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My Coast Guard
Commentary | Sept. 22, 2021

Paul Duddy: The official unofficial photographer of the Coast Guard Academy

By Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew Thieme, Coast Guard Academy CGA

The 200-week cadet journey at the Coast Guard Academy (CGA) is filled with academics, sports, extracurricular, and other memorable events, but it’s not always accessible to cadet families. 

Driving a bright orange Camaro, sporting the newest CGA merchandise, and dual wielding Nikons, Paul Duddy is both literally and figuratively a lens for the families of cadets, giving them a glimpse into cadet life, capturing some of the most important moments in their lives.

“Many people recognize me as the unofficial official photographer here at the Academy,” said Duddy.

The New York native set foot on Academy grounds for the first time as a swab in 1967. However, Duddy left the Academy and pursued a career in education, ultimately becoming a high school teacher and coach. 

“Most people are surprised to hear I spent two years as a swab at the Academy,” chuckled Duddy. 

Duddy didn’t have much contact with the Academy, until now retired Adm. Thad Allen invited him to his change of command ceremony as he assumed the duties as the Commandant of the Coast Guard. Duddy and Allen had been classmates and football teammates together at the Academy and had stayed in contact over the years.

After seeing the Coast Guard response to Hurricane Katrina, and further inspired by the leadership of his old classmates, Duddy was motivated to become involved with the Academy community again. With his first digital camera, Duddy was present at the Coast Guard Academy’s 35th Homecoming celebration taking photos of the football game and printed a few of his selected shots.

“I drove back the next week, gave them to the cadets, and they liked it.” Duddy explained.

From then on, he began shooting sporting events and as the photos were seen and shared the demand grew.

“It went from as many men’s sports as I could do.” Duddy said. “Then as many women’s sports as I could do.”

However, Duddy struggled to find an effective medium to share his photographs. He started by delivering printed copies, but the sheer volume of photography he was shooting made that effectively impossible. He then turned to Facebook, creating “PDuddy Pics” as his main distribution platform.

Averaging between 1,500 and 2,000 pictures a day, Duddy’s photography helps tell the cadet story in a way not previously possible.

“Many cadets have families who are on the West Coast, or even different countries,” said Duddy. “Without these photos families might not get to see their cadets at all.”

Duddy's dedication to the cadets and their families became more important than ever to the parents and friends eager to experience cadet life when the pandemic hit. COVID-19 made travelling and visiting the Academy in person challenging, even for local families.

“He is beloved by both parents and cadets,” says Brad Clift, another photographer at the Academy. 

Commonly mistaken as Duddy, Clift is also an Academy event photographer, stating, “They are always slightly disappointed to learn that I’m not Paul Duddy, but the compliments are amazing.”

While Duddy’s photography role may still be considered unofficial by some, it’s clear he is officially a valued member of the Academy family.