Why I Serve – BMCM Lloyd Pierce

The Coast Guard celebrates 223 years of service to the nation today and is an opportunity to reflect upon the men and women who serve in America’s Coast Guard. In honor of our service’s birthday, we reached out to Coast Guard men and women and asked them to write an essay based on the prompt “Why I serve.”

We’ve shared perspectives from Coast Guard members with an array of backgrounds. From a reservist who focuses on safeguarding our environment to an ombudsman who keeps families resilient. Today, in our final piece, we share the story of the Coast Guard’s silver ancient mariner, a ceremonial title given to the enlisted member with the earliest date of qualification as a cutterman. Master Chief Petty Officer Lloyd Pierce has served nearly 15 years at sea and is currently the command master chief at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

Master Chief Petty Officer Lloyd Pierce stands alongside Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp in New London, Conn. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Master Chief Petty Officer Lloyd Pierce stands alongside Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp in New London, Conn. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Written by Master Chief Petty Officer Lloyd Pierce.

Why do I serve in the Coast Guard? It boils down to a simple phrase – “AYE-AYE” – the correct response to an order signifying we understand the order and will comply.

It’s music to my ears! I heard it just this morning as the swabs were getting trained here at the Coast Guard Academy – no sweeter sound at 6 a.m. than a formation of hard working Coast Guard cadets screaming “AYE-AYE, SIR!” I heard it throughout the day during my Cape May days, reminding me our recruits were being molded into fine young Coasties – “SIR, AYE-AYE, SIR!” I’ve heard it on the bridges of our ships, the decks of our boats, in the cockpits of our aircraft and in the halls, passageways and offices where we conduct the business of the Coast Guard.

It was my battle cry as the lone Coast Guardsman in the midst of 700 Army, Navy, Air Force and Allied service members at United States Army Sergeants Major Academy. During morning muster, the battalion commander would take accountability by service and when they called out for Coast Guard accountability I’d scream out “COAST GUARD AYE-AYE!”

Regardless of our career path in the Coast Guard, we’ve all been taught the meaning of “AYE-AYE.” It’s been with us since Alexander Hamilton sent those first cutters to sea. Can’t you picture those captains saluting smartly at orders to carry out the missions of the nation and responding “AYE-AYE, SIR?” I can imagine Capt. Healy, Lt. Jarvis, Lt. Stone, Lt. Hall, Ida Lewis, Keeper Joshua James, Signalman 1st Class Douglas Munro, Chief Petty Officer Richard Patterson and my friend Master Chief Petty Officer Angela McShan all giving a hearty “AYE-AYE!”

Master Chief Petty Officer Lloyd Pierce, command master chief at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Master Chief Petty Officer Lloyd Pierce, command master chief at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Although I’m merely a simple sailor with a love of the sea, “AYE-AYE” is not just a silly sailor phrase. When you get an “AYE-AYE” from me it comes from my heart and soul. It is a verbal contract that I am bound to keep. It is surer than a pledge, bigger than a promise and binding as an oath.

On a ship, “AYE-AYE” is unquestioned and final. Repeat, acknowledge and carry out the command – a fundamental bond between conning officer and the helm. Between Rear Adm. Stosz and I, it is an assurance that I will carry out her command as if it were my own. Between a shipmate and I, it is a bond of loyalty and support. I have been honored to give statesmen and stateswomen, admirals and generals, cadets, recruits, peers and supervisors a sincere Coast Guard “AYE-AYE.” For me, that simple phrase characterizes us.

In remembering some of our Coast Guard heroes, I’m reminded that in their shadow, we have saved lives, picked up the pieces of disasters, plucked imperiled people from vessels and rooftops, cleaned polluted shores, stood watch in war zones and kept threats from reaching our country. I have to believe that Capt. Healy and Lt. Jarvis were smiling when Coast Guard Cutter Healy broke into Nome, Alaska, last year to help deliver life-saving fuel to the residents. Do you think Lt. Stone and Lt. Hall were proud during Katrina?

No matter the situation, with little regard for peril, or fear of danger, we have answered the calls of our country, with a willing “AYE-AYE!” When an earthquake rattled a neighbor… “AYE-AYE, friends, we will be there.” When a storm has flooded our city… “AYE-AYE, neighbors, we will save you. “ When we are being threatened from the sea… “AYE-AYE, Mr. President, we will protect our country.“

This is why I serve in our Coast Guard. We don’t say it’s too hard, we don’t say we’re too tired, we don’t say we can’t, we don’t say no. We say “AYE-AYE!” Even when we’re fatigued, battered or challenged, we find a way to get to “AYE-AYE!” We understand and will comply. You don’t always have to call or tell us, sometimes we see the need and we merely whisper under our breath “AYE-AYE.” We are a special breed with a unique heritage. Our work isn’t for the faint of heart or weak-willed. We go out when others are heading in; we toil as others rest; we do the impossible while others shrink from the threat.

When you hear a Coastie sing out “AYE-AYE!” – you know help is on the way! When you hear a Coastie say “AYE-AYE” you know they will stay with the mission until it’s complete. When you hear a Coastie say “AYE-AYE” you know you will be safe.

For 223 years, thousands of Coast Guard men and women have taken orders and responded “AYE-AYE!” I am humbled and honored to list my name along with my shipmates, past and present, as a member of this group. “To fight to save or fight and die! AYE Coast Guard we are for you!” I serve as part of a force that can, will and do give a hearty “AYE-AYE!” in accepting any challenge to fight and save or fight to die.

Semper Paratus and at this point I would hope you are saying – “AYE AYE!”

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