A native of Kendall was on hand for the April Fleet Week festivities at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Leonardo Aspuru, a Damage Controlman in the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), recently served as a Fleet Week representative not only for his branch of service, but also for the Coast Guard’s newest line of defense against drug smuggling and human trafficking — the 154-foot Coast Guard Cutter Bernard C. Webber.
A graduate of G. Holmes Braddock Senior High’s Class of 2000, Aspuru is the sole Damage Controlman stationed on the Coast Guard’s newest asset. As such, his responsibilities include maintaining firefighting equipment, assuring the watertight integrity of the ship, and training fellow crewmembers on proper firefighting techniques.
The cutter Webber was the only Coast Guard ship present during Fleet Week 2012 at Port Everglades, and Aspuru was just as proud to be a part of the 77-year-old tradition as he is of his South Florida heritage.
“It’s such an honor to be here and to be the only Coast Guard unit being represented in Fleet Week,” Aspuru said. “It really is nice to hang out with the Navy guys and the Marines. Everyone gets to see what we have to work with.”
One particular Fleet Week event that brought Aspuru great satisfaction was the Damage Control Olympics, a competition between ships that tests crews’ abilities to fight fires and restore watertight integrity, among other at-sea obstacles. The Webber team was extremely outmanned — they had four; the Navy teams had about 20 — but they gave it their all and showed just how passionate Coast Guardsmen are about their service.
“That was a good success story,” Aspuru said. “I was pretty impressed. I didn’t know we were going to do so well and be competitive enough to rank almost second. It was an exciting experience.”
The Damage Control Olympics are but one of the exciting experiences the Webber crew recently encountered. The very new ship was commissioned on Apr. 14. The Webber’s commissioning ceremony went off without a hitch.
“It was possibly the best commissioning I’ve ever seen, personally,” Aspuru said.
“It was beautiful, we got to meet the Bernard C. Webber family — his daughter and grandkids. It was so awesome to finally meet all these people and see all this hard work and heartache get put together and be something as nice as it was.”
The cutter Webber, which is the first of 58 new Sentinel-class Coast Guard cutters, bears a namesake rich with history. Each new Sentinel-class cutter will be named for an enlisted Coast Guard hero, and the Webber’s story is one that holds a special place in the heart of former Coast Guard Commandant (retired) Admiral Thad Allen.
“The cutter Bernard C. Webber is named for Petty Officer 1st Class Bernie Webber who executed one of the most famous rescues in Coast Guard history,” Adm. Allen said. “He piloted motor lifeboat CG-36500, from Station Chatham, MA, to the stricken freighter Pendleton, which split into two during a massive storm off of Cape Cod on Feb. 18, 1952. Fighting 70-knot winds, 50-foot seas, driving snow, and despite losing their compass and windshield soon after getting underway, Webber and his three crewmembers reached the freighter and safely rescued 32 sailors. They received the Gold Lifesaving Medal for their heroism.
“Petty Officer Webber’s selfless behavior and courageous actions define what it means to be a Guardian. His legacy will continue to inspire the men and women who sail on the cutter that bears his name,” Adm. Allen added.
“It’s been an honor,” Aspuru said. “I know I can speak for the entire crew when I say it’s been an honor representing the Coast Guard here at Fleet Week and to be here aboard the first-in-its-class Fast Response Cutter, and hopefully, very soon, become operational and show the taxpayers what the ship can really do and put it to use.”