(Photo: USCG PA1 Tara Molle)

When the Continental U.S. North American Air Force Aerospace Control Alert Maintainer of the Year for 2020 was announced, there was some shock. The prestigious Air Force award went to … a coastie.

The Continental Division of the North American Aerospace Defense Command is comprised of the United States Air Force, Air National Guard, Army National Guard, Canadian Air Force and to the surprise of many – the Coast Guard.


The National Capital Region Air Defense Facility of the Coast Guard is housed under the command of NORAD in Washington, D.C and is their only permanent air defense unit. Operating simultaneously as both a military branch and law enforcement within the Department of Homeland Security allows the elite Coast Guard unit the ability to respond to potential threats on a moment's notice. One of their most vital missions is protecting the restricted air space around the White House.

When a threat to the capital is detected, coasties are the first on deck to respond.

(Photo: USCG PA1 Tara Molle)

Avionics Technician First Class Andrew Anton is a member of the small crew of coasties tasked with protecting America's capital and the only coastie to have ever been selected for the Maintainer of the Year award. "It was a surprise to me. I didn't see it coming and it's very humbling," he said. Anton continued, "We don't fly the helicopter by ourselves. This is a team award and a Coast Guard win."

Anton is responsible for managing, scheduling and maintaining all of the helicopters at the unit. "We are the only rotary wing air intercept entity under the NORAD structure. We are Coast Guard but we work for the Air Force," he explained.

Working within aviation is not without risk, which is why Anton feels his award is attributed to the team and not just him. A day in the life of a coastie working aviation involves dangerous chemicals, heavy parts and working in high lifts. Then, there's the inherent risk of simply being up in the air in flight. "At the end of the day, there has to be a human factor in this. We all live and die together. This is a very dangerous job," Anton shared. "This unit applies the best amount of leadership that I have ever seen. Although this is an individual award, it is a team. No one can be successful if the ones around you can't do their jobs."

(Photo: USCG PA1 Tara Molle)

Military service has been ingrained into Anton his entire life as his family has served in the Armed Forces for generations. "I have had a passion for aviation since I was very young. Every male in my family since World War II was a pilot, I am the only mechanic in my family. I love flying but I prefer to work with my hands," he explained. When he finished college, he knew he wanted to join the Coast Guard.

"I work for Aviation Engineering and I am a maintainer, a mechanic," Anton said. But he's much more than that. Anton is a Coast Guard Rotary Wing Aircrew Member, an Enlisted Flight Examiner, Flight Standards Board Member, a facility Training Petty Officer and is responsible for primary quality assurance.

Since his unit is a part of NORAD and works alongside the Air Force, they have unique protocols to follow. "The Coast Guard regulations are one thing, but we also have to abide by the Air Force Regulations because we are an Air Combat Alert unit," Anton explained.

Anton shared that when the Air Force completes the inspections for their Coast Guard unit, they are often left baffled. When they realize that only one Coast Guard maintainer does the job that it takes eight separate Air Force members to do, they're shocked. "When they come for these assessments, it's kind of funny to hear them ask, 'I'd like to talk to your refueler' or 'I'd like to talk to your tool manager' and I'm like – still here, all me. They'll do that for everything. We take pride in our workload and what we are able to accomplish," he said.

(Photo: USCG PA1 Tara Molle)

They maintain their high level of efficiency with just six maintainers on a daily basis.

"As coasties, there's just so many hats that we take off and put on, but we do it well. We're so accustomed to being adaptable," Anton shared. Many may find themselves shocked at what the Coast Guard accomplishes in a single day and probably didn't realize they are a vital part of protecting the President of the United States.

"We don't have Coast Guard signs out front and this mission isn't as heavily publicized because we are following POTUS around. It's a way to mitigate risk," Anton shared. The members of this unit are not allowed to wear their Coast Guard uniforms outside of the facility and much of what they do still remains shrouded in secrecy, as a matter of national security.

While this unit is lending vital support to Operation Noble Eagle, the Coast Guard as a whole is also engaging in Rotary Wing Air Intercept nationwide for the U.S. Secret Service. They guard the skies above National Special Security Events and the president, wherever he or she goes.

Receiving this award showcases the important role that the Coast Guard plays in not only guarding America's waters, but her sky as well. Their missions are accomplished with pride and devotion, despite the challenges they encounter within their budget. "It's important to know that these guys and this team manage it all. You don't hear about it because they do it so well," Anton said. "The Coast Guard is such a small branch that it must be that good."