Feature: Coast Guardsman recognized as Master Cutterman for serving 25 years at sea

KODIAK, Alaska – A Coast Guardsman stationed in Kodiak, Alaska received the Coast Guard’s newest honor during an informal ceremony in Kodiak on February 12, where he was named the services 12th Master Cutterman.

While many Coast Guardsmen proudly wear the Cutterman’s insignia, which represents five years of sea service, the distinguished title of Master Cutterman is awarded to those having served more than 20 years at sea.

Master Cutterman Chief Warrant Officer Randy Salenski is currently stationed aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley as the main propulsion assistant.  In May his sea time will reach 26 years.  In total his career has spanned 36 years aboard nine cutters and four tours ashore.  But despite his impressive service, being awarded for it came as a complete surprise.

“I really appreciate getting the award,” he said.  “I had no clue this thing even existed, let alone being a candidate for it.  I’m honored to be one of 12 people to actually get it in the Coast Guard.”

In 1973 Salenski began his Coast Guard career as an engineman, a rate later renamed machinery technician.  At that same time the Coast Guard was preparing to institute the newly created Cutterman’s insignia. The insignia, worn on the uniform, is comprised of a helm wheel surrounded by waves which represent the heritage of the sea, a five point star noting five years sea service, and a shield representing the service and its seagoing traditions.  Prior to 1974, no recognition was given to those serving extended periods at sea.

Recognition as a Cutterman meant that an individual had, in the tradition of professional mariners, performed duties afloat in keeping with their grade and rate and who have endured the rigors and dangers of sea duty for a substantial period.

For Salenski, this recognition came in 1982 shortly after he was promoted to chief petty officer.  Today, after more than 20 years of sea service, he has exemplified the definition of Cutterman.  But for some, the criteria of being called a Cutterman fell short in recognizing individuals, like Salenski, with a lifetime commitment to service at sea.  In 2006 discussions began in Washington, D.C., to devise an award to recognize those with more than 20 years of service.

The final criteria for the award settled on the title of Master Cutterman, which would be presented as a certificate signed by the Commandant of the Coast Guard.  It would also depict all the cutters the individual served on during their career.  After deciding on the criteria of the award, the wording seemingly proved to be the most difficult.  After two drafts of the award failed to meet the “salty” language the Commandant was looking for, he wrote the award himself.

The final text of the certificate reads as follows.

US Coast Guard Master Cutterman

To all sailors who have crossed the deck of a cutter, from ghosts of the
Revenue Marine to the United States Coast Guard, wherever ye may be;
And to all Ancient Mariners, Albatrosses, Pterodactyls, Surfman and various Breeds of dogs:

Let it be known that
CWO4 Randy S. Salenski
has stood watch, laid before the mast, made rounds, checked the
navigational lights, monitored engine temperatures, launched boats
as required, balanced the electrical load, provided rations, and
otherwise attended to the watch, quarter and station bill for all
evolutions required to guard the coast and defend the Nation
for 24 years.

Accordingly, all cutterman with lesser sea time and those unaccustomed to venturing offshore shall show due honor and respect at all times.

The first master cutterman certificate was presented to Chief Warrant Officer Paul Dilger at his retirement on July 27, 2007.  Since then there have been 11 certificates awarded making Salenski’s the 12th.

Salenski’s award presentation was held informally at the club on Coast Guard base Kodiak with his shipmates and fellow Cutterman who are stationed in Kodiak.  During the ceremony, Commander Kevin Jones, Alex Haley commanding officer, recounted the first time he saw the certificate. “We had this thing show up in the mail wrapped in a tube; we pulled it out and thought, “What is that?”  He noted that everyone soon realized what it was and what it took for someone to earn this particular recognition.

Breaking from the script, Jones looked out to those gathered and explained that they were recognizing a hero.  To the young Coast Guardsmen he said, “You may not want to be a Cutterman, but right now you are.  There are a bunch of us who are because this is our career path. This is what we signed up to do.  These are our seagoing traditions and it is important that we recognize it,” Jones stressed. “Here’s a man who has dedicated his life to that.”

Jones recounted Selinski’s career from his beginning as an engineman, a rate later changed to machinery technician.  Salenski’s career has included service aboard Coast Guard Cutters Sledge, Ojibwa, Resolute, Alert, Planetree, Woodrush, Firebush, Maple and Alex Haley and shore duty at Loran Station St. Paul, Alaska, Station Buffalo, N.Y., Group Buffalo and Training Center Cape May, N.J.

Reflecting on the long list of duty stations, Jones looked to Salenski and asked about the first engine he worked on. “It wasn’t steam was it?”

Salenski accepted the framed certificate with few words, but a notable appreciation.  As an added bonus, his son, Petty Officer 2nd Class Randy Salenski, was able to literally jump ship to attend the presentation.  Since the Hickory, home ported in Homer, Alaska, was already scheduled to conduct training off Kodiak, the cutter was able to nose up to the pier and let Salenski jump off to be part of the ceremony.  Like his father before him, he is a machinery technician.  Salenski said his father deserves the recognition, and although he doesn’t want the attention the award carries, he appreciates it.

Salenski’s oldest son is a sergeant in the Marine Corps currently stationed in Camp Pendleton, Calif.  Salenski’s wife lives in Sitka, Alaska.

“I really enjoy my job,” Salenski said.  “Being able to teach someone what I know, that’s where I get the most satisfaction out of my job.”

After more than three decades of service, Salenski has three pieces of advice to pass on to Coast Guardsmen just starting out.  “Separate your work and home time, pursue your hobbies and stay out of trouble.”

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