The U.S. Coast Guard is composed of 40,992 active-duty members, close in operational strength to the number of officers at the New York Police Department. It is by far the smallest branch of the military services and, with 11 missions, it runs at full capacity. It is not unheard of for members who have served together at one point to see each other repeatedly throughout their careers. Some would say that the “puddle pirates” who operate under the Department of Homeland Security have become a crowd favorite for the bravery and unparalleled work they demonstrate during times of hurricane relief, search-and-rescue in the treacherous waters of the Bering Sea and even joint operations in the Middle East, to name a few.
Being a small branch has instilled a sense of family throughout the service. The phrase of “oh, yeah, I know them, he is a good guy” comes often during transfer season when members vet their next assignment and co-workers. It is likely that when you meet someone new, they know someone you know, too. This type of community allows for those 11 missions to be executed flawlessly and often with small budgets and limited resources. When one person fails in a small team, the entire group fails – and that is why members train hard and work hard to carry out the U.S. Coast Guard motto: Semper Paratus, Always Ready.
It is no wonder that when the recent passing of Commander Molly Waters, 37, happened, thousands of members felt the impact. From her time as the commanding officer of both the Hollyhock and Neah Bay in the Great Lakes, Waters was no stranger to leading people and she did it successfully. Her zest for a challenge as a powerlifter and thrill-seeker as a motorcycle enthusiast made her a great fit for the endless adventures that the Coast Guard offered. Her kind and humble yet confident personality made her a perfect shipmate and her Coast Guard family was large. It was no surprise that people all around the world wrote or called in to family and shared on social media the impact that Waters had on their life. And this impact continued on May 17 when Waters was removed from life support. She was an organ donor, so her job as a hero was not finished with her death as she went on to save numerous lives.
It turns out that one of these lives was part of her Coast Guard family. LCDR Matthew Brinkley, close friends with Waters’ sister LCDR Jeanette Greene, had a mother in need of a kidney after waiting on the list for more than five years with no possibilities in sight. Lynne Brinkley, 63, a former Army spouse of 28 years, is no stranger to the challenging life of the military and the family it takes to make it work. Brinkley lost her first kidney at 20 years old and only had weeks to go until starting dialysis as her remaining kidney was failing. After receiving this information, Waters’ family, her sister and parents, Marian West and James Killen, worked diligently to make sure that one of the kidneys would go to Brinkley if they were a match.
“It is never easy to mention to someone you care about, that is going through such a tragic loss, that you need something from them,” said LCDR Brinkley. “The fact is, Jeanie and Molly are my family and I knew that they would help if they could. Molly is our hero and her family is, too; we are so incredibly fortunate to have them do this for my mom.”
Brinkley had only been put back on the kidney recipient list due to other health issues a week before Molly’s May 13 motorcycle accident. Not to mention that Waters had to be a match for Brinkley’s B blood type, which about only 4 percent of people in the United States have. The timing and the fact that they were a match gave a silver lining to the incredibly tragic situation, saving the life of someone in the Coast Guard family. It was, in fact, this silver lining that Waters’ family said has gotten them through some of the shock and sadness from her passing.
“To know that my sister was able to provide life to others and then, on top of that, to know the person her kidney is saving has made this entire thing somehow bearable,” LCDR Greene said. “Lynne will forever be in my family and now I am happy to know that Molly will get to live on through her adventures.”
An honor walk was performed for Waters on May 17 at George Washington University Hospital. Thanks to her generosity, Brinkley will forever walk with honor in the memory of her hero. Recovering at home and receiving a promising prognosis from her doctors, Brinkley will always remember the power of the Coast Guard family and the fact that each member truly embodies the spirit of Semper Paratus.