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My Coast Guard
Commentary | July 19, 2022

Chief Petty Officer Ryan Huffman: The Reserve Advocate

By Anastasia Devlin, Reservist Magazine

​Courtesy article from Coast Guard Reservist Magazine

In late March, Petty Officer 1st Class Ryan Huffman was asked by his command at Station Channel Islands, California, to come in. He laughed as he remembered that they were oddly insistent that he come in on a Monday. Later that afternoon, he took a phone call from the commandant, informing him that he’d been selected as the Coast Guard’s 2021 Enlisted Person of the Year—Reserve Component (REPOY).

A 12-year veteran of the service and a seasoned member of Station Channel Islands, Huffman had been busy last year. The station’s senior enlisted reserve advisor (SERA), Master Chief Petty Officer Steve Wolfe, said Huffman had informally been performing the duties as the SERA for the unit for 10 months before Wolfe arrived at the station.  

“[He] really stepped up without even needing to be asked—he just fell into that leadership role because it was natural for him,” said Master Chief Petty Officer Ian Eady, the station’s officer-in-charge. “Honestly, from the second I stepped on board, it was very apparent that Chief was an exceptional reservist. My only regret is that he’s not active duty where I’d get to work with him every day.” 

Huffman managed the 14 reservists at Channel Islands, keeping qualifications and certifications current for the members during the gap. Eady and Wolfe noted how seamlessly he kept operations running and how selflessly he made himself available to his shipmates and his command. 

“There’s so much our reservists have to do, there’s so many requirements, we have to capitalize on every moment of every drill weekend, and he’s so good at that,” said Eady. 

Huffman said he’s been giving his best effort to the Coast Guard in a symbiotic relationship. There are many programs and benefits to military service, but not enough members take advantage of them. In the last few years, he’s spent a lot of time on active duty, always trying to support the military whenever requested. In 2018 he deployed to Cuba for a year. During the pandemic, he assisted with two community vaccination clinics, and most recently, he spent six months on active duty as a recruiter, bringing more than a dozen people into the service. 

“When they call me, I always go,” he said. “When there are deployments they need me to do, yeah, it’s kind of a sacrifice [to be away from family], but at the same time, my family has used all the resources. We’ve used TRICARE, we’ve used Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, we’ve used grants for the kids. We take everything they give us, but we also know we have to work for it, so we don’t shy away when they need us.” 

He said his company, Valero, has been nothing but supportive of his service, even attending his REPOY ceremony at Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach in April. But even his work as a refinery operator has a reciprocal Coast Guard connection. 

“I do a lot of similar things [to my reserve job],” said Huffman. “My [engineering] skills that I learned at A-school and being underway definitely translate into my civilian job. Without the Coast Guard and A-school, I probably wouldn’t have gotten the job I have now.” 

He said that he even used tuition assistance to obtain his current degree, which helped him at his civilian job as well. 

The knowledge he has of the Coast Guard opportunities and benefits is something he’s worked to pass on to all his Channel Islands shipmates and people he’s met on deployments, both active and reserve. Huffman said he works with people to identify ways they can step up and take advantage of both deployments and benefits. Everything from accessing the supplemental list to routing tuition assistance applications. 

“I want people to know exactly what they’re signing up for and know all the benefits,” he said. “Even if it’s just part time, you can get the GI Bill, you can get the health insurance, you can use tuition assistance. I wanted to be an advocate for the reserve and explain all the programs it offers people. I think more people want to do it, but they don’t get the time on a single drill weekend.” 

“The harder you work, the better chance you have of getting on orders,” he said. “And the better chance you have of going places and doing things.” 

When he’s not working or spending time with his wife and three daughters, Huffman is known for his extraordinary volunteerism. In 2021, he logged more than 150 hours volunteering for various projects, including fundraising, refereeing, coaching, toy drives, blood donation, building houses for Habitat 4 Humanity, and honoring memorials at a veterans’ cemetery. 

“I’ve always taught my kids, ‘We have a good life, we’re fortunate that we haven’t had to worry about many things, so we should give back to people and organizations who need help,’” he said.  “Volunteer organizations try their best, but without volunteers they’re not going to get very far.” 

In May, his advancement ceremony was held at Cape May, New Jersey, with outgoing Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Jason Vanderhaden, and outgoing Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Reserve Gee Williamson. He only wore his anchors for a few weeks—Chief Petty Officer Huffman left for Reserve Officer Candidate Indoctrination at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, in June. He recently graduated last month as a new ensign. 
Ensign Huffman plans to continue his journey in reserve advocacy by applying to become a Reserve Component manager, or RCM.  

His master chiefs say he’ll leave a legacy in the people he’s inspired. 

“He’s the type that makes you want to show up and do better,” said Wolfe. “He kept people wanting to stay in the  Coast Guard.” 

“I’ve worked with reservists for most of my career, and he is by far the best one—well deserving of this recognition,” said Eady.    

District Enlisted Persons of the Year – Reserve Component

First District
Petty Officer 1st Class Christopher Butzko 
Rating: Operational Specialist 
Unit: Sector New York, New York 
Member since: 2005 
Civilian occupation: Independent construction – owner 

Fifth District
Petty Officer 1st Class Gregory Truesdell 
Rating: Boatswain’s Mate
Unit: Station Oak Island, North Carolina 
Member since: 2016 
Civilian occupation: Medic 
Seventh District
Petty Officer 1st Class Catalina Jaques
Rating: Marine Science Technician 
Unit: Sector Miami, Florida 
Member since: 2012
Civilian occupation: Cruise ship environmental officer 

Eighth District
Petty Officer 1st Class Jason Loerwald 
Rating: Machinery Technician 
Unit: Station New Orleans, Louisiana 
Member since: 2003 
Civilian occupation:  Oil field supply company – owner  

Ninth District
Petty Officer 1st Class Daniel Theriault 
Rating: Health Services Technician 
Unit: Base Cleveland, Ohio 
Member since: 2012 
Civilian occupation: Surgical intensive care nurse 

Thirteenth District
Petty Officer 2nd Class Marten Zagunis
Rating: Health Services Technician
Unit: Base Seattle, Washington 
Member since: 2018 
Civilian occupation: Financial services – owner 

Fourteenth District
Petty Officer 2nd Class Mary Gillan
Rating: Maritime Enforcement Specialist 
Unit: Sta. Apra Harbor, Guam 
Member since: 2017 
Civilian occupation: Graduate student at Arizona State University    

Seventeenth District
Petty Officer 1st Class Jennifer Stubblefield
Rating: Boatswain’s Mate 
Unit: Station Valdez, Alaska
Member since: 2000 
Civilian occupation: Alyeska Pipeline fire & rescue training officer and instructor for the state of Alaska