Cutchogue native reflects on three-decade career in the U.S. Coast Guard

After dedicating 27 years to the U.S. Coast Guard and with two sons now off to college, Captain Brendan Kelly of Cutchogue has officially entered retirement in Chesapeake, Va.

Born in 1969 and raised on Skunk Lane, Mr. Kelly said his almost two decades on the North Fork were memorable and influential toward his career choice.

“It was special,” he said. “It was a very agricultural-based economy at the time.”

He attended Mattituck-Cutchogue High School, where he met the woman he would eventually marry, Eileen Gremler of Mattituck. The two did not start dating until college.

He also spent a good deal of time on the water.

“When you have the Long Island Sound, you have the bay, you have the ocean – it’s just such beautiful proximity to great bodies of water that are clean and good to fish from and sail on and motor boat on,” he said. “People take that for granted on the East End of Long Island, especially us locals.”

Mr. Kelly said a dedicated teaching staff enriched his high school experience. One educator in particular left an imprint.

“[Joyce] Grattan, who was my guidance counselor at Mattituck-Cutchogue High School, was a phenomenal person and took on collateral duty to be the guidance counselor back before guidance counselors were really designated and recognized,” he said. “She had connections to the Coast Guard Academy that helped me get in.”

Ms. Grattan died in 2017, and, he said, she left a tremendous legacy thanks to her generous and selfless efforts.

In 1988, Mr. Kelly entered the Coast Guard Academy and began serving active duty in 1992. He graduated with a bachelor of science degree in management, reporting to the USCG station in Alameda, Calif., serving as assistant operations officer, deck watch officer and boarding officer. In August 1994, he was assigned to the National Drug Intelligence Center in Johnstown, Pa. and received credentials as an intelligence research specialist after completing an intelligence analyst course with the FBI in Quantico, Va. In May 1996, Mr. Kelly was accepted to attend Naval Flight School at Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Fla. A year later, he completed the training and earned “wings of gold” as a naval aviator.

“My first tour was at Air Station Cape Cod, in Massachusetts, and I loved it. It had a lot to do with search and rescue; it had a lot to do with helping people in distress on the water. It had some to do with law enforcement, some to do with countering drugs, preventing the flow of narcotics coming into our country and it had some to do with migration, so stemming the flow of migrants that are entering the country from other countries.”

There was never too much frustration on the job, he said. Mr. Kelly continued on with training, qualifying as an instructor pilot during his very first aviation assignment, and was later stationed in Air Station Washington, D.C. and Air Station Elizabeth City, N.C. His final job with the Coast Guard involved serving as Chief of the Incident Branch at the Fifth District in Portsmouth, Va.

“The Coast Guard operated out of Montauk, out of the Shinnecock Canal, out of Moriches, out of Fire Island, so I was certainly exposed to that. But I’m an aviator, so I was also exposed to the F-14 [Tomcat] being developed out of Calverton at the Grumman facility. They would break the sound barrier overhead regularly when I was a little kid and I had a friend whose dad was a test pilot, so, that formed some of the decisions I made in the future.”

During his time on duty, he earned two meritorious service medals, two Coast Guard achievement medals, two Commandant’s letter of commendation ribbons, a Coast Guard commendation medal and various service awards. Reflecting on his time in the USCG, he said it was one of great camaraderie and equally great rigor.

At his retirement ceremony on May 10, he told those in attendance of the USCG Air Station Elizabeth City, N.C. that his eyes have been fixed to the sky for as long as he could remember. Being exposed to the maritime industry and surrounded by water in either direction, Mr. Kelly said, is part of what drove him to pursue a career responding to those in distress on the seas.

Today, he is enjoying retirement in Virginia and awaiting the next adventure.

“It’s all about family for me,” he said. “My one son, Colin, is going to Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., and my second son, Mitchell, is going to Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Fla. It was all about getting that good foundation for them. We’re happy where we are.”

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