Story by Petty Officer 2nd Class Cynthia Oldham
Riley and Chris Hollandsworth are getting ready for significant life changes — Riley is preparing herself to move away for college and Chris is preparing to become the man of the house.
Riley, 17, and Chris, 15, are two of 6,100 U.S. teenagers who have one or both parents serving in the Coast Guard and are no strangers to challenge and change.
Their father, Master Chief Petty Officer William Hollandsworth, the officer in charge of the 87-foot Coast Guard Cutter Mako, in Cape May, New Jersey, served in the Coast Guard since before Riley and Chris were born.
Now, as William prepares for a yearlong deployment to Bahrain, where he will serve as the command master chief at U.S. Coast Guard Patrol Forces Southwest Asia, his children face what may be the most difficult year of their Coast Guard lives.
“I am going to be the man of the house,” said Chris. “For certain things, like maintaining the pool, I usually go straight to my dad if I need help, or for decorating at Christmas. This year, I will do all the things he normally does. He did say he would make me a list of pool chemicals — but I am still nervous, home life is going to be so different.”
Difference is a term the Hollandsworth family does not take lightly.
Riley said both the greatest and most difficult thing about the Coast Guard is moving from place to place and having to say goodbye.
“I think we have lived in seven different places, and changed schools five or six times,” said Riley. “It’s always nice to transfer in the summer because we have time to get used to a new house before the school year starts.”
Chris said the first year in a new home is the most difficult, but usually after a year, he gets comfortable once he gets to know more people.
For Riley and Chris, home is where their friends and people they love live.
They both agreed they loved being stationed in Florida and would love to live there again. Then Riley and Chris looked at each other and hesitated when they came to the same realization:
“Since we were on a base, everyone we were stationed with there is probably gone, or will be transferring soon,” said Riley.
Ultimately, Riley and Chris decided they would both consider home their grandmom’s house in Pennsylvania. Fortunately, for the duration of their father’s overseas deployment, Riley, Chris and their mom will remain living in their current house in South Jersey.
“We are happy to be staying here — moving around a lot is a huge challenge,” said Riley. “Since I have been looking at colleges to attend in the fall, I have been getting information about what to expect moving away from home, and how to makes friends in a new place. I feel like growing up in the military has given me a great advantage. Like mom says, ‘it broadens our horizons.’”
William said he looks forward to seeing how his children succeed in the future, and he’s confident their hard work and diverse upbringing will guide them to success.
“As a military brat myself, it is extremely hard with the moving and constant change,” said William. “While it hasn’t always been easy for Riley and Chris, they have become amazing young adults in my eyes.”
Although they are not uniformed members of the Coast Guard, Riley and Chris were raised as members of the Coast Guard family and serve as a crucial support system for their father, the missions for which he is responsible and his prominent designation as a master chief petty officer.
Achieving the rank of master chief is the pinnacle of an enlisted member’s career. The title carries a breadth of knowledge, experience and authority.
For junior enlisted members, it’s hard to imagine what a master chief is like at home.
“Our dad walks around at home in pajamas or a t-shirt and sweatpants,” said Riley. “He plays video games with Chris.”
“Yea, and he plays with the dog and tells cheesy jokes, and does a lot of projects around the house,” said Chris. “It’s really not any different — having a dad who is a master chief, we just call him ‘dad.’”
In unison, Riley and Chris agreed their dad is not too strict with them. They said he is involved in their lives and has plans to stay that way while he’s deployed overseas.
“Our dad started this thing where he texts us every morning,” said Chris.
“He is going to do it every morning when he is gone,” said Riley. “He tells us the date, the weather and what we have to do for the day. Right now, we use a family calendar, and he is hoping to keep using it and stay connected through the texts.”
Despite the family’s plan to stay connected, both Riley and Chris said they are a little nervous about their dad deploying to the Middle East.
“I am concerned, but he has reassured me by telling me about their training, and it has helped me feel better,” said Riley.
Chris said he feels more secure now he better understands what his dad’s job will be.
As the command master chief, William will be the senior enlisted advisor for more than 300 Coast Guard personnel assigned to locations in Bahrain, Kuwait and Afghanistan, as well as six 110-foot Coast Guard cutter crews.
“I am really excited for him,” said Riley. “He was excited when he found out he was deploying there. I am excited to send him care packages filled with his favorite things.”
As the time before their dad’s departure winds down, Riley and Chris continue to prepare to live for a year without him, and couldn’t agree on what they will do on their dad’s last day home before he deploys this summer.
“I think we will all stay home,” said Riley.
“No, I think we will go out,” said Chris.
Riley and Chris both agreed, though, whatever their family does, they are sure their dad already has it planned.