Official websites use .mil
Secure .mil websites use HTTPS
Well, that's another wild year in the books! And from start to finish, 2021 really gave 2020 a run for its money, didn't it? When we saw the light at the end of the tunnel around June-ish, it turned out that light was the combined freight train of the delta and omicron variants, which exacerbated an already complicated problem.
Good grief, Charlie Brown.
You know, I’m trying to channel enough grace to write good things in this column, but it’s been another tough year. If we looked (and goodness knows we don’t have to look hard), we could each find many things to complain about. It’s hard to be grateful. It takes strength to be thankful.
It helps to start small. My family has a nightly dinner conversation where we ask each other, “What was the high of your day?” The rules are that it can’t mention work (for the adults) or video games (for kids). Sometimes the high is that we had nachos for dinner, but that’s still a high! This little bit of shared gratitude can have a pretty uplifting effect.
In that same vein, one of my favorite stories in this issue is called The Long Walk (found on page 22). It’s an example of taking time to be away—to appreciate what we have. The subject of the story, Tom Cowan, a friend of mine, recently hiked the Appalachian Trail after retiring from twin military and civilian careers. I met him late in his career, so I didn’t realize what a legend he was until his retirement. Turns out that at many units he’s served at, Tom’s been that stolid member of the command that put everyone else first, led quietly by example, and guided others by teaching them to help themselves. At his retirement ceremony, someone called him “a chief’s chief,” and it was a fitting description. (I remember marveling at how many hashmarks lined his sleeve—it was a LOT of gold.) When we talked during the interview, his rich, gravelly voice still conjured that feel of having a heart-to-heart over coffee with the command master chief.
It was cathartic hearing him describe the simplicity of the trail, the absence of technology, and how friendship came fast (in Tom’s words) “just knowing you’re with people who are struggling in the same way.”
It’s crazy to think we’re looking at 2022, while wondering simultaneously why we’re still in the suck. Patience is hard to come by, but we’re all struggling in the same way right now. Some of us more than others, granted, because the holidays can be dark, especially if you lost a loved one. If it’s been a rough year, reach out to your chief, your friend, your family. Ask about the high of the day. Share a sadness.
If you don’t feel like you can open up to them yet, it’s good to keep CG SUPRT’s number handy (855-CGSUPRT [247-8778]), just in case.
The people we need to talk to, they’re out there.
And that’s a two-way street, by the way. Don’t forget to share a cup of coffee with others BEFORE they appear to be struggling. It opens that line of communication that needs to be established for when things get hairy. We’re Coast Guardsmen, which means we’re usually taking on more than we can handle, and covering our stress well. And like the tale of the boiling frog, we may not realize we’re at the point of no return until it’s too late.
This is a small Coast Guard, and we need all of you, you high-performing go-getters!
Anastasia Devlin, Editor-in-Chief
Click cover image to download a printable pdf
I just heard a great story, which I found on a favorite blog, 5amJoel.com.
“Two buckets lived in a village. The buckets carried water every day from the river to the people. One bucket was old, worn, and cracked, and lost half its water by the time it reached the destination. It felt terrible not fulfilling its sole purpose.
The newer bucket (without cracks) told the older bucket to look behind at the trail they walked each day—the water dripping from the older bucket had watered a beautiful path of flowers.”
In this time, when I’m so anxious to get back to normal, sometimes I lament how slowly things are moving. But as excited as I am for my children to get back to school, I have to remind myself that we’ve been given the unbelievably valuable gift of time together—time we may not have had otherwise. One of my sons, Andy, told me he was going to be sad not to be able to be home with me this upcoming school year, compared to the past year and a half. I realized I would be sad about that, too. Getting to see my sons in the morning, to make breakfast with them, to have those random discussions about money and video games and life… to debate wildly ridiculous "would-you-rather" type of questions—it's all been a pretty significant tick in the “pros” column.
Similarly, the pandemic has provided opportunities for us to get creative, sometimes painfully, but there have been definite benefits. I see how reservists are gathering in groups online and through social media to work through problems, create systems, and crowdsource solutions. The technology and opportunity was there, but a catalyst was necessary. I don't cover enough of these in the magazine—photos of people working at computers will never be as cool as people working on boats! But these success stories are out there. Things we weren't looking for as we're lamenting how the pandemic affected our normal lives.
Our buckets aren't broken. They're just working in different ways than we intended. As the magazine's art director, Mr. Chris Rose, likes to joke, "That's not a design flaw, it's a feature."
In our eagerness to get back to the old ways—to "normalcy"—let's not totally abandon the goodness that came from the opportunity to find creative solutions.
“…precisely the thing you thought made you broken was the exact same thing which made you so powerful. What you thought was your greatest flaw was exactly what I needed to make our world a more beautiful place.”
— “The Broken Bucket,” by Rabbi Jason Rosenberg
Hey there, stranger! Feels like it was practically last month that I was writing this column! I know, I know, it seems like you were JUST reading our April issue on the vaccinations, and here we are again… with another issue.
