This article will run in the RESERVIST Magazine, Issue 1, 2018.
By: Anastasia Devlin, RESERVIST
After a dozen years in the active duty Coast Guard, Marie Sevin made the difficult decision to transfer to the Reserve. Her friends were in awe – not only was Sevin a Type 3 Incident Commander and seasoned prevention officer, but she’d just pinned on her new rank of lieutenant commander.
After moving around the country so many times, Sevin was giving her husband Ty the chance to follow his dream of being the track and field coach for the University of Texas. She took a billet at Marine Safety Detachment Texas City, and nestled into her new role as a stay-at-home mother to her newborn son and three-year-old daughter.
Last August, she was getting ready for her daughter’s first day of first grade, but by force of habit, Sevin kept one eye on the news, noting the unusual weather predicted for Houston. She’d responded to Hurricane Katrina and could feel things were about to get hairy. She put in calls to both sets of grandparents, asking them if they could find time in their schedules for an extended visit.
Just in case.
Working with the RFRS staff, Sevin drove down from Austin to be the liaison officer for Sector Houston hours before the storm hit. A light rain was falling as the sector set up their ICS structure, and the staffing dropped to minimal levels as people went home to ready their families. Before heading to her hotel for the night, Sevin put in a call to the mayor’s office for a potential meeting the next day to discuss any damage that might occur in the upcoming storm.
It all promptly got cancelled,” remembered Sevin. “We were not expecting anything to that magnitude." She said the next few days following the hurricane blurred into one very, very long day.
Her hotel, chosen for its proximity to base, became a haven for those stuck by flooded roads. Rescue personnel (both military and first responders) couldn’t report in. They were stuck in their homes and hotel rooms, or riding bikes, driving in the middle of the road (the high point), catching a lift with other first responders. She threw her suitcase into her car and drove to the base, pretty sure she wouldn’t have time for a hotel in the near future. She didn’t even remember checking out.
As the liaison officer, Sevin coordinated with the area’s emergency operations centers to triage and prioritize calls for assistance. Everything from kids needing dialysis to pregnant women who’d begun early labor. The Coast Guard had embedded representatives in each EOC, and Sevin coordinated with them whenever Coast Guard assets were needed to support a city rescue.
Houston’s shelters hadn’t been set up for the kind of evacuations that were now taking place. Up to 200 people per day were taken to the sector by Coast Guard Air Station Houston, located just a mile away. The sector hadn’t been set up for this.
“People needed everything, they left everthing, they had nothing," she said. " Anything from a toothbrush to a hair tie, we were talking our own stuff to give them at this point, just to make them comfortable.
With the unit still minimally staffed (but gaining strength as personnel rolled in), Sevin took on the small logistics role of rearranging the galley to house survivors. When the shelters finally opened, she worked out arrangements with the National Guard to arrange buses for transportation to the shelters. She saw people with only the soaked clothes on their backs trying to take care of children and the more senior residents. Active duty members worked with Sevin to provide security, document the names of those rescued, and retrieve (or distribute) flight suits and dry blankets for the soaked visitors.
She’d learned the Incident Command System before formal qualifications existed, and that helped her slide from role to role as needed.
Meanwhile, her parents had just switched places with her in-laws. They’d driven down from Iowa to watch the Sevins’ children. When her daughter had her first day of school, Sevin wished her luck over the phone and had to quickly get back to work. Her husband texted the former stay-at-home mother a photo of her big girl’s first day.
“I have very good parents,” said Sevin. “They’ve been so supportive of any choice I’ve made. When push came to shove and we needed help with the kids, they were here in a heartbeat. And that just eased my mind, knowing they’re back there.”
In Houston, Sevin found sleep when she could, dragging a cot to an empty office or conference room, but she was always ready to go the next day. She transitioned into the role of governmental affairs officer, arranging everything from transportation to talking points for the Coast Guard’s alignment with senior officials, including the president, the commandant, the speaker of the house, senators, and Houston’s mayor and judge. Coordinating a smooth visit with the staff of each dignitary required hours of phone calls, despite the knowledge that the plan would change dozens of times.
Sevin’s versatility shone as she moved from job to job, from coordinating rescue efforts to running a makeshift shelter, from liaison officer to governmental affairs. She laughed thinking of all the small emergencies she handled. One day, she was called to help make breakfast in the galley. Another time, she arranged formal sit-down lunch for a last minute VIP visit with the Secretary of Homeland Security.
“It was really like an ‘all hands on deck’ evolution,” said Sevin. “I get the foundation of the training, and why we have schedules, but it really comes down to your ability to roll with it. You just come in and do it.”
“She was the point person; she wore many hats like we all did,” said Lt. Cmdr. Omar Barajas, reserve force readiness staff chief. “And she was running for days. Man, if Marie Sevin didn’t take the job she did….”
Barajas broke off, his appreciation filling the silence.
When the pace of operations slowed back down after several weeks, Sevin headed up to Austin to be with her family. Her husband, her parents and her children greeted the tired officer with smiles and hugs.
The following day, she walked her little girl to school.
Chief Petty Officer Michael Bazzrea and Sector Houston-Galveston Law Enforcement team take a selfie while deployed to St. Thomas for hurricane relief.
Sector Houston-Galveston LE team hitch a ride back to the Caribbean on a Coast Guard C-130.