This blog is the first of a series that will come from enlisted leadership to highlight the mentors who molded them into who they are today. The blog series will be published the first Wednesday of every month, right here on Coast Guard All Hands.
Written by Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven Cantrell
I was recently asked by a young recruit at Basic Training about what inspired me in my career. As I began to look through my memory bank at all the things and people in my 33 years that had a positive (and sometimes negative) impact, one person in particular came to mind.
I have used his influence as an example in a number of talks this last year to new chief petty officers and those graduating from the Chief Petty Officer Academy. At the time, boatswain’s mate chief Jerry Alverson (later advanced to senior chief and retired as a master chief) was the first real chief petty officer I ever encountered. I must also state, that in 1984, talking to “the chief” generally meant you messed up or you were in need of some serious adjustment.
However, Jerry Alverson was different. I fondly remember having a particularly bad month in my life and wondering where to turn for help. One of my good friends (also now retired) said, “Go talk to Chief Alverson, as he seems like a really nice guy.”
So I mustered up the courage and found him working on something that was probably much more important than my problem, and said, “Chief, have you got a minute?” To my surprise (and delight), he stopped what he was doing, turned and said, “What’s on your mind, son?”
As I have repeatedly told others, I can’t remember what I said or what his advice was, but I do remember that he stopped his day and focused on me, just for that moment. I decided right then that I wanted to be a chief just like him. And I also remind every leader that his or her response to similar questions can have a profound impact on that person’s life and career. He could have easily dismissed me and my problems and told me to seek help elsewhere – but he did not.
Since that day, he has remained my mentor and someone I deeply respect for his leadership, his service, and how he took care of his crew (even when it brought down the wrath of a very hard-nosed commanding officer).
He not only influenced me, but many others aboard that old rust bucket construction tender known as the Coast Guard Cutter Rambler. He was well respected by everyone, and he returned that respect with simple kindness, a propensity to care about our lives and our careers, and his willingness to go to whatever lengths necessary to ensure our safety and well being, and that of our families. Remember that this was a time when the phrase “Your family was not issued in your seabag” was often heard in response to a member’s family issues.
“During my entire career, I’ve seen how differently those in leadership positions positively and negatively affect the men and women serving under their Command,” said Alverson. “I came to adapt their positive leadership skills while honing my own skills. This evaluation of wanting to become as good as I could in a leadership position continues even after 30 years of service and many other years in government service. Emulating the best leadership qualities of the men and women I served under made me the leader I am.”
Even to this day, I find myself thinking, “What would Chief Alverson do in this situation?” He influenced not only my desire to be a boatswain’s mate, but to be a chief petty officer in the Coast Guard. I have to believe there are many others that would say the same thing about Master Chief Alverson.
“I still consider Jerry Alverson one of the greatest mentors that I have had throughout my active duty career, and now my civilian career in the Coast Guard,” said Sean Shrum, the lead command center controller at Sector Charleston. “As a young BM2 I adopted many of his leadership tendencies. I know I can always pick up the phone, call Jerry and talk about whatever might be bothering me. I consider it a privilege and an honor to have served with Jerry, and I value his friendship.”
I’m truly humbled by the things Master Chief Alverson has said about me, considering how much I look up to him.
“I followed your career over the years through Sean Shrum and others,” said Alverson. “I couldn’t be more proud of you if you were my own son. To see you grow from a seaman apprentice we called Boo Boo, to the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard, has made me extremely happy. To think that I may have played a part in your development is awesome.”
Thank you, Master Chief Alverson, for your service and leadership, and for showing this once young, skinny little kid from Mississippi that it was okay to be what I wanted and to always strive to set an example for others.