Giving back to move forward

Coast Guard Cmdr. Warren Judge, executive officer of Base Elizabeth City, North Carolina, poses for a photograph outside the command building on base, Aug. 10, 2017. Judge was selected as the 2017 Blacks in Government Meritorious Service Award recipient for his volunteer work with local youth organizations and his role in solidifying a memorandum of agreement between the base and Elizabeth City State University. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Corinne Zilnicki/Released)

Coast Guard Cmdr. Warren Judge, executive officer of Base Elizabeth City, North Carolina, poses for a photograph outside the command building on base, Aug. 10, 2017. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Corinne Zilnicki)

Elizabeth City, NC – If ever you enter the office of Coast Guard Cmdr. Warren Judge, he will most likely greet you not with a handshake, but with a fist bump.

It won’t take him long to hoist himself from his chair and cross the room, mainly because he does not sit in one – he prefers to stand at a raised computer desk while he works.

This active posture suits the trim 51-year-old, an avid racquetball player who seems to be brimming with energy even when standing still.

His energy matches that of his surroundings; as the second-largest Coast Guard facility in the country, Coast Guard Base Elizabeth City is perpetually awhirl with activity, and Judge’s office sits at the very hub of that busy, spinning wheel.

Judge keeps the blinds on his windows hitched high to fully enjoy his panoramic view of the base and all its hustle and bustle.

Giving Back to Move ForwardPacks of class “A” school students march past, solitary runners circle the bayside path, and Coast Guard Station Elizabeth City boats whisk by on the Pasquotank River, often draped in the shadows of Coast Guard helicopters and airplanes soaring overhead.

The procession of activity inside Judge’s office is no less diverse.

A wide variety of rank insignias and gold bars ride the collars and shoulders of those who enter the room, for Judge is the executive officer of the entire base, and dealing with people – no matter their rank or position – is his job.

“As the base’s executive officer, all personnel issues come to me,” Judge said. “It’s my job to be a problem solver and to take care of my entire team.”

According to the base’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Randy Meador, it does not take long to witness Judge’s zeal for helping others.

“I just reported here in June, but I could tell right away that Cmdr. Judge’s primary passion is guiding people,” said Meador. “He even took my stepson aside at a base cookout and offered him advice about college. Now my stepson feels certain about his chosen path and is excited to pursue ROTC.”

Several awards and plaques glint softly along the walls of the commander’s office, hinting that Meador is not the first person to take note of Judge’s strengths as a mentor.

Another award will soon join the ranks of the accolades on his wall: the 2017 Blacks in Government Meritorious Service award, an honor bestowed annually on one Coast Guardsman whose leadership and service are deemed inspirational.

“When I found out I won, I asked, ‘Why me?’,” Judge said. “I don’t do things in the community or in life looking for awards. It’s all from my heart. But I’m honored to be recognized.”

Ever since enlisting in the Coast Guard in 1986, Judge said he has been shaped by several key mentors throughout his career, and that he has always tried to pay forward the gift of their guidance.

Giving Back to Move Forward

A portrait of Coast Guard Capt. John G. Witherspoon and his wife, Carol.

His first such mentor was Capt. John G. Witherspoon, commanding officer of Cutter Valiant and the then-highest ranking African American in the Coast Guard.

“The crew called him ‘Papa Spoon,’ and when they saw how much I looked up to him, everyone started calling me ‘Teaspoon,’” said Judge, smiling fondly. “He knew that I wanted to go back to college more than anything.

He steered me in the direction of Elizabeth City because he knew it would create more opportunities for me.”

Judge, who had unsuccessfully applied for Officer Candidate School and the Pre-Commissioning Program for Enlisted Personnel multiple times, said Papa Spoon helped him overcome his frustrations and keep trying.

“He helped me relax and understand that failure can be a necessary part of the process,” he said.

Giving Back to Move Forward

Cmdr. Warren Judge leads local high school students on a tour of an HC-130 Hercules airplane at Air Station Elizabeth City in April, 2017.

