Personal Service Reflections of US Coast Guardsman:
MCPOCG Vince Patton
U.S. Coast Guard (Ret)
Shadow Box: http://coastguard.togetherweserved.com/bio/Vince.Patton
PLEASE DESCRIBE WHO OR WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE COAST GUARD?
Ever since I was ten years old, joining the service was a rather easy decision for me to make. My oldest brother, who is 8 years older than I, joined the Navy. I always looked up to him (even now actually) and wanted to be just like him. So for at least seven years all I kept talking about was joining the Navy to be like my brother Greg (he eventually stayed in for 34 years, retiring as a CAPT/O-6). I even became a member of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps (NSCC) during my high school years.
However, at age 17, when I was old enough to sign up for the delayed entry program, I chose the Coast Guard. That’s an even longer story … but the short answer is I actually walked in to the wrong recruiting office, thinking I was going to see a Navy recruiter.
Back in 1971 at the time, the Coast Guard uniform was the same as the Navy’s, with the exception of the ‘Treasury Shield’ on the right sleeve, and the hats for enlisted were different (we used to wear the old ‘Donald Duck’ hats). After realizing I walked into the wrong office, I was too embarrassed to walk out, so I decided to wait until the recruiter finished talking to me, and then go join the Navy. However, not ever knowing anything about the Coast Guard at the time, I became really interested in their mission, and the fact it is a small service. So, after seven years of telling everyone from my parents, my brother, friends and teachers at school about going in the Navy to be like my brother, I enlisted in the Coast Guard’s delayed entry program in January 1972, and shipped off to boot camp in June 1972 just three days after I graduated from high school.
WHETHER YOU WERE IN THE SERVICE FOR SEVERAL YEARS OR AS A CAREER, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE DIRECTION OR PATH YOU TOOK.
After finishing boot camp in August 1972, I went off to Radioman (RM) ‘A’ School at Coast Guard Training Center, Petaluma, CA (about 70 miles north of San Francisco). I went ‘RM’ mainly because I had some experience in radio communications and knew Morse Code from my merit badge earnings in the Boy Scouts. I initially wanted to be a Hospital Corpsman, but the school was too long of a wait, so I went RM. It wasn’t a bad choice at the time.
After RM School, I reported to the USCGC DALLAS out of Governors Island, NY, after two years there, I moved on to Coast Guard Group/Air Station Detroit (my hometown). In 1976 I reenlisted, then reported to Coast Guard Recruiting Office Chicago, IL. After my tour of duty as a recruiter was up in 1978, I decided to change my occupational specialty rating from RM to Yeoman (YN).
After my tour in Chicago, I moved on to the Ninth District Office in Cleveland, OH, where I worked in the personnel office, then later became the district’s career information specialist. While I was in the Coast Guard up to that time, I continued on with taking college courses through the Service member Opportunity College Program (SOC), earning up to my Master’s Degree in 1979. In 1981 I became the first Coast Guard enlisted member to be selected for postgraduate school program, where I was transferred to Washington, DC to attend The American University, working on my Doctorate in Education. My dissertation was based on the development and implementation of the Coast Guard Enlisted Evaluation System, which was the purpose of my selection for the postgraduate program. After graduating from American University in 1984, I remained on the Headquarters staff involved with the implementation of the new evaluation system.
In 1985, I then went back to sea to the USCGC BOUTWELL, when it was then home ported out of Seattle, WA. After a three year tour on BOUTWELL, I returned to Washington, DC (the Coast Guard wanted to get their money’s worth out of me for that doctorate degree), and served as the first enlisted training manager for the Coast Guard’s enlisted training programs. These billets were previously done by officers and civilians.
In 1993, I was advanced to Master Chief, served on a six month special assignment with the DOD Task Force, and afterwards elevated to the ‘Command Master Chief’ status and transferred to the Coast Guard Atlantic Area, first out of New York, then Portsmouth, VA.
In 1998 I was selected as the Eighth Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard (MCPOCG), and retired in 2002.
DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?
