I pray for my family and friends because I know I’m not the only one who’s paying tribute to the men and women who have passed through the Coast Guard, put themselves in harm’s way to save us and in the end paid the ultimate price.
I joined the Coast Guard after completing the National Guard Military Science curriculum, but I’ve always thought the Coast Guard was a permanent job. The fact is, my degree doesn’t serve as much as a calling, but I knew this job was job-able because a great Coast Guard officer in his youth made me want to be a good Coast Guard officer.
Col. Andy Patten became the first Coast Guard vice chief of staff when he accepted the job in the late 1990s. He told me while taking a chemistry test that he hoped one day he could take over the Coast Guard. I quickly realized that the New York native was a true leader with real-world experience as a Marine Corps officer and pilot, and a keen sense of history.
He ensured our Coast Guard honored its history and culture, and taught us to value and strengthen those qualities by setting records for technological and professional innovation. Col. Patten proudly lived up to our motto, “A Faith-Balanced Coast Guard.”
While our Coast Guard has been tested throughout our country’s history, our service members still exhibit a profound dedication and gratitude for their oaths to serve the common good and make this nation better. Our presence at state capitals across the nation frequently reflects on sacrifices our men and women have made since our nation’s founding.
You see, our service members go beyond advocating for their service to the country. They continue to risk their lives for others. American patriots, recently as prominent as the Japanese-American internment, continue to face harassment and intolerance in our nation. From those who call us all “invaders” to those who speak ill of the other, it’s up to us to call out and validate our service members and remind ourselves of their faces and stories.
It’s a lesson I’ve learned from a former Coast Guard officer, a mentor and I hope he’s a strong example to inspire all of the current and former Coast Guard professionals.
Marines and Coast Guardsmen wore uniforms as an identifier that they were serving the country and defending our nation. They put their lives at risk, trained hard and waited for the opportunity to make a difference in communities, states and country.
Today’s Coast Guard members exhibit what my grandfather, who served during the Korean War, would be proud of. While the job is more complex and demanding than it was when I enlisted, there’s no limit to what they can do. As an officer, I know the high character of my service and how that integrity exists behind every call sign, in every watch, in every aspect of our organization.
I’m proud of our service members, whether they serve in the Coast Guard or, more commonly, the Coast Guard Investigative Service, or any other component or component of the United States Marine Corps. Our service members understand the hardships they face each day as they protect and support communities. They are ready to lay down their lives if necessary, to exemplify what I love to see in everyone I meet: compassion, selflessness and unwavering dedication to protect and serve all Americans.
My grandfather and I both served to the best of our abilities, and today’s Coast Guard service members exemplify everything he taught and demonstrated in each Coast Guard officer. It’s a duty I carry in honor of my grandfather and what the true Coast Guard stand for today. The time I spend outside, thank God, has been the best of my life.
Lt. Commander Chris McElroy was confirmed as the Coast Guard’s 20th superintendent at a Senate-confirmed hearing on Nov. 21, 2017. A Coast Guard Academy graduate, McElroy has more than 20 years of dedicated service in law enforcement, intelligence, ship inspection and maritime commerce. He’s spent the last two years as chief of the flight and training office, a position he holds while serving at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. He is serving as the academy’s 20th superintendent until June 2019. McElroy holds a Bachelor of Science degree in political science and a Master of Public Administration degree.