Ernest J. Blanchard IV – Captain, United States Coast Guard

Captain Ernie Blanchard died on 14 March 1995, at age 46, while serving as chief of the Public Affairs Office at Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

A 1970 graduate of the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, Captain Blanchard earned a master’s degree in political science at Brown University in Rhode Island. He was a graduate of the National Defense University at the National War College in Washington, D.C.

Captain Blanchard had a distinguished afloat career. He served as commanding officer and plank owner of the Coast Guard Cutter Legare, a 270-foot medium endurance cutter; commanding officer of the Sweetbrier, a 180-foot buoy tender; executive officer of the Hornbeam, a 180-foot buoy tender; training officer on the Coast Guard barque Eagle and aboard the Edisto, a 269-foot icebreaker.

His shore assignments included professor of political science at the Coast Guard Academy, operations officer at Group Southwest Harbor, Maine, and chief of Enlisted Personnel at Coast Guard Headquarters.

Captain Blanchard, a superlative sailor, was known for the vision, energy and leadership he brought to the Coast Guard’s public affairs community, and to other assignments throughout his career.

The article below underlines a really important point: that as a member of the U.S. military, especially if in a leadership or command role, you have to be acutely sensitive to changing mores. The way you demonstrate the first USCG core value — Respect —  demands this.

Ernie Blanchard was a good friend of mine, and was responsible for some truly wonderful USCG achievements and memories before the events recounted here. I particularly remember the joint commissioning ceremony for USCGC’s Legare and Forward that he and (now RADM) Pat Stillman put together: a pure, one-of-a-kind, flag-waving “Coast Guard Day.” He did things like that. And it was brought to an end by a bunch of stupid, inappropriate jokes….

Looking back, after things played out, I remember Ernie’s memorial service, which drew so many friends and coworkers that it spilled over outside the church. And for years, when one dear USCG buddy of mine and I headed over to Arlington Cemetery together to visit friends and relatives laid to rest there, Ernie’s grave was always one of our stops.
I still miss him.

For those junior officers and younger members of the Coast Guard, who may not have heard Ernie’s story, learn the lessons of this tragedy – and that’s the only word to describe it:

1. Take care of your shipmates — you ARE your brother’s (or sister’s) keeper in the Coast Guard family.
2. Treat everybody you associate — even your adversaries — with the respect and common decency they deserve just for being human.
3. Understand that times change: what may have been acceptable conduct yesterday may not be so today or tomorrow. (I’m thinking particularly of alcohol consumption in public, and maybe fatigue down the road).

Whenever I head out on travel and have to interrupt these messages, I always include the quote “Be excellent to each other” from the movie “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” It implies not only maintaining a level of high performance, but a commitment to treating your shipmates well and watching out for them.

Remember that line, and you can never go wrong.

V/R, Norm Paulhus

Bad Jokes Brought Tragic Ending But Also A Lesson For Coast Guard

A decade ago, when she was the Coast Guard’s gender policy adviser at headquarters in Washington, D.C., Commander Kathleen Donohoe interviewed 10 women at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy who told her they “would all leave tomorrow if they could.”

Donohoe, at that time, also took a dim view of what she called an “old boy” network persisting at the academy.

She made her report then to investigators probing the suicide, in March 1995, of Coast Guard Captain Ernest J. Blanchard IV, who was the Chief of Public Affairs at Coast Guard headquarters.

Blanchard, a 1970 graduate of the academy and an instructor of history and government there from 1978 through 1981, shot himself at his home in a Washington suburb. He was 46. The suicide came two weeks after the Coast Guard ordered an investigation into remarks Blanchard made the previous January at a dinner at the academy.

The remarks were jokes, most of them dumb, some of them sexual and degrading to women. The occasion was a “Dining In,” a traditional dinner at which Coast Guard officers talk about their careers and often tell war stories to a group of academy cadets. Blanchard, who delivered a formal address that night, told the jokes, he later said, to lighten the mood.

Several female cadets at the dinner, and at least one Humanities Department member, were upset by the jokes. Blanchard’s best friend, then Captain Patrick Stillman, the Commandant of Cadets at the academy and the man who introduced Blanchard that night, took Blanchard aside later, along with other ranking officers, and told him the jokes were inappropriate.

Blanchard sent a written apology to the academy, but the offense was not so easily forgiven. Sexual harassment, in this instance, anyway, received more scrutiny in 1995 than when Blanchard was a cadet. The matter went up the chain of command at headquarters.

Married and the father of two teenagers, and apparently depressed over what he believed was the end of his Coast
Guard career, Blanchard killed himself.

Donohoe, who retired from the Coast Guard as a Commander in 1999 but returned to the service after the September 11, 2001, attacks, interviewed a number of those at the “Dining In,” and others at the academy. Her findings were included in an 830-page report on Blanchard’s suicide.

Besides the “old boy” network and the women who confided they wanted to leave the academy, Donohoe told investigators of her concerns that no one tried to stop Blanchard at the dinner.

Serving today as a policy and speech writer in the commandant’s office at headquarters, Donohoe declined to talk about the pending Coast Guard Academy investigation of sexual assault charges against a cadet. The cadet, a member of the football team, is facing a dozen counts of sexual misconduct, including one count of rape.

However, she did say the Coast Guard culture has changed from a decade ago. “We have made great strides in gender
communication and climate assessment that improved the atmosphere,” she said last week. “The Coast Guard takes
any issue around harassment very seriously. I’m very happy about that.”

Stillman, promoted to Rear Admiral in 1999 and working at headquarters, recently attended the wedding of one of Blanchard’s sons. He says he doesn’t blame the Coast Guard for what happened to his friend. “I don’t blame anyone,” said Stillman. “I cannot speak, to this day, of the whys and wherefores. I miss him dearly. He was a wonderful person.

“There are always going to be people who fall from grace. I think it’s more a matter of human predisposition than institutional failure.”

A decade ago, telling stupid and abusive jokes at an academy dinner provoked an outcry that led, whatever the man’s personal issues, to an officer’s suicide. Whether it is a consequence of that episode, and the climate at that time, gender equality in the Coast Guard, in the perspective of a woman who ought to know, is more of a reality than just a salute and a nod.

This is the opinion of Steven Slosberg.

United States Coast Guard
DATE OF BIRTH: 04/15/1948
DATE OF DEATH: 03/14/1995

Read our general and most popular articles

Leave a Comment