Future Leaders: Cadet Marina Stevens, Four generations of Coast Guard service

This month, the Class of 2015 at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy is preparing for commencement. Coast Guard Compass will be featuring stories on individual cadets in the days leading up to their graduation as they prepare to head out into the fleet. Today we feature the story of Cadet Marina Stevens, who is the fourth generation of her family to serve in the Coast Guard.

Written by Lt. Megan Mervar

Janet Stevens retired last summer after 26 faithful years with the Coast Guard. Pictured here are Capt. Janet Stevens (ret.) and Marina Stevens as a second class cadet. Photo courtesy of Cadet Marina Stevens.

Janet Stevens retired last summer after 26 faithful years with the Coast Guard. Pictured here are Capt. Janet Stevens (ret.) and Marina Stevens as a second class cadet. Photo courtesy of Cadet Marina Stevens.

 

It’s been nearly a century since Coast Guard service first found its way into the hearts of Marina Stevens’ family.

On May 20, Cadet Marina Stevens will graduate from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, carrying on a tradition that began with her great-grandfather, Olin “Blackie” Emerson, in 1918. Emerson joined the U.S. Lighthouse Service that year, and when the service merged with the U.S. Coast Guard in 1939, he became a Coast Guardsman. During his time in both services, Emerson performed blacksmith work in support of lighthouses throughout the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico, retiring after 40 years in 1958.

It became apparent that Emerson’s passion for the sea had translated to his children when his son, Mike, joined the Coast Guard in 1957. Mike Emerson actually had aspirations of attending the Academy; he attended the Academy activity week (a precursor to the current Academy Introduction Mission, or AIM) during his high school years and applied to the Academy, but did not receive an appointment. Instead, he enlisted and became a boatswains’ mate, serving in the Coast Guard Reserve. During his career, Mike Emerson served throughout the country, from Hawaii to the East Coast, and in a diverse repertoire of assignments. When he wasn’t working for the U.S. Navy on weapons systems in his civilian job, he was a Coast Guard boat crewman, coxswain instructor, recruiter, and worked at port safety stations, among other roles.

Mike Emerson worked his way to the warrant officer ranks before retiring in 1984, but, like his father, it was evident he’d passed his own passion for the sea and the Coast Guard along to his family. Of his seven children, four have since joined the Coast Guard. The eldest of his daughters, Janet, thrived on the experiences her dad offered that brought the children closer to the sea. When a flood made its way into the Virginia Beach neighborhood where the family lived, Emerson, with his boatswains’ mate nature, seized the opportunity to put his children in a boat.

 

Marina Stevens’ grandfather, Mike Emerson (middle, back), a retired Coast Guard boatswains’ mate, teaches four of his seven children how to row a boat during a flood in their Virginia Beach neighborhood in 1970. At age four, Stevens’ mother, Capt. Janet Stevens (ret.) is furthest to the right, pretending to be the captain. Photo courtesy of Capt. Janet Stevens (ret.)

Marina Stevens’ grandfather, Mike Emerson (middle, back), a retired Coast Guard boatswains’ mate, teaches four of his seven children how to row a boat during a flood in their Virginia Beach neighborhood in 1970. At age four, Stevens’ mother, Capt. Janet Stevens (ret.) is furthest to the right, pretending to be the captain. Photo courtesy of Capt. Janet Stevens (ret.)

 

“Dad’s not worried about the flood…Dad goes and gets out the boat!” recalls Janet Emerson, now retired Capt. Janet Stevens. “We went around the neighborhood and we rescued people, took them from one side of the street to the other…that shows how my dad raised his kids.”

When Stevens’ older brother entered the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 1980, Stevens felt challenged to do the same.

“I was proud of my brother and I thought, hmm, if they let him in the academy, they should want me!” Stevens said, alluding to the friendly rivalry she shared with her siblings.

Stevens graduated from the academy in 1988 with a degree in electrical engineering. Although her journey was not easy, she never let obstacles stand in her path. She loved the Coast Guard and wanted to apply her passion for electrical engineering, but she also knew she wanted a family, like her grandfather and her father. Stevens married a Coast Guard civilian who has given 30 years in service to the Coast Guard and who Stevens says “has been the anchor” for their family. For a large portion of the early years of their marriage, Stevens and her husband lived and worked apart from each other. But, every possible weekend, he would take their plane to retrieve Stevens and their young daughter, Marina, to spend time reunited with Marina’s brothers as a family.

”Make time in your career for your family…we were able to make it work because we planned for the family like we planned for our career,” said Stevens.

Family was of the highest importance to the Stevens. When Marina was younger, every Thanksgiving, all of the branches on the Emerson family tree would gather at a special place along the U.S. coast, a different place each year. There, the family would visit one of the lighthouses Olin Emerson worked on so many decades ago. Marina also remembers holiday family gatherings, sitting in a circle with her cousins while her grandfather, Mike Emerson, shared his own sea stories, as well as those of his father.

Cadet Marina Stevens jokingly claims she already attended the academy because of her time at the Coast Guard Child Development Center and the time she spent with her mom at work, who was stationed at the academy as an Electrical Engineering instructor. Marina is pictured here in 1997 at age three, dressed up as a cadet for a CDC Halloween parade at the Academy. Photo courtesy of Capt. Janet Stevens (ret.).

Cadet Marina Stevens jokingly claims she already attended the academy because of her time at the Coast Guard Child Development Center and the time she spent with her mom at work, who was stationed at the academy as an Electrical Engineering instructor. Marina is pictured here in 1997 at age three, dressed up as a cadet for a CDC Halloween parade at the Academy. Photo courtesy of Capt. Janet Stevens (ret.).

Despite a lifetime of influence, Marina Stevens didn’t feel a desire to join the Coast Guard until her sophomore year in high school. She’d always been interested in politics and served as a Page in the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. when she was 16, which helped her to realize that many U.S. presidents, whom she highly respected, had served in the military.

Around the same time, Stevens was influenced by her exposure to the Coast Guard on trips to work with her mom, who was working at the Coast Guard Recruiting Command. Janet Stevens and her coworkers would use Marina, who was of the same age as the audience the recruiting command was trying to recruit, as a feedback means for their campaign tactics.

“They’d actually give me real projects and show me what it was like to work on something that meant something to them,” said Marina Stevens.

Marina Stevens came to find the same passion for the Coast Guard that her mom, grandfather, and great-grandfather had found. Following graduation, Stevens will be heading to the Cutter Morgenthau homeported in Honolulu, as a deck watch officer. She’ll be taking the law school admission test in December and hopes to attend law school during her second or third tour.

Cadet Marina Stevens will graduate from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy May 20, 2015. Stevens is the fourth generation of her family who has served in the Coast Guard. Photo courtesy of Cadet Marina Stevens.

Cadet Marina Stevens will graduate from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy May 20, 2015. Stevens is the fourth generation of her family who has served in the Coast Guard. Photo courtesy of Cadet Marina Stevens.

Since Janet Stevens has retired from the Coast Guard, Marina carries the torch for her family. Like all those in her lineage who served, her loyalty is strong and drives her to pursue a full career in the Coast Guard. And, she says she hopes to have kids of her own someday, so a fifth generation of Coast Guard is always a possibility!

 

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