Cherokee serving his country in Coast Guard
In this 2016 photo, Cherokee Nation citizen Stuart Park re-enlists in the U.S. Coast Guard after being transferred to Ketchikan, Alaska. COURTESY
HONOLULU – Cherokee Nation citizen Stuart Park grew up in Oklahoma and Arkansas but has since traveled the country after joining the U.S. Coast Guard in 2008.
After high school, Park followed in his family’s footsteps of police work or the military. The Coast Guard – being a coastal defense, search-and-rescue and maritime law enforcement branch of the U.S. military – offered a bit of both.
“My entire family was either military or police officers, so I didn’t know which way to go and discovered the Coast Guard and found out they were a military branch that was outside of the Department of Defense…they had a lot of law enforcement capabilities, so I thought that would be a good mix of the both. So that’s what kind of led me toward the Coast Guard,” Park said.
Once in the Coast Guard, he had to decide what job he wanted.
“I went to boot camp, and in boot camp they give you an overview of what all the rates or jobs are in the Coast Guard. I remember hearing about boatswain mate and it sounded fantastic. You get to do law enforcement. You get to drive the boats. You get be that frontline rescue. I decided then and there that’s what I wanted to do,” he said.
After boot camp, before being sent to a trade school or “A” school like in other military branches, Park said the Coast Guard sends recruits to units as a non-rated specialist to get field experience.
“So I went to Hickman, Kentucky, originally working on the Mississippi River doing aids to navigation work, managing the buoy system on the river and keeping the traffic lanes open. I waited there for six months before I went to boatswain mate ‘A’ school. I went to BMA in January of 2009, graduated and was at my new unit in Gulf Port, Mississippi, in April of 2009,” he said.
He finished his Mississippi tour in 2013 and transferred to Texas for border control until 2016. From there he transferred to Alaska.
“I wanted to go to Alaska to kind of get out of the heat and see something I’d never seen before. I went to Ketchikan, Alaska, and did what they call a commissioning of a new cutter of the Fast Response Cutters. We picked that up. We did some training. We took the boat from Key West (Florida) down through the Panama Canal and all the way up to Alaska. I did that for three years,” he said.
In August, Park transferred again, this time to Honolulu with his wife and 7-month-old daughter.
“I’m on the Fast Response Cutter platform. I came down here to help with taking over a crew. They did the same thing down here that we did up in Alaska, but the first turnovers are usually rough because you lose a lot of the qualified and educated people, so I came down to kind of ease that transition,” he said.
Park said he’s learned to appreciate the different cultures he’s been around while serving.
“In the Coast Guard I work with so many people from so many different cultures within and outside of the U.S. that being able to see how that reflects on my culture, it’s refreshing in a way,” he said. “Once you start moving out to south Texas and Alaska, and now Hawaii, you get to see those cultures that you don’t get to see if you stay in one place. And being able to reflect how they see things, their folklore, their stories, how they grew up and what they listened to and how to relate to the stories that I grew up and listened to, it’s interesting to see the similarities and the differences.”
Park said he appreciates the Coast Guard and the opportunities it allowed him. He said he will do a three-year tour in Hawaii before having eight more years until retirement.
“Honestly, I can’t say enough about the good things the Coast Guard can offer you. If it’s college or setting up for another federal job that you want to get into, even if its just a solid paycheck for four years, the opportunities that come out of because it’s such a small service. It’s amazing the connections you can get in a short amount of time,” he said.