Veterans Day 2015: The Olivers

Mike and Opal Oliver, both Coast Guard veterans, pose for a photo.

Mike and Opal Oliver, both Coast Guard veterans, pose for a photo.

There are some who have had the privilege of growing up with a veteran for a parent, while others have had the true fortune of dual-active duty parents. Twice the veterans, twice the sea stories.

The Olivers met on Coast Guard Cutter Mellon, homeported in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1979 at the beginning of both of their careers.

“We got married in Hawaii right before getting transferred to the Coast Guard Academy, and that is where our Kodiak to Connecticut story began,” said Mike.

Mike, a damage controlman, and Opal, a yeoman, have been stationed together in units ranging from Hawaii, the Northeast and Alaska. Relocating every couple years became routine for Mike, Opal and their three children.

“The kids became little travelers, which made big moves much easier on us,” said Opal. “They got used to making new friends and reacquainting themselves with old friends we would see again.”

Unlike other military branches that have large units and personnel, the Coast Guard has small units with limited facilities, which makes it difficult for Coast Guard couples to work in the same area. Mike and Opal’s way to deal with that obstacle was to get stationed at the Coast Guard Academy and Kodiak, where both units are large enough for them to fall under separate commands but be in the same geographical location to stay together as a family.

Mike and Opal Oliver.

Mike and Opal Oliver.

“Out of all the years carrying on between Connecticut and Alaska since 1986, we’ve only lived outside of Alaska for five years,” said Mike. “I retired in ’98 and started working for the Base Kodiak Fire Department, went back to Connecticut to get the family, and when Opal retired in ’99, we came back to Kodiak for good.”

Even with being in the same geographical location, it was not always easy to balance family life. During a tour in Alaska, Opal was working in the legal office in Kodiak and Mike was stationed at remote Loran Station St. Paul. Opal said that separation was the first time they experienced how supportive and tight-knit both the Coast Guard family and the Kodiak community is. While on duty, Opal’s neighbors would offer to watch the kids after school until she got home.

While they have spent their careers together, they have both had their own unique experiences while serving.

Opal was among the first group of women to be stationed on 378-foot high endurance cutters.

“When I told [Navy recruiter] I wanted to be on a sub, he laughed at me,” said Opal. “When I told the Coast Guard recruiter I wanted to be afloat, he was very supportive and told me they were starting to station women on ships, so I signed up for the Coast Guard.”

Since retiring after 21 years of service, Mike has been with the Base Kodiak Fire Department for 17 years; making an impressive 38 years of service with the Coast Guard so far.

Having 20-year careers that took the Olivers across the country and back again, there was one place that they were always drawn back to.

“Retiring in Kodiak wasn’t a tough decision to make. We love the community,” said Opal. “Before our extended family came to visit, they kept asking why we chose to stay here. After they came and experienced it for themselves, they understood why we never want to leave.”

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