In 1993, Judge transferred to Air Station Elizabeth City as a Radioman First Class and continued applying for OCS and PPEP. After eight applications to OCS and two to PPEP, he was accepted to both programs in 1995.

“Years ago, I made a promise to my mom that I would go back to college,” Judge said. “So I opted for PPEP before OCS and chose to attend Elizabeth City State University. I couldn’t pass up the chance to study at a historically black college.”

Although Witherspoon passed away in 1994, his widow, Carol, attended Judge’s OCS graduation alongside Judge’s mother, who traveled from their hometown of Tampa, Florida, to see her son reach this milestone.

“It was a moment of true celebration,” said Judge. “Papa Spoon was watching from heaven, and Carol Witherspoon was watching on earth.”

Giving Back to Move Forward

Cmdr. Warren Judge working with his White House Communications Agency co-workers to manage communications for former President Barack Obama.

After graduating from OCS, Judge embarked on a new journey as a Coast Guard officer, one that has encompassed various jobs in Virginia, Alabama, New Orleans, and even at the White House Communications Agency in Washington, D.C.

Judge served as the agency’s sole Coast Guard liaison and helped facilitate communications for former President Barack Obama, oftentimes traveling overseas with the president and his staff.

“That experience was nothing short of phenomenal,” Judge said. “If my supervisors and co-workers hadn’t encouraged me to apply, I don’t know if I would’ve imagined myself doing such things.”

During his 17 years as an officer, Judge has also obtained two master’s degrees: a Master of Science in Computer Science from Howard University and a Master of Science in Quality Systems Management from the National Graduate School. In 2016, he also completed the Harvard Kennedy School executive education cybersecurity program.

Judge said he attributes the success of his educational endeavors to the network of role models and mentors who have supported him throughout his career.

“I’ve always been a hard charger with solid work ethic,” he said. “But I’m also an individual who has been so very blessed. I have to pass these blessings on.”

Drawing from this personal philosophy, Judge has tirelessly volunteered time and effort to the Elizabeth City community, especially to students of his alma mater, ECSU.

“Cmdr. Judge was instrumental in solidifying a memorandum of agreement between ECSU and Base Elizabeth City last year,” said Meador. “Beyond that, he is very involved with the school and with the students. Everyone seems to know him.”

“Both the Coast Guard and ECSU have given me unimaginable opportunities to excel,” Judge said. “It fills me with pride to speak at ECSU classes, commencement ceremonies, luncheons and events. I always tell the students, ‘No matter what you choose to do, give it your all. Don’t be afraid of failure.’”

Judge also works with a slightly younger demographic; through Step Up Academy, he serves as the official mentor of a group of 25 local high school boys.

“I teach them how to dress, how to speak professionally, how to conduct themselves during interviews,” Judge explained. “I gave them a tour of the air station and introduced them to pilots and flight mechanics. I’m their avenue into this Coast Guard world, and I don’t take it lightly.”

Despite his fist bump greetings and ready smile, it is clear that Warren Judge does not take lightly any aspect of serving others, whether they are his fellow Coast Guardsmen or members of his community.

“Those who have the means and the capabilities should give back to their community in some way, shape or form,” Judge said. “Not only will you make a difference, but you might grow from it, too.”

Giving Back to Move Forward

Cmdr. Warren Judge accepts the 2017 Blacks in Government Meritorious Service Award during a ceremony in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Aug. 22, 2017.

The recipient of the 2017 Blacks in Government Meritorious Service Award said he is eternally thankful for the mentors who guided and continue to guide him.

“The mentorship and the professional development I get every day are so valuable to me,” he said. “I’m not a perfect person by any means. There’s always something I can do better.”

Judge said his self-awareness and motivation stem from his parents – his very first mentors.

“My mom taught me, ‘There’s always someone better than you. No matter how great you think you are, you should continue to strive for the next level,’” Judge said. “So that is what I will continue to do.”

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