The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By Tony Gorman
For the Star 

New Port Commander takes the helm at MSU

Coast Guard now under leadership of Commander Joseph Lally


Tony Gorman photo

The US Coast Guard formally changed commanders for Port Valdez Friday, formally giving Commander Joseph Lally control of the Valdez Marine Safety Unit. From left to right are: Captain Paul Mehler from sector Anchorage, Captain Ben Hawkins, outgoing commander, Commander Lally, and Pastor Phil Merioles

Port Valdez has a new Port Commander.

The US Coast Guard held a traditional Change of Command ceremony at the Valdez Civic Center Friday. The emotionally charged event saw Commander Joseph T. Lally relieve the outgoing Ben Hawkins of his duties as commanding officer of the Marine Safety Unit Valdez.

USCG Sector Anchorage commanding officer Captain Paul Mehler was on hand for the ceremony.

During his three-year tour at MSU Valdez, Hawkins made his name by improving emergency and spill response efforts in the area. He accomplished that by working even closer with various emergency response entities such as the City of Valdez, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council, and SERVS.

Hawkins thanked all of those organizations as well as the MSU Valdez for making those efforts successful in his farewell speech, but he saved the best for last, thanking his wife Casey and children Molly and Sam.

"I cannot thank my family enough for their fortitude and faith during the last three years," Hawkins said. "We've been blessed."

After the speech, Hawkins handed off duties to Lally.

During his speech, Lally said he was ready to build new relationships on the local, state, and federal level.

"I look forward to working together as a team to successfully accomplish our operational missions over the next three years," Lally said. "Thank you for this tremendous opportunity."

Hawkins is heading to the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island to study international security and strategic studies for a year. Before he and his family left Valdez, Hawkins received many awards and gifts for his service MSU Valdez, but none bigger than the one he received during a reception at the Maxine and Jesse Whitney Museum after the ceremony.

Hawkins was promoted from commander to captain. His family was on-hand to put on his new rank. Hawkins called the promotion 22 years in the making.

"When you start out, captains are untouchable. You aspire to get to that point," Hawkins said. "It a real treat. It's surreal."

As for the new commander, Lally has an extensive background in inspections and investigations. He recently completed a tour as Senior Investigating Officer and Chief of Inspections Department in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. This is Lally's second tour in Alaska. The Drexel, Pennsylvania, native served as an Investigating Officer and Ports Officer at Marine Safety Office in Anchorage.

His biography says he graduated from Saint Joseph's University in 1988 prior to enlisting in the U. S. Coast Guard. He attended Marine Science Technician "A" School in 1992 and remained in the Coast Guard's enlisted ranks until 1997, when he attended Coast Guard Officer Candidate School in Yorktown, Virginia. He also earned a Master of Science Degree in Environmental and Energy Management from George Washington University in 2007.

Tony Gorman photo

Commander Ben Hawkins gets recognized by Mark Swanson, head of RCAC, himself a former Port Commander in Valdez. Hawkins received his commission as Captain shortly thereafter.

During his Coast Guard career, he has worked in a large number of high profile marine disasters, including the grounding and subsequent sinking of the M/V Costa Concordia off the Coast of Italy, post 9/11 responses, the M/V Cosco Busan oil spill in San Francisco, T/B DM-932 oil spill in the Mississippi River off of New Orleans, Drift River terminal response during Mount Redoubt volcanic activity, Haiti Earthquake, and the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

His personal awards include five Coast Guard Commendation Medals, DOT 9-11 Medal, and two Coast Guard Achievement Medals. He also earned the Coast Guard Marine Safety and Environmental Protection Insignia.

Commander Lally is married to the former Donna Geiger of Wildwood Crest, New Jersey. They have three daughters: Morgan, Miranda and Madison


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