Monday, August 18, 2008

George Barantseff - Adventures in the Coast Guard Auxillary!

'I wondered, "what shall I do with my time?"' said George Barantseff on retirement, little knowing that that simple thought would lead him to embark on a second career that would thrill even a much younger man with adventures of a lifetime!

In retirement George has saved lives, brokered international diplomacy, protected America's waters riding waves of Hollywood blockbuster size - and beyond! - and flown over 130,000 air miles during more than 4,000 hours of voluntary service in the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

We met George in calmer waters in the bay during the Festival of Sail as he welcomed people aboard the US Coast Guard Cutter Eagle...see blog Festival of Sail - USCGC Eagle at

Initially, contemplating his years of service in the National Guard Reserve from which he retired as Colonel, and experience of sailing, he thought the Coast Guard Auxiliary might be the place for him.

He was more right than he realised! He joined to teach boating safety and to continue serving his adopted country.

Being able to speak four languages fluently - Russian, Japanese, French, and English of course! - meant he could also help with interpretation.

But then in 1998, the Auxiliary established an International Affairs - Interpreter Corps. George immediately signed on as a Russian linguist and life from then on was anything but plain sailing.

Using his linguistic and radio communication skills, he has helped to save the lives of Russian seamen for when a ship's crew couldn't speak English, George became the voice that directed ships, medical and rescue personnel.

On one occasion a Mayday call came through to the US Coast Guards from the MV Marazli and George was hastily contacted to deal with the emergency. It turned out that a seaman had sustained such a severe head injury his brains were visible. George calmly coordinated communication between the ship's doctor, the USCG Flight Surgeon, a helicopter pilot and his base.

'My proudest achievement was helping to save that man's life aboard Marazli because everyone was able to communicate through me and the operation went very smoothly,' he said.

Another time his skills saved the life, albeit on land, of a USMC Military Attache. George had travelled to the port of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky in the Russian Far East on board the Coast Guard Cutter Mellon. On board the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Alexander Vershbow, had hosted a farewell reception upon relinquishing his portfolio, recounted George.

In a reciprocal reception hosted by the Russians in a hotel, the unfortunate attache 'inadvertently ate some calamari - he was highly allergic to shellfish - and was rushed to the hospital. Our Pharmacist's Mate and I were sent to care for the stricken Lieutenant Colonel,' he said.

'Whenever there is a language barrier between physician and patient, it's like practicing veterinary medicine: how is the patient able to explain where and how does it hurt, what happened, etc?,' he said.

When it comes to diplomacy, George has only just returned from Washington DC where he helped to rewrite and update the original radio navigation system treaty between America and Russia that was negotiated by Reagan and Gorbachev. Known as the LORAN/CHAYKA Treaty - Long Range Aid to Navigation - he was involved as both an interpreter and expert in the field.

He has also made several visits to Russia, been among the first-ever group of US Coast Guard Officers to make a flight aboard a Russian AN-72 patrol jet, and acted as both a consultant and interpreter in diplomatic meetings including one with the highest-ranking American and Russian Coast Guard Officers, as well as engaging in the quieter activity of translating documents.

On one occasion, too, he used his Japanese to interpret in a conference call with the Commandant of Japan's Coast Guard service. This was for an international forum regarding the sharing of information on combined operations, exchange of information, illegal drug trafficking, maritime security, fisheries enforcement, illegal migration and maritime domain awareness.

What might be considered as more of a buccaneering activity are the times when he has gone out on Alaskan patrols on the North Pacific and Bering Sea, and braved huge seas and freezing conditions - 'think 'Perfect Storm' movie and 'Deadliest Catch' TV programme!' said George - to monitor radio communications of Russian and Japanese fishing fleets. This to ensure, said George, that they didn't poach on our side of the Maritime Boundary Line or use high seas drift nets to illegally catch marine life.

Or when he worked with the Russian Border Service to chase and catch an illegal foreign fishing vessel.

Once he endured incredulous 100 ft waves, 60 knot winds and minus 22 degrees F wind chill factors during the infamous winter storms of 1999.

He faced nature's ire at some of it's deadliest moments: wild seas fomented by violent winds in bone-chilling temperatures that rose in malevolent cliffs of water and surged against a small boat and its courageous crew.

'I think that riding out those magnificent Arctic storms aboard a '378' out on the Bering Sea will never be forgotten!' he said.

At the heart of all this is George's considerable linguistic talents, which stem from an unusual background. He was the son of Russian emigres who fled their homeland after the Revolution and was born and raised in Japan. He added French and English to his repertoire with school studies.

Does he prefer one language to another?

'I am equally comfortable speaking the language required during the conversation. I don't struggle through thinking in two different languages,' he said.

'In essence, linguistically speaking, I'm like the contents of a pot of tea: I fit into which ever container I am poured. Because I am Russian Orthodox Christian by religion, Russian was the language spoken at home and at church. We also spoke Japanese, but Japanese was mostly spoken at school and with playmates. I had no difficulty speaking either language,' he said.

Into his busy life he has also managed to fit in other sports. He is a 3rd Dan in karate and a Ist Dan in judo in black belt rankings and has fenced with a saber.

At the age of 68 years, his life is slightly slower now. He lists his favourite TV shows as Japanese soap operas, especially the semi-documentary historical samurai dramas, Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune and 'of course, Monday night football during the season!' He also crews for yacht owners.

But his exciting and highly successful life has not been without tragedy. His beloved second wife, Laura, died of cancer last year. As he nursed her through the final stages of her illness, he resigned from his post as National Staff Branch Chief - Pacific Area, but is still attached to the Golden Gate station.

On the first anniversary of her death in May of this year, George wrote an obituary that was published in the San Francisco Chronicle.

'She was her husband's best friend and gave him tremendous support and encouragement in all of his endeavors throughout the more than 21 years that they were together....Laura - I miss you, honey, more than words can tell.'

***For Laura's obituary click here: When page shows, click on 'Full Archive' at top. Her obituary is the second listing.

Pics show: George on board the USCGC Eagle during the Festival of Sail answering questions from visitors; speaking at a forum in Vladivostok - 'another great adventure!'; as a karate black belt; as a Lieutenant Colonel in the National Guard Reserve with his wife, Laura, and receiving his silver eagles on promotion to Colonel.


Mildred Melt said...

Truely interesting!!

I enjoy reading and would be merely baffled if I found a better blog :)

Anonymous said...

Good article!