Jeremy Warf’s Coast Guard Experience Now Serves The Salvation Army
For a man who hasn’t yet reached the age of 30, Jeremy Warf has a world of experience few would expect to find in one so young. Since January 2015, he has served as the Volunteer Coordinator and Emergency and Disaster Services Coordinator for The Salvation Army of Louisville, Kentucky, but for four years prior to that could be found most days on a coastal patrol boat in the Atlantic Ocean or on one of the many islands in the region as he served in the United States Coast Guard, a branch of the United States Armed Forces.
“I was based in Miami, Florida. I traveled all around the Caribbean. I did counter drug interdiction and migrant interdiction,” Warf said.
Warf entered the Coast Guard soon after graduating from college.
“I got my degree in Emergency and Disaster Management from American Military University in Manassas, Virginia. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do, then I met a man who was in the Coast Guard and I looked into it. I’d thought of joining the military and I’d always loved the water. So I joined,” Warf said.
On August 4th, we celebrate the 227th anniversary of the formation of the Coast Guard. On that day in 1790, Congress created the Revenue Marine at the request of Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton headed it with the purpose of enforcing tariffs at seaports.
During the next two centuries, the Coast Guard morphed into a multi-mission service unique among the military branches. It has a maritime law enforcement mission with jurisdiction in domestic and international waters and a federal regulatory agency mission.
“I was attracted to their very broad mission. Migrant interdiction relates to detaining individuals trying to come into the country illegally. Mostly the individuals were from Haiti, South America and Cuba. Counter drug interdiction is essentially catching drugs that were trying to be smuggled into the United States. My main job was being on a patrol boat. I was a cop on the water with 11 guys on an 87-foot-long boat,” Warf said.
The missions of the crew included search and rescue support and marine fisheries enforcement in addition to the tasks of combating drug smuggling and illegal immigration.
“The water is like an endless highway. Most of the drug trafficking was from South America. They used the Caribbean Islands to refuel and look like they were on a fishing trip. They would load a boat with cocaine, marijuana and other drugs and hop up to the islands and then attempt to make it the 47 to 49 miles to Florida. It was our job to counter that activity,” Warf said.
Sounds like dangerous work to the average person but to Warf, he said it was all in a day’s work.
“They give you a lot of military fighting training. We always tried to go into something with an advantage. Sometimes that meant calling in additional boats and the police force,” Warf said.
What Warf remembers most about his Coast Guard years are the people he worked with and the people he encountered with his migrant interdiction responsibilities.
“Being in the Coast Guard taught me so much. It was hard work and I learned how much men and women in the service give up in regards to time with their families, missing birthdays, holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Regarding immigration issues, being in the Coast Guard opened my eyes that these people are trying to get into the country because they don’t have a job and their families are starving. They would pay smugglers to help them get into the U.S. just so they could have a better life. It made me realize how lucky I am to have been born in the United States. It was a very humbling experience doing the migrant interdiction,” Warf said.
While part of the Coast Guard’s efforts are to help to support our country’s legal migration system, their primarily focus is the humanitarian responsibility of preventing the loss of life at sea – not an easy task when many migrant vessels are unseaworthy and dangerously overloaded.
“In the Coast Guard, we have the ability to board any U.S. vehicle. Sometimes we did random boarding and would come across migrants. Sometimes individuals would sneak into cargo containers they knew were destined for the U.S. It was a really sad thing. Sometimes we would encounter rowboats or inflatables or other types of makeshift rafts with entire families on them from Cuba. Once we encountered a family of four on a giant piece of hollowed out Styrofoam with a tarp and a broomstick for a mast. They got caught in a current and had only had seaweed and kelp to eat since their second day in the raft,” Warf said.
Seeing people in such dire situations that were predicated on extreme poverty changed Warf’s perspective on life.
“Before joining the Coast Guard, I was worried about first world problems that were materialistic and selfish, like getting a new vehicle or an x-box. What I witnessed in the Coast Guard was a reality check,” Warf said.
When his enlistment time was up, Warf said he knew it was time for a change.
“With my degree in Emergency and Disaster Management and my Coast Guard experience, my wife encouraged me to apply for a job with Emergency and Disaster Services Division of The Salvation Army. I had learned what I had set out to learn at the Coast Guard, my obligations had been fulfilled, and The Salvation Army seemed like the perfect fit,” Warf said. His wife, Jillian, was an employee of The Salvation Army in West Palm Beach, Florida, when he was in the Coast Guard.
Part of what attracted Warf to The Salvation Army was the wide variety of duties the organization has – from disaster relief, to anti-human trafficking efforts, to children’s programs, to food distribution, to rehabilitations centers.
“The Salvation Army is very similar to the Coast Guard in that they also have a broad mission. No matter what island I went to, they knew The Salvation Army. If I was helping with a disaster, we would always inquire after we gave assistance, ‘Where are you going to get assistance after we leave?” They would usually respond, ‘The Salvation Army.’ The Coast Guard and The Salvation Army are so closely knitted together,” Warf said.
“I applied for a position that was available in Louisville and now I’m Volunteer Coordinator and Emergency and Disaster Services Coordinator. My wife transferred to The Salvation Army in Louisville. It’s been nice because I’m from Louisville originally. I loved Florida, the Coast Guard, and traveling. I learned something new about culture and people every place I visited. I loved the mission we had of helping people in the Coast Guard but it’s really nice to be back home,” Warf said.
While Warf said he sees many similarities between the duties in The Salvation Army’s Area Command Building where he is located in Louisville and the duties he performed while in the Coast Guard during a time of disaster in Haiti, there are also differences.
“One thing I saw that was different in our reactions here in the U.S. to a disaster was that in the 2010 Earthquake in Haiti that destroyed people’s homes, which were mostly made of clay and straw, the people did not start rebuilding immediately like we do here. They were more worried about the next meal. Rebuilding was not imaginable to them. They had lost hope in the long term future. Another big difference I see between here and there is the gratitude is greater there. They are so thankful for the bottle of water or the food or the bible you give them. They are just so thankful,” Warf said.
The feeling of gratitude is something near and dear to Warf’s heart.
“I am so very thankful the Lord led me to the Coast Guard. God put me exactly where I needed to be and showed me what I needed to see,” Warf said.
While he is no longer in the Coast Guard, Warf still finds many connections to it and The Salvation Army.
“There’s a lot The Salvation Army and Coast Guard work very closely on. We have a Coast Guard Station here in Louisville. It is very community based. It is big military but still community is one of their core values. They’ve painted the Corps building here. They volunteer with our Angel Tree at Christmas time. They have volunteered in our kitchen and served meals. The Sector Ohio Valley’s mission here in Louisville is to keep the Ohio River safe. They aide the navigation of the coal barges and help lead them to safe water. Occasionally there are oil leaks and they make sure ships are in good working order. We have lots of boaters in the river and they make sure the boats are safe. They also help with search and rescue and do marine environmental protection,” Warf said.
For him, the military isn’t just about guns and war; it’s also about keeping our society safe in countless other ways. For all those reasons, he happily celebrates his past with the Coast Guard and salutes the hard-working men and women serving in the Coast Guard on every day and on Coast Guard Day on August 4th.