Proving his salt; Master Chief Petty Officer Justin Fitzpatrick named Master Cutterman after 20 years at sea

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven Cantrell presents Master Chief Petty Officer Justin Fitzpatrick with a certificate proclaiming him a Master Cutterman during a ceremony aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Anthony Petit in Ketchikan, Alaska, Jan. 3, 2014. Fitzpatrick became the 41st Coast Guardsman to earn the title after 20 years of serving at sea.  U.S. Coast Guard photo provided by CGC Anthony Petit.

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven Cantrell presents Master Chief Petty Officer Justin Fitzpatrick with a certificate proclaiming him a Master Cutterman during a ceremony aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Anthony Petit in Ketchikan, Alaska, Jan. 3, 2015. Fitzpatrick became the 41st Coast Guardsman to earn the title after 20 years of serving at sea. U.S. Coast Guard photo provided by CGC Anthony Petit.

Imagine spending twenty years at sea. At the mercy of the elements, the constellations in the night sky are your ceiling and the rocking deck of a ship is your floor for nearly a quarter of a century. Within the Coast Guard there are a few exceptional sailors who don’t need to imagine this because they’ve experienced it, and the newest name added to that list serves right here in Alaska.

Master Chief Petty Officer Justin “Fitz” Fitzpatrick, a machinery technician aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Anthony Petit, was granted the title of Master Cutterman during a modest ceremony aboard the cutter Jan. 3 in Ketchikan after serving 20 of his 21 years in the Coast Guard at sea. In so doing, Fitzpatrick becomes the 41st Coast Guardsman to earn this prestigious appellation since its inception in 2007 and the 6th to bear the title while serving in Alaska.

Fitzpatrick began his career in 1993, finishing machinery technician “A” school and reporting to the Coast Guard Cutter Jarvis, a high endurance cutter homeported in Honolulu. As an engineer, he spent most of the next 20 years holed up in the hot, noisy bowels of the Coast Guard’s fleet and it became his duty to keep its cutters mission-ready.

“I can remember my first chief machinery technician, Larry Ludvigson, telling me the only way I would learn my rate was to go to sea and not to be afraid of a big ship,” said Fitzpatrick. “I took his advice after graduating MK class A school and took the Jarvis with the third pick in class and never looked back.”

“Engineers made constant sacrifices for the ship and crews that I sailed with,” he continued. “Long hours, extra work days, little sleep and, more often than not, very little consideration for what we do. I consider being an engineer much like being on the offensive line of a successful football team. Credit gets thrown around to all the visible players. The QB, RBs and wide outs all get praise for wins and points scored; everyone knows who they are. The engineers keep the ship moving, keep the lights on, keep her warm and cool, provide hotel services and are the be all, end all of any successful platform but are most often forgotten about because people get used to having what they do and don’t realize it until something goes wrong.”

That isn’t to say the contributions made by Fitzpatrick and the engineers he’s worked with went unnoticed. Over the course of his impressive career, Fitzpatrick has served aboard eight Coast Guard cutters, sailed from the North Pole to Peru and completed several traditional maritime line-crossing ceremonies earning his place among Golden Dragons, Blue Noses and a few other nautical orders.

“He (Fitzpatrick) has stood more watches, conducted more drills, made more rounds about the machinery spaces, caught more fish, stopped more leaks, fixed more smallboats, worked more buoys, weighed more anchors and told more sea stories than he can remember,” wrote Rear Adm. Dan Abel, commander 17th District, in a message commemorating Fitzpatrick’s accomplishments. “He still loves pizza nights, swim calls, fish calls and mid-patrol breaks. He does all his Christmas shopping in the ship’s store, he keeps a bucket of prop wash in his stateroom and combs his hair with main bearing grease. He is the keeper of the keys to the sea chest and an expert marksman when the time comes to shoot Charlie Noble. We are grateful that Master Chief Fitzpatrick was always willing to go back to sail the seas in service to our nation despite the personal sacrifices it required. I would wager several months of sea pay that he has a higher percentage of salt in his veins than most.”

The ceremony naming Fitzpatrick as a Master Cutterman was appropriately held in the engine room of the Anthony Petit in the presence of the cutter’s crew, his sisters and brothers in blue. The heart of the buoy tender was a fitting location to honor a man who has dedicated so much of his life to turning wrenches in the guts of his ship.

“Ships would not be ships without people to care for them, and I have served with some of the best. I have been lucky enough to work alongside, and for, some of the most dedicated and selfless men and women in the world,” said Fitzpatrick. “I have bled with my shipmates, spent holidays with my crews, celebrated and cried with them through great times and miserable times, and I would not change anything about it. They have been family for most of my grown up life. The Coast Guard provided me with more adventure and culture in 21 years then most people have in a life time. Ships and the sea were the vehicles that got me to all those places, and I’m very fortunate to have had the career I have had. The Coast Guard has been very good to me.”

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