Earning his keep: A non-rate’s journey

Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert Reynolds, a storekeeper stationed at Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City, N.J., shows Fireman Mario Chen, a non-rate from the air station how to log air craft fuel receipts, July 11, 2012.

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. ─ Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert Reynolds, a storekeeper stationed at Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City, N.J., shows Fireman Mario Chen, a non-rate from the air station how to log air craft fuel receipts, July 11, 2012. Chen is working to become a qualified storekeeper through on-the-job training at the air station. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Cynthia Oldham.

Post written by Petty Officer 3rd Class Cynthia Oldham

Coast Guard non-rates, who are the service’s most junior members, often find themselves in some pretty undesirable positions: dangling from cutter hulls; in oily engine-room bilges; inside stinky, sea life-filled buoys; and in small, steamy sculleries washing dishes.

The grueling work of a non-rate is vital to everyday mission readiness and helps maintain the always-ready posture of the Coast Guard.

Most enlisted Coast Guardsmen serve as non-rated members after basic training until they become rated, which means they attend an advanced training course and earn an assigned job position in the service.

For Fireman Mario Chen, a non-rate at Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City, N.J., his first Coast Guard assignment was a lucky one. He said he considers himself fortunate to be stationed at the air station, where he has a demanding job in the facilities department. He knows his hard work as a junior member will guide him to a career in aviation, even if his path is a bumpy one.

Chen, who was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and moved to the United States with his family when he was eight years old, has always been interested in flying. He said when he learned he and his family were moving to Miami, he was most excited about getting to go on an airplane to fly there.

Chen spent the rest of his childhood in Miami, and even earned his dual Jamaican-American citizenship in Florida when he was 19 years old. He said his family moved to the U.S. to pursue the country’s more promising work opportunities, and this is exactly what Chen is doing.

After Chen graduated from Hialeah Senior High School in Miami in 2004, he took private lessons to earn his pilot’s license. After logging only a few flight hours, he decided he would rather fix aircraft than fly them.

This realization led Chen to join the Coast Guard with hopes of becoming an aviation maintenance technician to maintain and crew Coast Guard aircraft.

Despite joining the Coast Guard to pursue a career in aviation, Chen is currently working full time at the air station to earn a rated position as a storekeeper.

As an SK, some of Chen’s duties will include maintaining inventories, ordering supplies and preparing requisitions. Although this seems counterproductive toward his goal of becoming an AMT, Chen knows the decisions and sacrifices he makes now will better prepare him for success in the future.

“If I do eventually decide to pursue a civilian career, the skills I am learning will help broaden my choices and the skills of a storekeeper are a good resource to fall back on,” Chen said.

Currently, the waiting list to attend the advanced training needed to become an AMT is expected to be more than two years. Striking SK, which means that as a supplement to his job in facilities, Chen is also working alongside storekeepers who teach him their skills and knowledge of the job, will help enhance his overall skill set, pass the time, and increase his rank and pay while he waits for AMT school.

As Chen learns the tasks required to be an SK, he gets required credentials signed off on skills needed toward advancement. Once he has completed these, and passes the final test, he qualifies to become a petty officer third class SK.

Chen’s career path may be slightly detoured, but he knows his hard work will pay off and he said he is content with taking the less direct route toward his goal.

“I am especially happy just to be serving my country, regardless of what my job is right now,” Chen said. “Although, I do see myself as a member of an air crew in the not-too-distant future, I know what I am learning and doing now is also important.”

 

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