former Marine and member of the Bremerton Olympic Peninsula Navy League, witnessed the gesture. His Navy League chapter sponsors MFPU Bangor, providing them with support and resources. Norman had met the commanding officer of MFPU Bangor, Cmdr. Thomas Sullivan, at previous events, and called to thank him for Buchmeier’s kind gift.
“He basically said Petty Officer Buchmeier made Chris’ day by giving him his ball cap,” said Sullivan. “It’s the little things like that that don’t often make it back to the commanding officer, but that did.”
Sullivan invited Norman and Chris to MFPU Bangor for a tour and an underway trip on a 64-foot Special Purpose Craft – Screening Vessel. “It was my way of giving back in one small, but important, way,” said Sullivan. “I’ve known Chris’ father for three years, and I’ve seen how supportive his Navy League chapter is of us.”
Three weeks before Norman and Chris’ visit, Buchmeier finished his coxswain qualification for the SPV-SC. The small boat coxswain is responsible for the safe operation of the vessel, as well as the overall safety of all crewmembers and passengers.
“I’ll never forget the look in Chris’ eyes when he walked down the pier and saw me standing next to the SPC-SV,” said Buchmeier. “It was just pure happiness and enjoyment.”
Petty Officer 2nd Class Joshua Sanders and Petty Officer 2nd Class Daniel Caraballoa, machinery technicians assigned to MFPU Bangor, volunteered to be crewmembers for the special VIP visit. Chris, Norman, Sullivan and the crew boarded the vessel, donned life jackets and cruised into Hood Canal. That’s when Chris climbed into the driver’s seat. Caraballoa explained the controls to Chris and let him drive around in circles under the proud and watchful eye of Buchmeier.
Chris also learned about the vessel’s onboard systems and polished his seamanship skills by assisting in line handling evolutions at the end of the trip.
After mooring to the dock, the crew surprised Chris by advancing him to the honorary rank of petty officer 2nd class.
“A lot of what we do is secret squirrel stuff,” said Sullivan, referring to the MFPU’s primary mission of escorting Navy submarines. “Whenever we get the opportunity to showcase what we do, the crew gets a lot of return for that. This was Coasties volunteering their time to help out Buchmeier and his friend.”
On the way back to the MFPU office, Chris greeted passersby and showed off his new rank insignia. He could be heard along the pier proclaiming, “Coast Guard number one!”
For the crew of MFPU Bangor, it was another day on the water, an opportunity to raise the visibility of the Coast Guard and a way to give back to those who support the Service. But for Chris, it was an opportunity to live out a dream and spend the day with a friend.