Welcome to 2019. With the dawning of this new year, comes great hope. Hope that our lives will be better, that each of us, in our own way, will find a way to make our lives and those of others better.
Two thousand and eighteen was a good year. Before you decide to complain about how terrible it was personally or globally, let me paraphrase the curmudgeon Judge Judy. “You’re alive. Does it look like you’re losing?”
The state of South Carolina ranks close to last for things no one wants to write home to their mother about. Spousal abuse, economic well-being, and education and health. Yet it has a wonderful motto: Dum spiro, spero. “While I breathe, I hope.” A lot of not so nice things transpired last year personally and worldwide that it would be easy to lose hope.
I discovered mold issues in my house which caused a major drain on my time, resources, and energy. I had a truck on its last legs, at least they looked like legs when the mechanic put it up on the lift. My wife struggled with bad knees and legs and has been reminded of the pain with every step. The international community saw one of the greatest countries in the world alienate all its allies and suck up to despotic regimes that the rest of the globe has been trying to neutralize for over 75 years. Catholics and Baptists have had their faith betrayed by child molesters and their leaders, leaders whom they trusted for guidance and inspiration.
But the news wasn’t all bad. My agent who recently moved from Boston to Texas, has continued to represent and guide me along with many other writers. I doubt anyone not connected to the publishing world can appreciate the challenges and sacrifices she makes.
My wife wakes up every morning with a hopeful heart and throws herself head on into activities she loves. She continues to create shell wreaths that adorn homes throughout the Grand Strand of South Carolina. My daughter in the Coast Guard has taken over a challenging job at Sector Charleston, managing critical areas in personnel and resources. She would be embarrassed if I elaborated on the impact her personal efforts are making on her fellow officers and her charges. With Donald Trump’s government shutdown, no doubt her job has been made that much more difficult.
My son continues to work as a teacher in the Toms River school district where he inspires hundreds of high school students. I doubt he has an inkling of the impact he’s making on those lives. When not devoting his time to his profession, he pursues a Master’s Degree in genocide studies. Perhaps the world would be a much kinder and gentler place if more people acquired the sensitivity that kind of experience brings.
My other daughter, Jennifer, is now in her fifteenth year working as a counselor for Vocational Rehabilitation in South Carolina. Her wide array of clients includes elderly folks recovering from debilitating operations and diseases to younger clients with a variety of needs. Some are just hard-working folks who have fallen on hard times. Others are former prisoners and drug addicts seeking a new start in life.
In the midst of all the chaos, one thing remains that will see us through the hard times ahead. Hope. The recluse poet, Emily Dickinson, who in her lifetime, barely traveled a few hundred miles from her home, put it best.
“Hope is the thing with feathers,
That perches in the soul.
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all.”
Hope is like that. It’s quiet but real and will sustain you in hard times, no matter who you are.
As the new year, in its infancy, dawns, I wish you a fantastic 2019. Following is a piece I wrote last year that others have requested as a reprint, so I’m offering it to you as a New Year’s gift. May it help you reach deep into your soul where Hope lives and rediscover the strength and light you need to live the best year of your life.
The Uncommon Mariner
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I’ve had the most amazing experience this past week, an experience that ranks up there with the capture of Blackbeard or the invention of the spyglass. A lot of people use the word amazing recklessly, but this was truly amazing. Shortly before the Fourth of July, I had the pleasure of witnessing my daughter’s promotion from lieutenant to lieutenant commander at the Coast Guard Station Sector Charleston in SC.
What made it especially exciting is that I was given the privilege of participating in the event. Commanding officer, Captain John Reed, presented Lieutenant Commander Maureen Hegerich with the document that officially promoted her to her new rank. The second part of the ceremony centered on the removal of her old shoulder boards marked with two stripes, one on each of her shoulders. Once removed, the new shoulder boards with three stripes, were pinned to her uniform.
Her son, Seaman Joshua Olsen, a second generation Coastie, whose father is Master Chief Jason Olsen, did the left shoulder. I had the distinct honor of pinning the new board on her right. I’ve never been prouder of my daughter.
It was a moment she worked hard for. No one achievement placed her in that time and place. Years of hard work, commitment and sacrifice did.
