PRESERVING A MILITARY LEGACY FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS
The following Reflections represents BM1 Alvin O’Brien’s legacy of his military service from 1996 to 2012. If you are a Veteran, consider preserving a record of your own military service, including your memories and photographs, on Togetherweserved.com (TWS), the leading archive of living military history. The following Service Reflections is an easy-to-complete self-interview, located on your TWS Military Service Page, which enables you to remember key people and events from your military service and the impact they made on your life. Start recording your own Military Memories HERE.
Please describe who or what influenced your decision to join the Coast Guard.
I had graduated high school and had no desire to continue my education. I started working in the “Chemical Plants” for a 3rd party contractor. After about three months, I was laid off. I told myself this was not the life for me to live.
I looked at the Armed Services, more particularly the Air Force. My dad mentioned the USCG, and I said who? He said USCG. I see them guys drive boats up and down the Houston Ship Channel all the time and issue tickets for missing bolts on flanges over the water. So we decided to see a recruiter. When he showed me the recruiting video of a 44 MLB crashing through the surf, I said that is what I want to do. He said sign here, and the rest is history.
Whether you were in the service for several years or as a career, please describe the direction or path you took. What was your reason for leaving?
I proudly served for 16 years. As a BM, there is quite a bit you could do. I had a BM2 on the Dallas telling me about Small Boat Stations and what they do. I don’t remember, but it came to transfer season, and I was sent to Sta. Oregon Inlet, NC. They had one of the 47MLB prototypes (47201, I think), and eventually, we got the 47258. I really wanted to drive the 44s, but they were all but gone by this time. From the time I spent on the 47, I knew I wanted to be a Surfman, and I knew that road would be tough to navigate. During my time at OI, I got my Coxswain certification on the 41′ UTB.
Eventually, I was asked to go TAD to Sta. E-City to help the command, so off I went. It was supposed to be a 60-day ordeal (though I have my theory on why I was sent). After going through all my boards and getting certified, I was asked to stay after a few weeks. It was knowing that if I returned to OI as an E4, I would have to compete with several E5 & E6 BMs to get a Heavy Weather qual and eventually my Surfman Qual.
I also knew I would have to go to the West Coast to get the proper training, so I stayed. Little did I know that staying would not lead me to the West Coast but to the Gulf Coast. I made E5 and was again asked to help out the USCG. I was given the Bob Trainer (detailer) special and would volunteer to go to Grand Isle, LA (Another story for another time). The art of the deal was to go there and get my 47 Coxswain Qual, and when that was done, I was to call my detailer (Unfortunately, a toxic command had other ideas), and I was forced to stay. After spending five years there, I was finally set free and headed to Hawaii for a 110′ WPB, finishing my career in Michigan City, IN.
If you participated in any military operations, including combat, humanitarian and peacekeeping operations, please describe those which made a lasting impact on you and, if life-changing, in what way?
I will never forget the drug busts we had on the Dallas (Cocaine & Marijuana). 9/11 was a day that will forever be engraved in my mind, and it was the day the world stood still, and life was different. I ran many Sar cases and was a part of saving people’s lives, one in particular at OI I will never forget.
Did you encounter any situation during your military service when you believed there was a possibility you might not survive? If so, please describe what happened and what was the outcome.
I have participated in quite a few Search and Rescue missions, and at no time did I feel like we were not going to survive. We were very safe and had very experienced boat crews. We were very efficient and knew exactly what to do when it came down to responding to these types of cases.
Of all your duty stations or assignments, which one do you have fondest memories of and why? Which was your least favorite?
Sta. Oregon Inlet was where I felt like I had found how to become a BM. There was a great crew there, and there were some that made it miserable, but all in all, OI was the best. My worst, hands down, were the first couple of years in Grand Isle. That is where I ran into a toxic command. Eventually, it improved, but I hated that part of my career.
From your entire military service, describe any memories you still reflect back on to this day.
There are a lot, but I find that all of the people I have met and still keep up with on a regular basis. Veterans have an uncanny ability to pick up where they left off when they departed each other’s company.
What professional achievements are you most proud of from your military career?
My Coxswain certification was the best achievement. Once I got that Coxswain pin, I cherished it and still do. Eventually, getting my Deck Watch Officer cert on the 87 in Grand Isle, then a DWO letter on the Kiska in Hawaii.
Of all the medals, awards, formal presentations and qualification badges you received, or other memorabilia, which one is the most meaningful to you and why?
Out of all the awards I have, I would say that qualifying as a Coxswain was the best. There was a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that went into earning that certification. I was sent to Coxswain “C” school in Yorktown, VA, for 30 days. It was there I met a great mentor and instructor, Mary. Watching and learning from her made me want to be just like her. Anyhow, after 30 days of this school, it was back to my unit (Oregon Inlet). From there, I had a few more sign-offs to get done, and then I could take my Oral and Practical boards for Coxswain. Eventually, I was certified on the 41′ UTB. During my career, I held qualifications as a Coxswain for the 41′ UTB, 47′ MLB, 25′ RBS, and a handful of non-standard boats.
Which individual(s) from your time in the military stand out as having the most positive impact on you and why?
That’s an easy one, Senior Chief Mike Williams! Grand Isle XPO! When I visit close to him, I always make it a point to visit with him and his wife!
List the names of old friends you served with, at which locations, and recount what you remember most about them. Indicate those you are already in touch with and those you would like to make contact with.
I think all of the units I was at had some great memories. While in Charleston, SC, it was the nights that Bryan and I fished on the Santee Cooper River. At Oregon Inlet, NC, I learned how to surf. I met my now-wife while stationed at Elizabeth City, NC. I was stationed in Grand Isle, LA, during Katrina (even though I was hurt, it wasn’t fun). After Louisiana, we were off to Hawaii, and well, we had some fun times there diving, surfing, tsunamis, and hiking the volcano when it started to flow. Lastly, we were off to Michigan City, IN, where I would eventually end my career and come back home to Texas.
Can you recount a particular incident from your service, which may or may not have been funny at the time, but still makes you laugh?
Patrols on the Dallas could get long, and we would find dumb stuff to do from time to time. We would have turf wars between the Deckies and Engineers. I can remember we were getting a little too rowdy for the Suppo, and he came down to yell at us; about 10 minutes later, our Department Head came down to tell us the next time Suppo came down there to yell at us, we had his permission to rough him up, of course, Suppo never came back down.
What profession did you follow after your military service and what are you doing now? if you are currently serving, what is your present occupational specialty?
In what ways has serving in the military influenced the way you have approached your life and your career? What do you miss most about your time in the service?
During my career, I always made it a point to make myself “Marketable.” I would volunteer for many jobs or just sacrifice my needs putting the Coast Guard 1st at times. I carried this over into my civilian job, which has worked out well for me.
I miss the camaraderie. It’s non-existent in the civilian sector. It is sometimes easier to work with veterans vs. someone who has never served.
Based on your own experiences, what advice would you give to those who have recently joined the Coast Guard?
1. Family is always 1st, no matter what!
2. Keep your nose clean.
3. Get qualified and Certified asap; it will make life easier.
4. Volunteer for everything and get the experience.
5. Don’t stay in one place too long and become stagnate.
6. Make yourself marketable. Get those certs that make you an asset and not just a body at a unit but to the USCG as a whole.
7. Take lots of pictures. I wish I had taken more pictures of my time in service.
In what ways has togetherweserved.com helped you remember your military service and the friends you served with.
I was looking for an old shipmate that was stationed at another unit. When I couldn’t find them, I went ahead and started filling out my information. I thought it was cool having the option to “Tell my story.”