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My Coast Guard
Commentary | Dec. 6, 2021

Steadfast: How one Coast Guard captain navigates the uncharted seas of life

By VPetty Officer 3rd Class Matthew Abban

Expertise is a product of experience. It is a characteristic that is wholly meritocratic, with the amount of hours put toward refining one’s skill determining how far that individual will get in their profession. For U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) Officer Capt. Esan Simon, the Medical Director of the Coast Guard Academy, his constant desire to push both himself and the envelope is what has led to his ever-expanding expertise forging an impressive career for himself while paving the way for his successors. 

“I was born in Guyana,” shared Simon. “My dad came to the United States with $10 in his hand while my mom, two brothers, and I, stayed back in Guyana for two years before coming to the States.”

By the time these two years elapsed, Simon was only five years old. A developmentally vulnerable age as is, particularly considering the need to assimilate into a country and culture vastly different than the one he spent his first few years in. It was in these moments that Simon was struck by the invigorative spirit of community and family.

“From these beginnings and navigating through life in a different country and culture… I developed an appreciation for lessons such as the value of hard work, perseverance and the support and encouragement from family and others,” he explained. 

This support from and affinity toward a sense of community trailed Simon throughout the remainder of his childhood and eventually into his adult life as well. 

“Influence on my heritage and ethnicity really started to bloom when I arrived at Harvard for college and became involved in a college campus ministry called Campus Crusade for Christ,” said Simon. “We had small group Bible studies and deep, meaningful conversations with individuals from all sorts of backgrounds from all over the country and world.”

It was these conversations that led to the start of a reciprocation in the sense of community appreciation Simon had such an affinity for. This was the same sense of community that helped serve Simon throughout his childhood, receiving his Bachelor of Arts in Biology from Harvard, and subsequently graduating as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) at Emory University, and it was now entering a new phase in which Simon was now being the one who served. 

“I initially entered military service with the Navy in 1998, after graduating from medical school,” he detailed.

Commissioning into the Navy as a lieutenant, Simon spent his first year in an arduous training program working 80 – 100 hours per week as an Intern in Pediatrics at Naval Medical Portsmouth in Portsmouth, Va. He subsequently went to Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., for six months of training at the Navy Flight Surgery School, becoming a designated flight surgeon in 2000. Once this accolade was achieved, he received his first operational assignment, getting stationed at the Carrier Air Wing THREE at Naval Air Station Oceana where he assumed duties as the Medical Department Head.

Just like that, Simon was once again travelling to lands foreign to himself. However, this time around he did not have the luxury of being so geographically close to the endeavoring spirit of family that helped him prior. Though, it was amidst this very reality that he found significance in a new aspect of his military career. 

“During my first year in the military, I was so fortunate to have been introduced to a premier professional development organization called the National Naval Officers Association,” Simon said. “I learned early on the value of mentoring and continued professional development. From those beginnings one of my passions throughout my career has been seeking to mentor and contribute toward the professional development of others.” 

By bettering himself, Simon found that he was able to better those serving alongside him, creating a cyclical wave of professional development that led to enhancement of his unit and ultimately, because of the nature of his service, his country. This theme followed him into the Public Health Service (PHS) where he was eventually assigned to the Coast Guard in 2004. 

Simon’s steadfastness was utilized almost instantly by the Coast Guard upon his transfer. After Hurricane Katrina made landfall, Simon assumed duties as the Medical Unit Leader at the Coast Guard Forward Operating Base in New Orleans. 

“My proudest Coast Guard moment was serving as the Medical Unit Leader during Hurricane Katrina. Contributing to such a significant mission was memorable and rewarding,” recalled Simon as his mind shuffled through 23 years of memories aggregated from service. 

Due to the nature of being under the PHS, that’s over two decade’s worth of memories where the only constant variable was uncertainty. Simon found himself on the receiving end of multiple interagency transfers, even winding up in Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Health Service Corps (IHSC) where he got first-hand experience working healthcare from a different angle. 

“I was the Associate Medical Director for IHSC,” said Simon. “Having never worked in a correctional healthcare setting before, the IHSC experience was an incredible opportunity for growth and learning as it was well outside of my comfort zone.” 

Those these waters were uncharted for Simon, he navigated them with tact, successfully overseeing the organization’s Behavioral Health Unit, its Public Health, Safety, & Preparedness Unit and also the Medical Case Management Unit. Simultaneously, Simon managed to muster up enough time to develop IHSC’s Clinical Academic Affiliations Strategic Action Plan and act as assistant director for a workforce responsible for the daily care of over 40,000 patients.

Today, Simon has again taken his expertise and unfettered courage onto yet another new battlefield. This one striking much closer to himself personally. 

“I was recently diagnosed with cancer,” said Simon. “With a relatively new diagnosis of multiple myeloma just a few months ago, in addition to the challenges we have all endured from the COVID-19 global pandemic, cancer has provided a whole new perspective on life and filter to view challenges and opportunities.”

Simon continued on, expressing his gratefulness to the seemingly full circle sentiment of community that has trailed ever since he migrated to the United States all those years ago. 

“Walking through chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant, hospitalization, impacts to the family, etc., has all been very humbling, life-shaping and has given pause to think about many things. I am very thankful for the support of a wonderful Coast Guard family, fantastic command and tremendous supervisors and colleagues who have helped me and my family through this very unexpected twist in the journey of life.” 

In lieu of his medical situation, Simon now prepares for a new duty assignment at the end of this month. Billeted to assume duties at the Coast Guard’s Personnel Services Command as the Medical Review Section Chief, he will take with him a unique commendation.

Simon found his career being recognized by the Connecticut Chapter NAACP on their “100 Most Influential Blacks in Connecticut” list. Ranking in at #15, alongside his counterpart, Coast Guard Capt. Michael Fredie, the Academy’s Director of Admissions (who placed at #16). 

“I was absolutely humbled, honored, and quite frankly shocked to receive this recognition,” he shared. “Now in my 23rd year of active duty service… my professional career has largely been in the realm of the medical support for active duty members so to be recognized by the Connecticut NAACP amongst all the exceptionally talented individuals who live and work in the state and neighboring New York City is quite humbling.” 

The Coast Guard Academy couldn’t think of a more deserving honor to be presented to an individual who has dedicated his life toward actualizing the Coast Guard’s Core Values. We wish Capt. Simon and his family fair winds and following seas as they embark on yet another journey into the unknown.