Elizabeth City Coast Guard Enlisted Association board members conduct a meeting on the Coast Guard Base on Feb. 18. Pictured are Vice President Petty Officer Jose Colon, left, and President Petty Officer Alex Szilagyi. photo by kristi langenbacher

Elizabeth City Coast Guard Enlisted Association board members conduct a meeting on the Coast Guard Base on Feb. 18. Pictured are Vice President Petty Officer Jose Colon, left, and President Petty Officer Alex Szilagyi. photo by kristi langenbacher

Enlisted Association honored for boosting membership

“We go out and search for those who want to work hard and volunteer and make a difference in the community. Our association is made up of like-minded people. These are pure-hearted, good people who want to do good things.” 

Petty Officer 
Casey Lawrence
Treasurer of National CG Enlisted Association

By Kristi Langenbacher


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A few years ago, the Elizabeth City branch of the Coast Guard Enlisted Association had just eight members and was in danger of losing its charter. The branch now has about 60 members, and has received national recognition. In August the local CGEA was recognized as the branch with the largest increase in membership, and received the President’s Outstanding Branch Award for 2015.

Petty Officer Jose Colon has witnessed firsthand the low membership and subsequent growth and success of the local branch since he reported to Air Station Elizabeth City in 2010. He joined the local branch as a member, and later served as vice president, then president.

Colon, now an instructor at the Aviation Technical Training Center, has been an active member of CGEA since 2002 when he joined in Mobile, Ala. He is currently serving as the local branch vice president, and served as president in 2012 at a time when the branch had just a handful of members. He worked with the Chiefs’ Mess on base and the local Chief Petty Officers Association to help the membership grow.

As a single father, standing duty and working full time in the Coast Guard, Colon realized he just didn’t have the time to commit to the organization as president.

He encouraged Petty Officer Casey Lawrence to serve as president and continued on the board as immediate past president and an active member.

“We have thrived and exceeded what I could have done in my limited amount of time,” Colson said.

Lawrence, the Base Elizabeth City household goods and transportation officer, said bringing in new members is the result of current members reaching out to others.

“We go out and search for those who want to work hard and volunteer and make a difference in the community,” said Lawrence, now past president of the Elizabeth City CGEA and treasurer of the National Association. “Our association is made up of like-minded people. These are pure-hearted, good people who want to do good things.”

The CGEA is a national organization formed under the Chief Petty Officers Association to assist fellow shipmates, command and community. Membership is open to Coast Guard active duty, reserve and retired members ranked E-6 and below. The association’s missions include supporting members and dependents in need, assisting the CPOA, and promoting unity and positive morale through leadership.

Colon said the association has given him the opportunity to grow personally and professionally.

“I like networking within the Coast Guard and having my finger on the pulse of aviation in the Coast Guard community,” he said. “I’m a people person. I like to help people out, serve people and teach.”

Volunteering also allows people to make personal connections with others, which Colon did over three years with the Meals on Wheels program. He got to know each person on the route personally, and would even help them celebrate on their birthdays.

Although he is in his last term as vice president, Colon plans to continue as an active member of the association.

“It’s time for me to step back and let others grow,” he said. He is looking forward to continuing his interaction with the local community and fellow military members.

One of those stepping up is current branch president Petty Officer Alex Szilagyi, who has been very active with the group since arriving at Air Station Elizabeth City in 2014. He went to his first meeting just a few days after reporting to the base and began his first term as president in August of last year, when Lawrence was elected as treasurer for the National Association.

Since then, the local branch has been busy with numerous events, activities and volunteer opportunities. Members are now planning the North Carolina Potato Festival 5K and a base food drive to add donations to the base food pantry kept at the chapel. The pantry is part of a commitment of association members to support fellow Coast Guard enlisted members and their families in times of joy and in hardships.

Szilagyi said the association rallies to provide fund raisers for medical bills, emergencies and other struggles junior enlisted members may face.

“We’re an on-base organization focused on helping junior members in need,” he said.

In the fall the CGEA coordinated a barbecue and silent auction fundraiser to coincide with a visit from the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven Cantrell. The branch donated $300 to the local Fraternal Order of Police. The branch also donated $1,000 to the Coast Guard Enlisted Memorial Foundation. The foundation plans to construct a memorial to fallen enlisted Coast Guard members on the grounds of Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, N.J., where enlisted members attend boot camp.

“I think it’s so important for us to have a place to go and remember our enlisted members who have fallen in the line of duty,” Lawrence said. “They went out and made the ultimate sacrifice, and we should honor them.”

Donations to the memorial can be made through the foundation’s web site at www.cgemf.org/donate.


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