Written by Walter T. Ham IV
A couple who served as civilian employees at U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters completed a combined total of 87 years of service to their nation.
Bruce Riley and Christine Riley held a combined retirement ceremony at U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C, May 1, 2019. The ceremony was presided over by Assistant Commandant for Response Rear Adm. Anthony “Jack” Vogt.
Bruce served for more than 52 years as a sailor, Coast Guardsman and Coast Guard civilian, and Christine served for more than 35 years as a Coast Guard civilian.
Married in Stockton, California, in 1970, Bruce and Christine traveled wherever the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard took them until they began working together at Coast Guard Headquarters in 1983.
Born in New Jersey and raised in California, Bruce started his career in the U.S. Navy in 1967. He spent 15 months on ships off the coast of Vietnam during two different wartime deployments in the late 1960s. He served as a signalman on the guided missile destroyer USS Parsons (DDG-33), the destroyer escort USS Stein (DE-1065) and the mine sweeper ocean USS Pluck (MSO-464).
In 1975, while assigned to Naval Air Station Alameda, California, a Coast Guardsman who also previously served in the Navy convinced Bruce to think about switching services. Bruce talked with a recruiter and decided to make the move to the Coast Guard.
After a wide variety of fleet and staff assignments, Bruce retired as a senior chief quartermaster in 1988 and went back to work for the Coast Guard as a civilian in the Vessel Traffic Services Branch. Similar to air traffic controllers, VTS personnel help to safely guide mariners through the nation’s busiest waterways.
Bruce arrived at the Vessel Traffic Service Branch in time for the second largest oil spill in American history: the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, in March 1989.
“When the Exxon Valdez ran aground spilling its cargo into Prince William Sound, the VTS program went from a mission on the edge of being scrapped to a high priority operation,” he said.
“In just five short months after taking the job at headquarters, I was on a plane to Valdez, Alaska, to talk with VTS personnel and the command concerning the details of the incident,” said Bruce. “In the coming months, the VTS staff grew to more than 10 times what it was prior to the incident.”
Over the months and years to follow, Bruce would leave an enduring mark on the policy, training, staffing, technology and operations of the nation’s 12 Vessel Traffic Service centers, helping to ensure the nation’s “sea traffic controllers” are trained, equipped and ready.
While Bruce was developing Vessel Traffic Service policy to help mariners get safely into port, Christine was helping Coast Guardsmen and civilian employees get to work.
Starting out as clerk-typist and serving in a variety of different administrative assignments, Christine would later manage the Transportation Benefits Program for more than 1,200 employees in the Coast Guard National Capital Region. During her time in the job, she helped to manage the distribution of $49 million in transportation benefits to Coast Guard personnel.
“My job is all about people – meeting their transportation needs,” said Christine, who is originally from Stockton, California. “I pride myself on customer service. I strive to meet or exceed the customer’s desires, whether it involves simply answering a question, investigating a glitch in the system or working with our financial partners to resolve an error in benefits.”
They also have a considerable amount of first-hand experience with the many challenges of commuting in the National Capital Region.
Together in carpools, vanpools and on trains, Bruce and Christine commuted more than a 100 miles a day between their home in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., traveling enough miles over 35 years to circumnavigate the world more than 25 times.
After serving as Coast Guard civilian employees during the tenures of 10 different Coast Guard commandants, Bruce and Christine are ready to start the next chapter of their lives.
They look forward to having more time to travel and watch their grandchildren’s baseball games and especially “not having to get up at 3:30 a.m. every morning.”
From his more than half a century of uniformed and civilian service, Bruce said leadership and discipline were what kept every organization he served in on course, from Navy ships and Coast Guard cutters to Vessel Traffic Service Centers and U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters.
They both said what they would miss was the men and women they had served with.
“What stands out the most is the great people that I’ve had the pleasure of working with,” said Bruce.