African American History Month: Master Chief Vincent Patton

Each year, the President of the United States designates February as African American History Month – a national celebration of both the accomplishments of and long struggle for equality for black Americans. In recognition of African American History Month 2011, the Compass has asked Coast Guard men and women about the valuable role mentoring plays in promoting both diversity and mission success in the Coast Guard.

This week’s post comes to us from the Eighth Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard (Ret.), Vincent W. Patton III, who discusses the role mentorship and pursuit of education played in his success both as a Coast Guardsman and as the first black Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard.

Master Chief Petty Officer Patton

Retired Master Chief Petty Officer Patton served as the Eighth Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard from May 1998 to October 2002, and was the first African American selected as the service's senior-most enlisted ranking position. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Telfair H. Brown.

Post written by Vincent W. Patton III, Ed.D., Eighth Master Chief Petty of the Coast Guard (Ret.)

Over the course of my Coast Guard career I had several mentors, first starting with my encounter with Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate Hollis Stephens, who later became the Third Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard. Master Chief Stephens and I were stationed at then Coast Guard Group Detroit in the early 70s when I was a radioman third class.

It was Master Chief Stephens who actually pushed me on to earning my college degree on active duty. In my prior assignment aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Dallas, I had been taking correspondence courses and College Level Examination Program exams, amassing 63 semester hours of credit during my two and a half years on Dallas. After having a reporting aboard brief with him, as he was the unit’s senior enlisted advisor at the time, he found out about my college credits, and encouraged me to continue on.

Master Chief Patton aboard Albacore

As Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard, Patton impacted hundreds of men and women. Here, he talks with the crew of Coast Guard Cutter Albacore. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. Pete Niles.

At first I had no intention of working on a degree, as I only took the courses and worked on the CLEP exams on Dallas because I was bored. During that era, the Coast Guard was involved with ocean station missions, which kept us away from home port for 45-60 day patrols. Other than standing my radioman watch and the normal routine shipboard drills, I joined in with a number of other crewmembers taking CLEP exams and college correspondence courses through a program known at the time as the Armed Forces Institute.

I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do with the college credits, other than perhaps look to using them when I got out of the Coast Guard. I also had the notion that if I chose to stay in the Coast Guard and make it a career, I wanted to become the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard someday. While many people felt I was reaching for an unattainable goal, with many of my fellow shipmates often laughing at me whenever I told them, Master Chief Stephens was the first person who took me seriously. At one time, I can recall several people telling me that I could never become Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard because of my race. In any event, most of the people with whom I shared my goal with, either didn’t believe me, or tried to convince me that this was not a practical or attainable goal.

It was Master Chief Stephens taking a personal interest in me, devoting the time to not only sit down and talk with me, and talk about my future in the Coast Guard but also what kinds of things that I could do in mapping out my future assignments. Through his encouragement and with the sincerity of believing in me, I listened to his sage advice, and the rest as they say is history! After all, I was listening to a guy who he himself became Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard – so I was ‘sold’ on his thoughts, ideas and philosophy. Master Chief Stephens’ personal leadership served as a foundation for me to emulate throughout my career, where I learned firsthand the value of mentoring. Taking the time with people to truly listen to them and understand what their needs are helped in formulating my personal core values of “People, Passion and Performance.”

MCPO Patton Quote

Today, even in retirement, I find myself mentoring people in the Coast Guard, as well as talking with young people about the opportunities that the Coast Guard offers. Over the past eight years since my retirement, I have written more than two dozen letters of recommendation for Officer Candidate School, and the Coast Guard Academy on behalf of the young people I have encountered, as well as those who I have served and worked with during my Coast Guard career.

Mentoring never ends if you care about people, and about the success of our service! Semper Paratus!

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17 Responses

  1. LM says:

    This post is very inspiring to me, being that I am an African American as well. The Coast Guard has an impeccable history when it comes to African Americans, and history period. I will be attending basic training next month. I am proud that I will soon become part of the elite and paramount US Coast Guard!!!

  2. Jim Sutherolland says:

    During the early years of my career, BMCM Calhoun & I were aboard different 82’s in VN. He became MCPOCG and continued his leadership of the Coasties. The boots, FNG’s, the Guard and it’s missions have changed – they all come from all walks of life and have totally different interests and priorities. If you want success for you and them – listen, challenge, excite, monitor, care and praise them before you give orders. Years later came MCPO Patton who is a good listener and a heavy duty doer. Vince Patton has been the model Coastie and everyone I’ve ever met has told me about his mentoring. If you care about yourself, your family, your friends and your fellow Coasties you can’t help but be a success – guess what? It shows every day in every way to everybody that you are a good shipmate and a proud member of the USCG. If you are looking for a role model and somebody’s water to haul, bilge to clean or serve in any way, look no further than Charlie Calhoun, Vince Patton, Mike Leavitt and the top dog, ADM Bob Papp. They and all fellow shipmates care for and about you. It never ends, it just gets better.

