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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