Meet the Champ

Petty Officer 1st Class Sammy Paone hears his name called at the USO's Salute to Military Chefs.

Petty Officer 1st Class Sammy Paone hears his name called at the USO’s Salute to Military Chefs.

“I’ve always wanted to be a special command aide, but I was nervous about my cooking skills,” said the food service specialist sitting on the other side of the booth in the Juneau federal building’s dining hall. “I didn’t think that I had what it takes.”

He couldn’t have been more wrong. You see, Petty Officer 1st Class Sammy Paone is the special command aide for the Coast Guard 17th District, and there’s a lot of evidence that suggests he’s the best there is.

Paone took over the role of SCA in Juneau in June 2012. The responsibilities of the position include physically maintaining the district’s representative facility, where the district commander lives, planning and creating meals and receptions for delegations or VIP visits, and managing funds for the facility.

The job, which only exists at district and area commands, is unlike any other in the Coast Guard, even for people within the same rating at the same pay grade. Many food service specialists work on vessels with large crews or at large dining facilities on a base. The priority is getting everyone in the line fed.

In his unique position,“you’re allowed to really use your artistic talent,” Paone said. In most cases the smaller scale allows him to focus on quality.

Paone’s talent and hard work did not go unnoticed.

When the solicitation for Coast Guard SCA of the Year candidates came out, the 17th District command made sure Paone had a package submitted. He was up against four other SCAs throughout the Coast Guard.

When Coast Guard Headquarters released the award announcement, Paone was stunned to see his name. But the story does not end here.

“While the SCA of the Year is going on, the other four services are having their enlisted aide of the year competition,” Paone said. “They pick their winner and then we all go to D.C. and that’s the best of each service going up against each other.”

This competition was at a whole new level. Instead of a written package, the judging panel grilled each candidate with questions about customs and courtesies, administered a written test, and had them set a table for formal dining. Paone knew his fellow contestants were the best at what they do, and that brought the intimidation factor up a notch.

“I went into this whole thing thinking, ‘this is not gonna happen,’” Paone remarked. “The Coast Guard is so small that I only competed against a few people, they are each competing against 30 or 40 others.”

Paone holds his championship belt for a photo with other enlisted aide contestants.

Paone holds his championship belt for a photo with other enlisted aide contestants, and a few celebrities.

Paone’s doubt once again failed to stand up to reality. The leaders of each branch of the armed services attended the USO-hosted dinner, held in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 19, 2014. For this formal meal, Paone and the enlisted aides found themselves on the other end of professional services. As the dinner wrapped up, it was time to announce the winner.

Imagine Paone’s surprise when he heard his own name called, instead of one of the distinguished Department of Defense chefs. He rose and made his way to the stage, where he received a championship ring from one of the USO’s sponsors, as well as a belt that is now on display at Coast Guard Headquarters.

He returned to Alaska, back to the job that earned him the prestigious championship title, eager to continue what he calls “the best job ever.”

So to what does Paone attribute his success? After crediting his parents and some strong early guidance in the Coast Guard, Paone said it’s about making the best of opportunities.

“I had a couple independent duty jobs, so I was by myself,” he said. “That really helped me gain confidence, that I can be proactive; to go out there and make it happen.”

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