My daughter has served proudly in the Coast Guard for over 21 years, a feat not easily achieved in today’s era when many military personnel are forced into retirement long before they reach that 20-year milestone. It’s hard to beat knowledge, dedication and experience.
And make no mistake about it. Her experience is extremely diversified. Her first billet from 1997 to 1999 was at Station Fort Pierce, Florida as a member of the boat crew and boarding team.
Not one to coast, in 1998, she struck yeoman completely on her own. Most Coasties enlist in a specially designed program to make yeoman in Petaluma, CA. Lieutenant Commander Hegerich pursued yeoman independently while serving at Coast Guard Station Fort Pierce.
From 2000 to 2005, she served at Activities, New York where she witnessed the tragedy of 911 firsthand. In 2005 and 2006, she served at Group Fort Macon at Atlantic Beach, NC where she served as yeoman.
It was after that tour that she enrolled in Officers Candidate School in the fall of 2006. The rigorous training regimen she faced helped make her who she is today. Her first billet after graduation in February 2007 took her to the training center in Yorktown, Virginia where she served on the Command Center Standardization Team till 2009. Her work carried her to command centers around the country making sure protocol, regulations and policy were being followed.
In 2009, she went to Sector Southeast New England on Cape Cod as assistant intel Chief till 2012. That experience prepared her for her next billet at Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, DC where she served as program manager for Intel training. Between 2016 and 2018, she remained in Washington working as part of the Sexual Assault Prevention Response Campaign, and then on Human Capital Strategy. Her most recent assignment takes her to Sector Charleston as Logistics Department Head where she oversees engineering, administration, and supply. That entails support of the sector and its outlying units which includes small boat stations, cutters, and aids-to-navigation units.
My daughter’s duties varied widely in each billet. Because of security reasons, she couldn’t divulge some details to me. I will say this, however. The Coast Guard’s motto is Semper Paratis. Along with that, are three virtues their members highly cherish. Respect, Honor, and Devotion to Duty. Because of her commitment to those values and her willingness to put the Coast Guard and her country above herself, she has achieved some remarkable things over the years.
She received the MaryLou Whitney Military Leadership Award in 2005 for Woman of the Year. She has also received several prestigious commendations, but among her favorites are three good-conduct medals, a 9/11 medal, and a number of team commendation awards. Like a mother asked to choose her favorite child, she refuses because all are precious. But she does remember fondly team commendation awards for drug busts and a multi-heritage celebration.
I’ll say this for my daughter. She’s persistent. When she sets her eyes on a goal, she’s unbeatable. And she’s loyal. Something her family and coworkers can attest to. If they were to give an award to someone who boosts morale at a billet, she would win hands down, even if she were competing with the Dalai Lama or Mother Teresa.
I once told my daughter you don’t get to the top of a mountain by falling there. It takes a lot of hard work, persistence, and grace under pressure. But it also takes street smarts. And despite one’s acumen and ability, you’re no leader at all if you don’t know how to bring out the best in people. It’s a trait she has in spades and will serve her well in her present command.
I wish Lieutenant Commander Hegerich much success in her new billet. I’ve met Commanding Officer, Captain John Reed. and several other officers who head key departments as well as a number of yeomen at the Sector. It’s a delicious mélange of skills, experience, and perspectives. I know it’s a fine team assembled in Charleston. Everyone’s keen sense of dedication and commitment to their jobs and one another is as palpable as the ever-present Charleston humidity.
Blackbeard once held Charleston captive with a blockade. He took one of its leading citizens, Samuel Wragg, hostage and would not release him till a bag of medicine was rowed aboard his ship. Till then not one ship moved in or out of the harbor.
With the fine men and women serving Sector Charleston today, Blackbeard wouldn’t dare such a stunt. I’m betting my last doubloon he’d rather take his chances in the shoals of North Carolina with his nemesis, Lieutenant Robert Maynard, who literally handed him his head.
God bless everyone in the Coast Guard who serves our country so selflessly and honorably. May your luck run as deep as the sea and your worries be as light as its foam. And a special blessing to Lieutenant Commander Maureen Hegerich. You do us proud.
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