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On its way out of Duluth, Alder changes command

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Alder waved goodbye to a 28-year veteran, and introduced the man who will return to the Twin Ports with another ship, the Spar.

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Outgoing commanding officer of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Alder, Lt. Cmdr. Justin Erdman, center, is followed by incoming Commanding Officer Lt. Cmdr. Joel Wright, right, as they inspect the crew during the Alder change-of-command ceremony at the U.S. Coast Guard station in Duluth on Friday, July 2, 2021. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
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Days before the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Alder sails out of Duluth for the last time, the vessel and its unit said goodbye to its old commander and welcomed a new one.

In a change-of-command ceremony at the Coast Guard station on Park Point, Lt. Cmdr. Joel Wright relieved Lt. Cmdr. Justin Erdman in front of family, friends and about three-dozen “Coasties.”

“You hear a lot about sea stories working in the Coast Guard,” Erdman said, retiring after 28 years and assignments across seven different vessels. “The best part of sea stories is the people you share them with.”

The change-of-command ceremony is a formal event conducted throughout military branches, representative of continuity of command without interruption.

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Outgoing commanding officer of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Alder, Lt. Cmdr. Justin Erdman, left, kisses the cheek of his wife, Darla, during the Alder change-of-command ceremony at the U.S. Coast Guard station in Duluth on Friday morning, July 2, 2021. (Jed Carlson/jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

In one passage during the ceremony, which featured command figures in dress-white uniforms, the new commander, Wright, sought permission from Rear Adm. Michael J. Johnston, who oversees Ninth Coast Guard District operations throughout the Great Lakes, to relieve Erdman.

“Permission granted,” said Johnston, who was in town from Cleveland.

Johnston held the audience rapt, telling stories of Erdman, while expressing confidence in the new leadership.

During Erdman’s three years in command of the Alder, the buoy tender retrieved or set out 526 aids to navigation across the lakes, and spent 650 hours breaking ice, clearing the way for $77.4 billion in commercial traffic, according to Coast Guard figures.

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Outgoing commanding officer of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Alder, Lt. Cmdr. Justin Erdman, left, shares a laugh with incoming Commanding Officer Lt. Cmdr. Joel Wright during the USCGC Alder change-of-command ceremony at the U.S. Coast Guard station in Duluth on Friday, July 2, 2021. (Jed Carlson/jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

RELATED: US Coast Guard Cutter Alder leaving Twin Ports for Bay Area The announcement Friday amounted to a swap of assets — with the Alder heading for a year of maintenance and then permanent residency in San Francisco, while USCG Cutter Spar will be bound for Duluth in spring 2022.
“Working buoys is inherently dangerous,” Johnston said. “You’re on the edge of shoal water all day, picking up incredibly large items and swinging them about on a moving ship. Doing that in unfamiliar waters is no easy task.”

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Johnston told the tale of how Erdman once led a mission to rescue a woman suffering heart failure on Mackinac Island — the crew employing ingenuity to get her aboard ship and to safety despite not being able to tie up the ship in stormy waters.

“(Erdman) was determined to move forward and take risks,” Johnston said. “It’s what we’re all about.”

Now, Wright will be in command Wednesday, when Alder sails out of the Great Lakes for the last time after more than 16 years stationed in Duluth. Alder is bound for a year of repair and maintenance in Baltimore followed by a new assignment in San Francisco.

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Rear Adm. Michael Johnston, left, Ninth District commander, chats with incoming commanding officer of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Alder, Lt. Cmdr. Joel Wright, center, and outgoing Commanding Officer Lt. Cmdr. Justin Erdman during the Alder change-of-command ceremony at the U.S. Coast Guard station in Duluth on Friday, July 2, 2021. (Jed Carlson/jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

Wright will then return to Duluth in command of the USCG Cutter Spar, a similar 225-foot buoy tender with ice-breaking capabilities.

“It is with great humility that I stand before you today as the commanding officer of Coast Guard Cutter Alder,” Wright, a married father to five young sons, told the Coasties in his charge. “The inescapable weight and distinction of command has begun to grow heavy on my shoulders throughout this week. It has suddenly become the new normal for me.”

Wright thanked Erdman for his service.

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“The ship is in incredible condition, and the crew is an incredible crew,” Wright said. “Your care for this station is very evident.”

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Incoming commanding officer of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Alder, Lt. Cmdr. Joel Wright, looks at his family as his accomplishments are read as Rear Adm. Michael Johnston, Ninth District commander, looks on in the background during the change-of-command ceremony at the U.S. Coast Guard station in Duluth on Friday, July 2, 2021. (Jed Carlson/jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

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