A show of service

July 6, 2011

Editor's note: Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla Commander Nick Swiatkowski '12 filed the report below following his Independence Day service on the Illinois River.

For the past two years I have spent my Fourth of July on the Illinois River as a crewmember in the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary. The Coast Guard Auxiliary is comprised of thousands of individuals who volunteer their time to assist the Coast Guard in all matters outside of direct military and law enforcement.

I currently serve as the Flotilla Commander for Flotilla 85 in Peoria, Illinois, which is the highest elected flotilla office. This year Peoria was home to the largest fireworks display in Illinois, The Methodist “Red, White and Boom Fireworks Show,” and coordinating such an event is no easy task.

Our day began at 4:00 p.m. as we headed downriver to assist in escorting the fireworks barge upriver to its location between the Bob Michel and Murray Baker bridges in downtown Peoria. It was our job to ensure the boating public stayed a safe distance from the barge carrying thousands of pounds of fireworks. Once we made it to our position we maintained a tight watch on the area alongside multiple agencies from the United States Coast Guard to the Department of Natural Resources. All agencies were out in full force ensuring the day could go on in the safest manner possible.

As the clock turned to 7:30 p.m. the Illinois River was officially shutdown between the two bridges to get ready for the Peoria Air Show.  During this time several vessels took positions in the middle of the river to serve as markers for the pilots in the air show. Last year we served as one of these markers, and let me tell you, it gets a little nerve racking watching planes appear to be flying directly at you with no place to take cover. However, there is no better view of the air show.

This year during the air show and fireworks show it was our job was to ensure no boats entered the closed portion of the river and to patrol the area just south of the closed section in case any boaters needed assistance. The day went on without incident and as 9:30 p.m. rolled around it was truly amazing to once again be sitting in the middle of the Illinois River as our national anthem played through the speakers and the largest fireworks show in Illinois began. There truly isn’t a better way to celebrate our independence and to give thanks to all of the men and women who give their lives to ensure we all keep the freedom we cherish so much.