The Last Frontier: Senior Enlisted Leadership

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven Cantrell speaks to personnel of Air Station Kodiak, Jan. 9, 2015. Cantrell spoke about progression, work-life and current issues within the Coast Guard. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Diana Honings.

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven Cantrell speaks to personnel of Air Station Kodiak, Jan. 9, 2015. Cantrell spoke about progression, work-life and current issues within the Coast Guard. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Diana Honings.

Flying into Juneau, Alaska, nearly 3,000 miles from his office in Washington, D.C., Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven Cantrell got a firsthand taste of Alaska’s winter weather. Buffeted by fierce mountains winds and driving snow, the plane Cantrell rode in from Sitka is denied a chance to land on the frozen runway, and boosts off for a second attempt.

Fortunately, the next landing goes off without a hitch and the passengers step off the plane at the airport in Alaska’s capitol city, one of five stops for Cantrell on his tour of the Coast Guard’s 17th District. It’s a significant trip for the senior enlisted member of the Coast Guard.

Cantrell answers questions in Juneau.

Cantrell answers questions in Juneau.

“I’ve never been here, in my entire career, I’ve never been to Alaska once,” Cantrell said. “I wanted to experience the weather challenges and the other challenges that the folks that are stationed up here have to deal with.”

Challenges aside, Cantrell made his way to many of the biggest Coast Guard installments in the state, including: Ketchikan, Sitka, Juneau, Anchorage and Kodiak. He greeted members wherever he went, and made time to listen to their concerns and take questions regarding Coast Guard headquarters.

“It’s been an aggressive schedule; we’ve seen an awful lot of units and talked to an awful lot of Coast Guard men and women,” he remarked. “I want to make sure that we’re staying engaged with things that are going on out here.”

The hundreds of active duty, reservist and civilian Coast Guard personnel in attendance had the chance to bring their concerns to Cantrell. The questions lead to open discussion about the direction of the Coast Guard and needs of personnel located in isolated regions like Alaska, as well as one-on-one conversations with local personnel.

“It was the first time I got to meet a Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Gauger, a health services technician at the Coast Guard clinic in Juneau. “He recognized us for our recent work with patient care. It was an honor.”

“It was great that he took such a long trek to visit us out here and to have the opportunity to speak to him in an open forum to discuss the differences between the Coast Guard in the Lower-48 and in Alaska,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Lindsay Jones, a yeoman at Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak.

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Cantrell speaks with Coast Guard Sector Anchorage personnel.

Cantrell also took the time to speak on upcoming leadership programs within the service.

“I believe the next generation of Coast Guard leaders, the ones that are coming in today, we have to be able to provide them better leadership tools as they move up into their careers, or we’re going to lose them,” said Cantrell. “There are some talented, educated young men and women that are serving our country. I’m a firm believer that it’s long overdue: we don’t need to be learning leadership by trial and error. We have the ability to start early in peoples’ careers, and provide it all the way through a 20-or 30-year career, to give them leadership skills to manage the people that are behind them.”

Cantrell’s trip came to a close in Kodiak, one of the largest, most remote Coast Guard bases. He will return to the bustling D.C. metro, but with a better understanding of the challenges and environment that Coast Guard personnel on the Last Frontier face every day.

“Walking around last night before it got dark and just seeing the absolute beauty of this part of the country astonished me,” he remarked of his parting. “Anybody that hasn’t been to Alaska needs to make that trip.”

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