Despite a spring storm that whipped flags into the water and killed plans for a 19-gun salute, Michelle Obama commissioned the Coast Guard’s newest cutter at a wet and windy ceremony in Alameda Saturday morning.
Wearing a scarf that evoked the bright orange stripe painted on the hulls of Coast Guard vessels, Obama welcomed the Stratton’s sailors to the ship with a message to their loved ones: “To the crew of this magnificent cutter, I want you to know we will be looking out for your families while you are gone.”
The first lady is a sponsor of the Stratton. In 2010, she christened the 418-foot cutter in Mississippi with the traditional bottle of champagne cracked over the prow. Mrs. Obama’s sponsorship of the Stratton is part of her Joining Forces initiative, which aims to provide civilian support for service members and their families.
The foul weather offered an opportunity for speakers sharing the platform with Mrs. Obama to make jokes about the climate in the cutter’s first destination after it leaves Alameda. “When the ship goes to the Bering Strait,” said Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp. “This will be a mild day up there.”
The storm had lost some of its punch by the time Obama took the tented stage in front the Stratton’s hull. But earlier in the morning, heavy gusts of rain forced the Coast Guard Pipe Band into a nearby warehouse to perform. And the wind blew a string of nautical flags that had been attached to the Stratton’s crow’s nest into the estuary.
With brass telescopes, gleaming sabres, whistles, a band on the ship’s deck and scores of Coast Guard sailors saluting in their dress uniforms, the ceremony was loaded with the rituals and argot of maritime tradition. Even the cutter’s name is a nod to Coast Guard history. Capt. Dorothy Stratton was director of the Coast Guard Women's Reserve during World War II. She died in 2006 at the age of 107.
The Stratton will be the third cutter based at Alameda's Coast Guard Island.
The first lady's stop in Alameda was part of a two-day swing through California. On Friday, Mrs. Obama was the main attraction at a fundraiser at the Academy of Sciences in San Francisco for her husband’s reelection campaign. After her visit to Coast Guard Island, the first lady was scheduled to attend the Kid’s Choice Awards in Southern California where she will give an award to Taylor Swift for the country star’s charity work.
Darleen Gaines, the owner of The Cheese Steak Shop in Alameda’s Nob Hill shopping center, knew that the first lady was in the neighborhood, and would have tried to see her had she not had to tend the register at her shop. “I only wish Michelle Obama would come by here and have a cheesesteak,” she said.