As I say to my wonderful hierarchy of supervisors, it feels like I cram every small story idea and piece of news into each issue, and I always wonder if there’ll be anything left for us to print in three months. Somehow, we never come up with less than 60 pages.
It’s because the world doesn’t stop, and neither does the Coast Guard Reserve. After four years in this seat, I still love my job, because I get to tell the stories of the reservists.
There’s a common thread to these stories—namely, their humility, lack of self-promotion, and gratitude for the opportunity to serve the country and contribute to the Coast Guard’s missions in their own unique way. I always joke that when I get story ideas from the field, it’s never people calling to tell me about themselves; they’re calling to let me know about a shipmate who’s inspired them.
These leaders are not always in a position of leadership, and they’re rarely in the limelight, but they’re quietly, steadily, keeping the Coast Guard on track. They’re starting new projects, bridging the transition of a program, identifying needs and filling gaps. They are the outside set of eyes viewing an old system and bringing their industry knowledge to bear.
I got to meet a few of these wonderful people recently over a few drinks. Some at coffee, some at happy hour—I’ll let you guess. But among them I met a real estate agent, a casino dealer, a military mechanic and a school principal. If you’d come across them in uniform, you’d see chiefs, petty officers, and lieutenants, but when I dig a little deeper, their skills and talents are revealed.
Getting to uncover those diamonds are why I love my job. Reservists are never solely what they appear to be from their ranks, paygrades, ratings, ribbons and insignia. But you have to be willing to ask, to dig—their humility and dedication to the mission make them chameleons. They blend with their active duty brothers and sisters.
Telling their stories is like being a wedding photographer. It’s easy to put out a great product when the subject matter was already fantastic. Nowhere to go but up.
That’s why we’re glad to be bringing you FOUR issues this year! Yes, that’s correct. With the government shutdown, a change in publisher, the last 16 months of a pandemic, and my own deployments as a reservist, we’ve been putting out three issues annually. But, as they say, 2021 is going to be a good year.
ROOM FOR A PICTURE?
“Find the good and praise it.” - Chief Petty Officer Alex Haley
Click cover image to download a printable pdf
I’m finally back from four months of active duty at the 59th Presidential Inauguration! (There’s a little story on page 32; shout out to the blue suiters, Capt. Mike Ruwe, Lt. j.g. Jim Crone, Master Chief Joe Melton, Chief Michael Holtby, and Petty Officer Joe Garone!)
Now that was an experience; having done the 58th I can tell you I didn’t think it was possible to plan almost completely virtually with military colleagues from five services, some of whom I never met in person. Welcome to the new normal!
(I will say, it was fun to see the servicemembers find ways to rib each other through gifs and memes, rather than making the typical cracks in person. It was comforting to see some things never change.)
I joke, but meetings via videoconference, virtual drills, no-handshake introductions? I’m still getting used to it—just in time for things to start changing again.
But if I squint hard, I can see a light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s a welcome sight.
I listened to a recent podcast episode of Hidden Brain from NPR called “Waiting Games.” In it, host Shankar Vedantam interviewed phycologist and researcher Kate Sweeney. In studying how people react to waiting, she said, “Is there any predictability to when waiting is the hardest and when it might be a little bit easier? We've found in that…it seems to be hardest at the beginning [and] in the end, and a little easier in the middle.”
With the advent of spring, the pressure is easing, the weather is improving, and the stress is lifting. The waiting does seem to be the hardest right now, but, ohhhhhh, the glimmer of hope is so attractive, it’s hard to believe it’s not a mirage.
It’s been lovely to sit in my backyard and hear my children playing… To hear my colleagues, friends and parents are getting vaccinated… To write stories on Coast Guard reservists who are helping the vaccine rollout across the country, from the team working at HHS to the individuals volunteering to staff vaccination sites, to our members who are helping the process through their civilian professions. I am so proud of this Component and the selflessness with which my fellow reservists serve. I love my job of telling their stories (find more about the coronavirus response operations on page 20).
It’s been wonderful to go back to focusing on the positive in this issue, to have less uncertainty and more confidence in the systems that have improved with the boost in technology that came with the need to social distance.
You know, at a recent conference, Commander of Sector Delaware Bay, Capt. Jonathan Theel, said, “The future is going to be unprecedented. But we are prepared, and we are the right service to help the nation through it.…The greatest thing about the Coast Guard is—this is our normal. We excel in these situations, and it comes down to our leadership, delegated authority, and our flexible, adaptive nature.”
The Reserve HAS stayed flexible, and our members have found ways to excel. Station Yaquina Bay’s reservists pitched in operationally to keep the station going when their shipmates got sick. Coast Guardsmen helped other Coast Guardsmen to get access to vaccines. Two petty officers were meritoriously promoted for helping fellow reservists weather the pandemic and continue to get qualified.
As my fellow Coast Guard journalist, Chief Petty Officer Alex Haley said, “Find the good, and praise it.”
I intend to.
Stay safe, friends.