    V/R,

    CDR Jim Sutherland, USCG (retired)
    VN 66-67 Point Young
    Aviator #1466

  3. CWO2 Chad Saylor says:

    Great post, Master Chief. You continue to inspire us. Semper Paratus!

  4. Vwpatton says:

    Thanks!

  5. Trevorflom15 says:

    this is a really good post, i one day wanna join the coast guard but unfortunately i’m only 15.. i was wondering if i could find any videos from like basic training or something? if there is any please let me know

  6. Allan Swider says:

    MCPO Patton and I attended the same class of the USCG CPO Academy in Petaluma, Ca. and he was an inspiration to many then and now.
    Allan Swider, USCG, CWO4(COMMS), Retired

  7. Bill Hayden CWO3(Comm) Ret. says:

    Probably one of the most valuable lessons I learned as a Chief and later as a CWO was that those of us in positions of leadership influence far more people than we ever know of. Vince came to speak to us when I was at CPO Academy class 10 in Yorktown and I would also correspond with him in later years. I always admired Vince for his ability to gracefully rise above the social challenges he was faced with during that period of time. What I garnered from Vince was that we as leaders were the example that so many young people would follow; and that it was vitally important that we set the correct example every minute of every day whether in uniform or not. As I entered retirement and started a second career, I have carried those values forward with me and they have proved beneficial in so many ways. I guess you can take the Chief out of the Coast Guard…but you can’t take the Coast Guard out of the Chief.

  8. LTJG S. M. Young says:

    Trevorflom15,

    There is a video series from last year that follows different recruits through each week in boot camp. You can check out the video series on YouTube here.

    Very Respectfully,
    LTJG S. M. Young
    Coast Guard Public Affairs

  9. Jim Koshar, LT, USCG(Ret.) says:

    Hi Vince, your superb article took me back to a man that affected me very much, that being Captain John G. Witherspoon. I was a young ‘Coastie’ out in D14 where he was CO of one of the buoy tenders. I met him and to my surprise, saw that he was former enlisted (the Good Conduct ribbon gave it away!). I had no concept at that time about going to school, applying for OCS, becoming an officer, etc., but after speaking with him he inspired me and that was the path that I successfully met. “Mentors” cross all genders, races, and religions, but the common thread is professionalism, integrity, and duty. //s// Jim Koshar, LT, USCG(Ret.)

  10. HSCM Jason K. Wong says:

    Vince, your professional and personal achievements continue to inspire me and many others in and out of the Coast Guard. As a company commander, I used your story to motivate recruits, while taking them through the MCPO-CG Hall in Cape May, to set high goals and continually strive to achieve them. It was rewarding to see them relate themselves to your story and get inspired.

    HSCM Jason Wong
    USA Sgts Majors Academy

  11. Scott Richardson says:

    Great post Master Chief. I first met you for the first time when you were in the 9th District. I have watched you mentor other for your whole career. I am glad to see that you have not stopped caring about your shipmates.
    I remember you telling me you were going for MCPO and I did not doubt it for a minute.
    Keep up the good work

  12. Harry Sadler says:

    Excellent post MC. Mentoring is what it’s all about when we get up in the ranks. And sometimes we have to help them help themselves. These young folks are our replacements. It’s important that they succeed. Served with a young lady whose goal in life was to be COMDT of the CG. Like your shipmates, they laughed-not me. BUT-Lofty as that goal may seem-advised her to start NOW to position herself for it. I hope she makes it.

    Harry Sadler
    COMM4(ret)

  13. KOOL KID says:

    ITS ALWAYS GUD 2 C A BLACK MAN DOIN GUD IN LIFE CONGRATS ON DAT BIG POWER MOVE

  14. FN says:

    Trevorflom,
    You can search basic training videos on Youtube. There a re quite a few good ones. They will give you an idea of what our bootcamp is like! Try key words like “Coast Guard basic training” “Tracen training” or “Its just 8 weeks”.

  15. Keith B Wilbee says:

    Trevor,

    I would be glad to send you something young man. I have a great DVD called ” What were you born to do?” I will also include some other CG items as well.

    I can be contacted at 337-491-7817.

    Keith Wilbee
    Chief Warrant Officer

  16. Guy Snyder says:

    And he made a wickedly good Judge at a CPO initition. Seriously, Vince is one of the finest men I have ever known. BZ my friend. LCDR Guy Snyder (YNC), USCG (Ret).

  17. Guy Snyder says:

    The great thing about the Coast Guard is you can be ANYTHING at ANYTIME. All you have to do is apply yourself, study hard and NEVER NEVER NEVER forget that without Respect, Integrity, Honor and Devotion to Duty you are nothing….with them you are EVERYTHING! Best of luck in your CG career. Guy