Certainly, he had heard of Gloucester. Just about anyone who's ever set foot on a Coast Guard vessel has heard of Gloucester.

But it's the details of what Chief Warrant Officer John Roberts heard throughout his career about America's oldest seaport — especially during the ramp-up to taking command of Station Gloucester — that made him even more excited about his new post.

"A lot of my mentors in the Coast Guard have served here, some have their picture on the wall," Roberts said this week while sitting in the station mess. "So, I've heard a lot of great things about this station and this community."

One particular story from his immediate predecessor, Chief Warrant Officer Kevin T. Morgan, stood out.

"He told me how this community responded during the government shutdown and that was really impressive," Roberts said, referencing the partial shutdown of the federal government last winter that left the Coast Guard working without pay. "I heard about people dropping off food here at the station and opening up food pantries. I heard about people driving down here and throwing money over the fence just so Coast Guard families could eat."

Roberts, 49, succeeded Morgan in a change of command ceremony last Friday at the Harbor Loop facility. It is the fifth command of his career — 28 years on Aug. 20 — that includes, among others,  stops in Portsmouth, N.H.; Woods Hole; Nantucket; New York City; Newport and Narragansett, R.I.; and Iraq.

"I saluted him, he saluted me and I was in charge," Roberts said.

The ceremony, attended by about 150, was his personal introduction to the Gloucester community and his first exposure to the unusual bond that exists between the city — particularly other first-responders and those who work on and around the water — and the men and women stationed at the Coast Guard installation.

"I'm just sorry I wasn't here for the Greasy Pole," he said. "Next year for sure." 

The ceremony was attended by Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken and state Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, as well as representatives from the offices of U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton and the state's two U.S. senators, Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey.

"I think I shook 150 hands that day," Roberts said. "Everybody has been extremely welcoming." 

His first week was the usual whirlwind, getting to know his personnel and letting them get to know him, whether in the administrative offices or in training exercises on station lifesaving vessels that have given him a better feel for his personnel and the waters around Cape Ann.

He's already had the chance to work with the harbormaster's staff in Gloucester — led by Harbormaster T.J. Ciarametaro and Deputy Harbormaster Chad Johnson, two former Coasties — as well as with Manchester Harbormaster Bion Pike.

Roberts came away impressed.

"I'm really looking forward to working with them," Roberts said. "They have an unbelievable wealth of knowledge and already have provided unbelievable assistance since I've been here. That's not always the norm."

In many ways, his new command is a return to the more traditional duties of the Coast Guard. After some tours steeped in the more complex and varied disciplines of the modern Coast Guard, such as ready-for-operations teams and international postings, Roberts is back to where it all started for him.

"I'm kind of back to my roots of search and rescue," he said. "The thing that's the utmost importance to me is that everyone comes home safely."

His command includes 36 active-duty personnel and 15 reservists. The station also is home to three 47-foot lifesaving boats and a 29-foot lifesaving boat. The Coast Guard cutter Largo, which ties up at the Everett R. Jodrey State Fish Pier, currently is in a Baltimore shipyard for repairs.

"There are a lot of really qualified people here," he said.

Roberts still lives in his hometown of Acton with his wife, Ankie, whom he met on his very first posting. They have two daughters: 22-year-old Kaitlyn, a recent graduate of Salem State University, and 20-year-old Paige, a student at Framingham State University.

Roberts and his wife already have spent some time paddleboarding on the Annisquam River and he's an inveterate surfer looking forward to checking out the breaks on Good Harbor Beach and those to the north.

If all goes according to plan, this will be Roberts' last command. He will hit the magic 30-year retirement mark in two years and has received permission from the Coast Guard to extend it one more year so he can finish up his three-year Gloucester tour before retiring.

"I'm exactly where I want to be, so my intent is to stay," Roberts said.

And following retirement?

"I have no idea what I want to do when I grow up," he said.

Except for one thing.

"I want to get an RV and drive from one end of the country to the other," Roberts said.

He's found a good place to start.

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or shorgan@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT.

Recommended for you