Vital to the Never-Ending Watch

Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Nichole Vital plays with her kids, Noah and Ethan, outside their home in Bothell, Wash., Jan. 16, 2017. Noah, 5, and Ethan, 7, both have special needs, making Vital’s ability to have a balanced work life routine a little difficult. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ali Flockerzi.

Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Nichole Vital plays with her kids, Noah and Ethan, outside their home in Bothell, Wash., Jan. 16, 2017.  U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ali Flockerzi.

by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ali Flockerzi

It’s a good day to have a good day.

Nichole Vital keeps this phrase in mind when she prepares for a 12-hour shift at work and leaves behind her husband and two young children, who are often asleep by the time she comes back home.

Chief Petty Officer Vital is an operations specialist in the 13th Coast Guard District Command Center and her version of a normal life is unique, to say the least.

As an operations unit watchstander in the Pacific Northwest, Vital is one of the few Coast Guard men and women who are responsible for monitoring a multi-mission communication platform and responding to a variety of cases from search and rescue or law enforcement case execution, to combat information center operations or intelligence gathering. Her work is vital to the maritime community and countless lives are saved due to her diligence on the job.

Twenty-four hours a day, distress calls are taken and crucial information is deciphered by the watchstanders. They must make important decisions on determining which units have to respond to each emergency and how to appropriately communicate those needs.

Once Vital’s long shift has ended in the office, she heads home where her work is far from over.

Not only does Vital have an uncommon work schedule, she is also married to another military member with a demanding deployment schedule, often leaving her with the sole responsibility of parenting two boys, both of whom have special needs.

The work life of an operations specialist is unpredictable and Vital’s ability to adapt to ever changing personal and professional demands plays a key part in her success on and off the job.

“You get on watch and you have no clue what your day is going to be like and it has taught me to expect the unexpected,” said Vital. “Having two kids with special needs has also taught me to roll with the punches of the unexpected.”

Noah and Ethan Vital are two of approximately 10.2 million children in the United States with special needs.

Noah, a 5-year-old, was born with cytomegalovirus (CMV), a rare infection that about one of every 150 babies gets. Noah spent the first seven weeks of his life in the intensive care unit at the hospital after being born with an enlarged spleen and liver. As babies that contract this virus often do not survive pregnancy, Vital considers Noah a huge blessing.

Noah is deaf in his left ear and has the social and emotional skills of a 3-year-old, which creates unique personal challenges and makes it difficult for him to respond appropriately during peer interactions and in social environments.

Ethan is seven and was diagnosed with having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which is a brain disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention or a hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.

“Having two kids with special needs is incredibly difficult,” said Vital. “They each have their own uniqueness and it takes a lot of effort, commitment, patience and understanding to help them feel like normal kids.”

Vital must work hard on a daily basis to balance her career, her marriage, the needs of her children and find personal time to set aside for herself.

When Vital and her husband, Rene, are lucky enough to be on similar schedules, they try to make the best of the time their family has together through family activities and date nights.

“We try to maintain that family unit because that’s what will be there before and after your career,” said Vital. “We try to put our family first when we can.”

Rene retires soon and she jokes that the two will finally get to see what it’s like to be married after being on opposite schedules for over 12 years. Vital, who is eligible to retire in 2021, is hopeful to focus on her career and remain in the Coast Guard as long as it remains beneficial to her family.

“My job in the Coast Guard has taught me organization and patience, which are both very important skills to have as a mother of children with special needs,” said Vital. “It’s an incredibly difficult job, but it’s important that others understand they are not any different than other kids. They just require special equipment or a little bit of extra special love.”

The benefits of being in the Coast Guard greatly outweigh the struggles Vital has faced. She has worked under incredibly supportive commands, has had many of her needs met when it comes to her children, and has learned important lessons along the way and would not change anything about the experiences she’s had throughout her career.

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