Coast Guard unit commander leaving to take job at headquarters

MORGAN CITY, La. — After three years of service as commander of the Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit in Morgan City, Capt. Jonathan Burton is leaving to become Director of Inspections and Compliance at the Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Burton, 59, a native of West Chester, Pa., came to Morgan City with the Coast Guard in June 2010 in the midst of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“While we were involved with sending personnel, and while we were involved with working with the local parishes and others, we weren’t directly in charge of the response anymore at that point,” Burton said. “The one thing we did do is that we took over all of the oil sampling” to determine where the oil was coming from, he said.

As commanding officer of the Marine Safety Unit in Morgan City, he is in charge of roughly 140 Coast Guard personnel in Morgan City, four resident inspectors in Lafayette, and a sub-unit in Houma with about 40 personnel, Burton said.

Burton will be formally replaced as commander of the unit by Capt. David McClellan in a change of command ceremony at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Morgan City Municipal Auditorium.

The commanding officer of the Marine Safety Unit in Morgan City also carries the titles of Captain of the Port of Morgan City, Officer in Charge of Marine Inspection, Federal On-scene Coordinator for oil spill and hazardous materials response, and Federal Maritime Security Coordinator in charge of the security of the port, Burton said.

The support of the oil and gas industry is a “big focus” for the unit, Burton said. That includes inspecting the rigs offshore as well as vessels and support structures, Burton said.

Burton emphasized that the unit’s work “is done through partnerships with our federal, state and local partners,” he said.

Besides the 2010 BP oil spill, the other major events for the region that Burton dealt with while in Morgan City were the May 2011 high water event and Hurricane Isaac in 2012, Burton said.

As far as local response from the Marine Safety Unit, the first big incident he faced was when a rig flipped over in the Charenton Canal blocking the canal, he said. “That was a true example of a team effort,” Burton said of working with the parish and state. “That, in my mind, sort of set the tone for the rest of my tours.”

He said the unit in Morgan City is “probably the busiest marine safety unit in the Coast Guard.”

“We respond to 15 percent of the entire Coast Guard’s pollution response here from Morgan City. A lot of that is offshore,” he said.

The Marine Safety Unit in Morgan City has two 29-foot Response Boat Small at its boathouse and also has a CGC Cutter Axe in Morgan City as part of the Coast Guard’s New Orleans sector, said Lt. Sandy Carmine of the Marine Safety Unit in Morgan City.

His field tours with the Coast Guard have been in Philadelphia, Lake Charles, Morgan City and Baltimore. Burton started his Coast Guard career in Philadelphia.

Burton is going back for his “fourth tour in D.C. all in different types of jobs,” Burton said. “One of my specialties besides this is strategic planning, so they keep pulling back in to doing this type of work,” Burton said.

Burton is a “great believer if you’re going to be in a community, you try to become part of the community,” he said.

The Morgan City community has made it easy for him and his wife to become part of the community, he said. His wife, Ann, taught at Central Catholic High School.

In 2010, Burton had requested to come back to a Gulf Coast unit, and Morgan City was the only one open at the time, he said. He had previously been stationed in Port Arthur, Texas, and Lake Charles.

Burton’s new job at the Coast Guard headquarters will be different from his current position partly in that he “will be tied to a desk,” he said. Burton will begin his new job in Washington, D.C., on June 24.

“The focus will be on policy development and on regulatory development rather than the hands on implementation of that,” Burton said.

Burton said the new position will be a new challenge for him, and it will also be his last tour in the Coast Guard as the military has a mandatory retirement age of 62.

The incoming commander, McClellan, visited the Marine Safety Unit’s sub-unit in Houma Tuesday and was going to be introduced to people in Morgan City by Mayor Pro-tem Louis Tamporello today before the change of command on Thursday, Burton said.

St. Mary Now & Franklin Banner-Tribune

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