The Coast Guard celebrates 223 years of service to the nation this Sunday and is an opportunity to reflect upon the men and women who serve in America’s Coast Guard. In honor of our service’s birthday, we reached out to Coast Guard men and women and asked them to write an essay based on the prompt “Why I serve.”
So far we’ve shared perspectives from a new recruit, a lifesaver and a reservist. Today we bring you the story of two civilians – each a critical part of maintaining mission readiness – who support the service in their own unique ways. The first is from Steve Lynch, a legal assistance attorney at the 9th Coast Guard District in Cleveland, Ohio.
Written by retired Air Force Lt. Col. Steve Lynch.
For me, the question is not why I serve, but why I still serve. I am close to completing my 33rd year of federal service, 21 years on active duty in the Air Force and the remainder as a civilian legal assistance attorney with the Coast Guard. Friends ask when I plan to retire, and my answer boils down to this: “Not anytime soon.”
Why? I’m pushing 60 – years, not mph – virtually all of my family lives on the East Coast or in lands faraway from Cleveland, Ohio; I have a government pension beckoning; and despite the fact that I am employed by the world’s finest nautical service, I’ve never really been to sea. What’s the deal?
The deal is actually a big deal comprised of five “greats”: Great Mission; Great Tradition; Great Shipmates; Great Clients; Great Fit (for me). Those elements add up to another sort of “great” – a Grateful Heart. My Coast Guard clients are grateful for the work I do. In turn, I am grateful for the chance to help them. For those of us who love to serve, particularly those in the legal profession, there is not a better place to be.
The practice of law in the private sector is driven by profit. A dollar figure is associated with virtually every service rendered. Success is often measure by how much revenue an attorney brings to the firm, not by how well the needs of a client are met.
It’s not a system designed to foster compassion or self-sacrifice. It’s not a system that extols service before self. It’s not a system that can cost-effectively meet the routine and not-so routine legal needs of our Coast Guard family. Which is where I come in; along with a dozen or so other dedicated legal professionals scattered around the country.
We have a single mission that is hard to measure in terms of dollars and cents. Our mission is to enhance Coast Guard readiness by helping shipmates and their families meet their civil legal needs. Those needs involve preparation of legal documents, such as wills and powers of attorney, and help with adoptions or citizenship applications. Those needs also involve problem-solving and advocacy.
Why is this important? Legal problems create distractions – sometimes all-consuming ones. If not properly and quickly handled, they will impair duty performance and that impairs the mission. They also impact family life – and that eventually impacts the mission too. These problems can crop up in many different ways and from many different sources – consumer matters, identity theft, landlords, lenders, the courts, even taxing authorities and other state and local agencies. Legal assistance attorneys can step in to effectively advocate for our crews and their families. We bring not only our experience and commitment to serve, but specialized knowledge of military-friendly laws, such as the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, that can be used to shield our shipmates – and often win the day.
You ask why I serve? I answer with a question: “Why would I ever want to stop?”
If you liked this essay, don’t forget to check out the rest of the “Why I Serve” essays.