I served as the senior enlisted adviser to Joint Task Force 160 during 1994 as part of ‘Operation Support Democracy’ which was an intervention designed to remove the military regime installed by the 1991 Haitian coup d’état that overthrew the elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
It was the largest alien migration operation in history, where I worked in both Port-au-Prince Haiti and Guantanamo Bay Cuba. The assignment was a temporary detailed position while I was the Command Master Chief for the Coast Guard Atlantic Area command.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
There’s two actually; first was when I was assigned to Joint Task Force 160, where I got an up close look at seeing literally hundreds of people from Cuba and Haiti defying all odds to try to get to the United States. They came in just about anything that floated. I remember seeing a giant door from a church that served as a raft with six people on board that traveled just about 50 or so miles before we were able to stop them. Bad weather was looming and they certainly would not have made it the rest of the way. Then there are the hundreds of young children, mostly malnourished with a look of desperation and hunger that just wanted to be taken care of. It was an operation that really worked on the psyche.
Many of the service members involved in this operation were touched by the desperation that these people had in doing whatever it took to try to reach the U.S. in hope for a better life. It was a horrifying experience, and as I think of the earthquake in Haiti today, I can’t help but think about seeing the faces on the people who spent days just floundering in the Caribbean Sea trying to reach land. Unfortunately I remember the large number of bodies from capsized makeshift vessels we came upon as well.
The other is during the events of ‘9-11’. Most noteworthy was my walk along all three of the “Ground Zero” locations in NY, PA and the Pentagon, and seeing the huge destruction caused from the terrorist acts. That too was a sobering moment, but with it came a time of seeing people rise to the occasion in helping one another. I also recall my visit to the Trinity Church in lower Manhattan, just a few blocks from where the World Trade Center towers stood. While there was complete destruction all around the area, that tiny little church on Rector Street, which also had a small graveyard with the remains of some of our founding fathers such as Alexander Hamilton (the Father of the Coast Guard), the place was pretty much untouched, with exception of debris from the destruction all around. It was an amazing sight to see, where the only damage on the church was a broken window, but on either side as well as in front and in back of the church the buildings were completely destroyed from the crashing of the airliners.
It’s a sight that will forever be etched in my memory and one that sticks out of truly understanding the power of spirituality.
IF YOU RECEIVED ANY MEDALS FOR VALOR OR AWARDS FOR SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENT, PLEASE DESCRIBE HOW THESE WERE EARNED.
I was awarded the DSM principally for my performance of duty as Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard, where I was actively involved with the Coast Guard operations around ‘9-11,’ as well as the responsibilities I executed during my tenure as MCPOCG.
OF ALL THE MEDALS, AWARDS, QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICE YOU RECEIVED, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE ONE(S) MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
The most meaningful award to me was receiving my Cutterman’s pin, which is recognition for at least five years of sea duty. Being in a seagoing service like the Coast Guard – to me, this is what it was all about. I didn’t earn my Cutterman’s pin until towards the end of my Coast Guard career. Prior to my selection as Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard, I had accumulated 4 yrs, 11, 19 days of sea time – just a mere 21 days short of the required 5 years. I could have remained on my last ship (BOUTWELL) to get the 5 year minimum, however I actually thought I had it, but my sea service time was miscalculated. It wasn’t corrected until after my departure. So, in 2001, the Commandant of the Coast Guard, ADM Loy allowed me to take a 30 day PCS-administrative assignment from my duties as MCPOCG, to report to USCGC MAKO (home ported out of Cape May, NJ) to fulfill my required sea time, which also included having to meet underway and in port qualifications.
The requirements for the Cutterman’s pin also meant you had to be in a permanent change of station assignment for at least 30 days. Even with the award of the Coast Guard Distinguished Service Medal, the highest peacetime award … the Cutterman’s Pin is my most prized and valued award. Going to sea is what being in the Coast Guard is all about!
WHICH INDIVIDUAL(S) FROM YOUR TIME IN THE MILITARY STAND OUT AS HAVING THE MOST POSITIVE IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
There were two people that I must mention here. The first one was Hollis Stephens, who served as the Third Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard. I worked for Master Chief Stephens when I was assigned to Coast Guard Group Detroit. I’ll never forget what he did for me in encouraging me to pursue my education while I was on active duty. He was the catalyst for me to want to pursue to become the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard someday, rather than become an officer.
The other person is Admiral James Loy, who was Commandant during my tenure as Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard, but I also worked for him as his command master chief in Atlantic Area. The admiral believed in me, and just let me do my thing, knowing that I truly was there to support him. It’s refreshing to know that your boss really trusts you in everything. He gave me the hard jobs knowing that I could handle it, and showed me just what the true meaning of leadership is all about. Just about anyone who knows or has served with him from his days in Vietnam all through his illustrious career would probably say the same thing about him as I am. He’s the kind of guy that you would literally “walk through fire” without question if he asked you to.