PORT EVERGLADES, Fla. (CBSMiami) — As a military band played, the new Coast Guard cutter Richard Etheridge was formally commissioned into service Friday morning.
The Etheridge is the second of the Coast Guard’s new Sentinel Class First Reponse cutters.
The new cutters are designed to conduct on-the-water operations that include intercepting illegal drugs and alien migrants, conducting search-and-rescue, and aiding in national defense and homeland security.
Travelling at speeds of up to 28 knots, the Etheridge is faster than its predecessors. At 154 feet long and 25 feet wide, it’s also bigger.
The icing on the cake? It comes heavily armed, with a stabilized 25mm machine-gun mount and four, crew-served .50-caliber machine guns.
Commander Christian Lee and his 24-member crew brought the Etheridge into port in Fort Lauderdale on Monday.
“It’s an incredible day just bringing a new ship with the new capabilities. It will be a relief and an honor to do some good,” said Lee.
It was an incredible day for Lt. Cmdr. James Meekins as well: Meekins is the great-grandson of the second-in-command of Etheridge’s original crew.
Said Meekins: “It’s something I’ve known about since I was seven or eight years old and it’s something I’ve been following my entire life. It’s a proud moment for myself and my family as well.”
The Etheridge is named after Richard Etheridge, a former slave who became the first African American to command a life-saving station. In 1896, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Etheridge led a team of six in the daring rescue of 10 people from a schooner that had been blown off course during a storm.
The crew on board was facing death, but Etheridge would not let that happen.
He tied two of his surfmen together and connected them to shore by a long line. They rescued the entire crew of nine including a child.
Etheridge was awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal, the service’s highest award for bravery.
“We’re excited about the Richard Etheridge and the acknowledgment of what those great men did,” said Meekins.