Written by Chief Petty Officer John Masson
The Western Pacific Ocean is a long way from Levelland, Texas, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Katherine Atha wouldn’t have it any other way.
One of the main reasons she joined the Coast Guard 5 1/2 years ago was to travel, and you can’t travel much farther than she has on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf (WMSL 750), which just transited the Pacific Ocean from its homeport in Alameda, California, and is now patrolling the East China Sea.
“The Coast Guard seemed to me to be the best opportunity for travel while also fulfilling my want to assist in some kind of humanitarian service in the world,” says Atha, who also calls La Porte, Texas, home. “I felt a need to get out of Texas, a need to travel and live different places and have new experiences.”
So far, those experiences have included serving for a year aboard U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Stratton; advanced electronics training in Petaluma, California; a stint at an electronics support detachment in Alameda, California; and Bertholf, which, like Stratton, is one of the service’s 418-foot national security cutters. Atha said she loves the continuous learning that her job entails, and relishes the opportunity to work with her hands — and occasionally climb Bertholf’s 141-foot mast to service some of the advanced electronic equipment that’s housed there.
“Atha is pretty much a self-starter,” says Chief Petty Officer Daniel McTeigue, the electronics technician who runs Atha’s shop on the ship. “She’s got a really positive attitude.”
Among Atha’s duties, McTeigue said, is maintaining the fire control system for one of Bertholf’s primary weapons systems, its MK-48 forward gun. She also maintains the department’s training schedule, and is set to advance to second class petty officer later this year.
When facing operations and long stints away from home, Atha stocks up on good books to read in her free time and spends other off-duty hours exchanging long emails with loved ones back home. She acknowledges that operating away from home isn’t easy, but she says there is a lot to savor about time underway, as well.
“It never ceases to amaze me how barren but how pretty the sea and sky are, no matter the weather,” she says.
For Atha, an avid stargazer, a clear night on the ship’s fantail is a revelation, as stars that can barely be seen back home pop to life.
“I’ve been teaching myself how to find various constellations since I was 12 years old,” she says. “It’s really comforting to find them, even when I’m so far from home.”