While many in the meetings, events and hospitality industry donate their time and money to helping the less fortunate in the communities in which they live and the destinations where they meet, entertainment producer Mark Sonder answered the call of his country by volunteering in the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.
Sonder serves as a flotilla staff officer in the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary out of Atlantic Beach’s Fort Macon, located in the southern Outer Banks of North Carolina.
“We all have our chosen ways to give back, and although I have a couple of them, this is one that certainly gets a lot of public attention, and it actually helps me learn a lot and become a better leader and a better person in the meetings, conventions and tradeshows industry,” Sonder, owner of Mark Sonder Productions Entertainment Agency, said. “I didn’t think there’d be so much cross pollination, but there really has been.”
In his 34-year career as an entertainment booker and producer, Sonder has represented artists such as The Drifters, Blondie, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, The Temptations Revue, Lee Greenwood and DJ Spinderella (formerly of Salt-N-Pepa).
He also wrote The Complete Guide to Event Entertainment and Production, which details assessing the needs of clients, how to hire talent and the basics of production and entertainment for events.
Sonder said his love of the water—he has a boat in Morehead Harbor and is pursuing a commercial captains license—sparked his interest in the operations of the Coast Guard station.
“I obviously knew of the Coast Guard station there, and I was told about the auxiliary, so I came down to a meeting to see what it was all about,” Sonder said. “The people were really welcoming and there was great camaraderie.
“Being in meetings and events I was sort of selfishly thinking of it as networking in a way,” he continued. “Their networking is more about camaraderie—more about how someone ticks as opposed to selling them products and services, which is a little bit different than in our industry.”
The Duties of a Flotilla Commander
Typical U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary duties performed by Sonder include inspecting recreational vessels, assisting with search and rescue operations and, using his events experience, helping coordinate visits by congresspeople and the large number of support vessels needed for the occasions.
“Knowing that 30 congressmen and congresswomen are coming down and putting them on a boat—that’s a big risk mitigation and management scenario should that boat go down or come under attack,” Sonder said.
“I’ve had a very exact transfer of my meetings and events life to the Coast Guard Auxiliary doing these events, which has really blown me away. I also think it’s blown away the Coast Guard Auxiliary that I bring in that experience.”
In addition to performing the roles of webmaster and vessel examiner, Sonder also has the following responsibilities:
- Conduct safety patrols on local (Bogue Banks and environs) waterways that aid boaters in distress.
- Provide support to the Coast Guard at Ft. Macon through orders of the OIC (Officer in Charge).
- Teach public boating safety classes.
- Assist the U.S. Coast Guard with Homeland Security duties. Sonder has a federal government clearance as well as passed the 10 mandated courses (two of them FEMA courses).
- Provide perimeter security for regattas and other marine events in Morehead City and Beaufort, North Carolina.
- Support transport missions (personnel and supplies) during natural disasters.
- Verification of Aids to Navigation (ATON) checks after severe storms.
- Conduct pollution and environmental patrols to check waterways, ramps and related problems.
Pressed Into Duty by Hurricane Dorian
At the time of this writing, Sonder, who lives on a barrier island protecting Morehead City, was getting prepared to deal with the approaching Hurricane Dorian. Sonder said this primarily involves setting up spreadsheets, automatic texts, emails and an “old-school telephone tree” to get “100% accountability of all my people.”
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Immediately following the storm, Sonder said he would transition to ATON Verification to determine what buoys are off-line or have been “re-located,” and then report them to the Coast Guard to help ensure the safety of boaters.
Sonder, who also has a house in Washington, D.C., and in the mountains of Virginia, performs all these duties while still running an events entertainment and production company that operates throughout the word. He initially wrestled with the large amount of paperwork involved with government work.
“Being a military organization, there are, unfortunately, a lot of reports that need to be made, especially as a flotilla commander,” Sonder said. “And I had to study a 795-page manual. Meetings and events wish they had everything written down for every possible situation! That may be why meetings and events are more ‘fun’ than rigidly structured.
“As I’m told all the time, 'It’s in the manual,’” he laughed. “But the motto of the U.S. Coast Guard is the same one I take into my company's life: Semper Paratus—Always Prepared.”
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