Understanding a conversation between two Coast Guardsmen can be difficult. The service has its own unique language, filled with military jargon, acronyms and cliché catchphrases. While not originating in or unique to the Coast Guard, the service enthusiastically clings to expressions based on the concept of wearing many hats that may seem unusual to outsiders.
The Coast Guard has always done more with less — another familiar saying among its members. As the smallest military service, the Coast Guard is able to meet the demands of its missions because nearly every member has multiple responsibilities. People are expected to perform various roles of equal importance.
Military jargon used outside the proper context can leave many folks scratching their heads, but the concept of an individual being many-hatted is one that easily applies outside the Coast Guard. A working, married mother wears many hats – she’s a professional, a mother, and a wife. Within each of those roles, she has multiple responsibilities. Each hat she wears is simply a metaphor for each role and responsibility she performs.
In the Coast Guard, a pilot responsible for flying a helicopter might also be accountable for managing the people who maintain the aircraft back on the ground. An executive officer (second in command) at a small boat station is likely expected to drive the boats, lead law-enforcement boardings, be available to talk to the media and manage people and resources at the station – perhaps all in the same day.
“The Coast Guard asks our people to do a lot, especially our junior people,” said Capt. Robert Tarantino, Coast Guard 5th District chief of staff in Portsmouth, Virginia. “Our folks are expected to juggle multiple tasks while maintaining keen attention to detail in all they do. I’m always impressed to hear the many things any given individual is responsible for at such early stages of their career.”
One such many-hatted member is Petty Officer 2nd Class Landon Milhorn, a boatswain’s mate at Coast Guard Station Milford Haven in Hudgins, Virginia. His roles include officer of the day charged with running the station, coxswain responsible for driving a boat, law enforcement officer tasked with upholding maritime regulations and supervisor expected to lead his crew. Milhorn admits keeping up with his duties isn’t always easy.
“Sometimes the most challenging hat to wear is a supervisor’s,” said Milhorn. “I couldn’t keep it on my head without the support of my crew. It’s actually my crew who hold it there a lot of the time.”
While crews on the water juggle multiple roles, the elaborate assortment of Coast Guard hats includes plenty that take to the air.
Lt. j.g. Michelle Leclerc is a C-130 Super Hercules airplane pilot at Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and is working to become an aircraft commander. In her job as first pilot aboard the aircraft, she’s responsible for flight planning, fuel planning, search and rescue planning, and communications. When she’s not flying planes, there’s no shortage of responsibilities for her back at the air station.
She also works as the operations duty officer in the command center, handling phone calls, maintaining the flight schedule and coordinating operations. Any operational activity involving a helicopter or airplane, including takeoffs and landings, filter through her when she stands watch.
Additionally, she’s the Auxiliary liaison officer, tasked with coordinating volunteer flight missions. She’s the electronic flight bag officer, responsible for keeping track of about 50 iPads for the other pilots. She’s the C-130 weight and balance officer, charged with tracking and logging any permanent structural changes that alter the aircraft’s mass. She’s the publications officer, accountable for ordering and maintaining all in-flight documents.
She’s the cadet aviation training program officer. Almost all prospective Coast Guard officers attending the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, spend a week learning about Coast Guard aviation at an air station. Different groups of cadets visit Air Station Elizabeth City each summer. Leclerc coordinates most activities during their visit, including details like planning their social events.
“In the Coast Guard, it’s true we wear many hats,” said Leclerc.
“Unfortunately, each of us only has one head, so wearing more than one hat at a time can be challenging,” she laughed. “Caring for and keeping up with a collection of hats and knowing when to wear which is the key.”
The Coast Guard doesn’t expect to suffer a shortage of caps, covers, hats, headgear, helmets or lids any time in the near future, nor people excited to mention them; the service known for doing more with less has always attracted the committed, talented and outstanding type of people willing to wear them.