Post written by Bob Hopkins
Can you imagine spending more than 20 years on a Coast Guard cutter?
For some readers that is longer than they’ve been alive and for others it’s enough military service to retire. But for Machinery Technician Chief Petty Officer (MKC) Paul Hicks, it’s just part of his 27-year Coast Guard career.
Chief Hicks is in elite company, being one of just 13 to receive the Coast Guard Master Cutterman award for serving more than 20 years at sea. Recently, he was honored in a ceremony for achieving this rare and exceptional distinction. But, there’s no special uniform insignia or ribbon (beyond the Cutterman pin worn by all Guardians with more than five years of sea duty) to distinguish Chief Hicks from any other Guardian. He does, however, receive a certificate signed by the Commandant and the pride of watching jaws drop when they find out he is a Master Cutterman.
For Guardians like Chief Hicks, they don’t spend their life at sea because they have to, they do it because they choose to. “I heard a lot about serving at sea from my dad, who served 22 years in the Coast Guard,” Chief said. “His least favorite thing was land units, so I guess I had a bias when I joined.”
“I was hooked after serving on the [Coast Guard Cutter] Point Brown in Oregon Inlet, OR. I enjoyed the challenge and excitement of being underway, the shock and excitement of incidents at sea and the sense of accomplishment in saving and helping people.
“I also enjoyed the camaraderie and the sense of family that comes with serving at sea – you have to rely on each other,” Chief said. That sense of excitement and camaraderie has carried throughout his 27-year career. “Every career has its high and low points,” Chief said. “I’ve stood some ugly watches. But I’ve enjoyed the unique challenges and experiences from all the ships I’ve served on.”
Chief has been stationed on a total of eight cutters including Point Brown, Sweetgum, Sherman, Firebush, Kanawha, Kankakee and Alex Haley. He is currently stationed on cutter Spar as the main propulsion division chief.
Chief’s sense of family goes beyond the ship. “I’ve been very fortunate to have great support at home. I’ve been married 15 years and spent 14 underway. My wife, two step-daughters, and two children deserve a lot of credit for supporting my career.”
Chief still enjoys a sense of adventure when underway. On the Spar he’s visited remote Arctic locations that not many Americans have the opportunity to see – Point Lay, Point Hope, Gambell, AK on St. Lawrence Island, Nome and Barrow, AK.
Chief Hicks is due to transfer in 2010 and is thinking about possible retirement and making up some of that time spent at sea with his family. Whatever the next step may bring, there is certain to be some challenges and excitement, something his career at sea has prepared him well for. After 20 years building up his sea legs, anything that comes his way will seem like a cake walk.
Do you know someone in the Coast Guard that has done something great for the service, the missions or the public? Please submit your nominations for Guardian of the Week using the submit button at the top of the page.