Name: Chief Petty Officer Sharina S. Komen
Rating: Electrician’s Mate
Hometown: Andover, CT
Personal: married fellow Coast Guardsman, Jason Sardinas, in 2022
Joined Coast Guard: September 10, 2013
Sea time to date: 7 ½ years
Served on: Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma, (WMEC-908), Coast Guard Cutter Spencer, (WMEC-905), both 270’ medium endurance cutters, and Coast Guard Cutter Maui, (WPB- 1304), a 110’ island class patrol boat in Bahrain
Current assignment: Cutter Training Liaison Officer, Afloat Training Organization, Portsmouth, Virginia
After a challenging first patrol, Chief Petty Officer Sharina Komen became such a fan of sea life, a previous detailer suggested maybe she was spending too much time there. “As an EM2, I asked him to let me go just one more time,” said Komen, who has earned 7 ½ years of sea time in her 9 ½ years in the service. Her current assignment, as a Cutter Training Liaison Officer based in Portsmouth, Virginia, is a compromise. Komen is land-based, but still gets to go on cutters to deliver training and complete inspections.
Coast Guard Silver Ancient Mariner, Master Chief Petty Officer Michael Burch, sees Chief Komen as a great example of building a career that lets you do what you love. “You must find how you can serve as who you are," he said. "Chief Komen was able to take interest from her childhood and spending time with her father to develop a career as an EM while serving at sea.”
MyCG caught up with Komen recently, to talk about why she serves at sea.
Why did you join the Coast Guard?
I was trying to figure out whether to go to college. I had green card status (Komen was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti) and heard that the Coast Guard was accepting permanent residents. It seemed to be a great path for me to get citizenship and it was free to apply as a servicemember. That was definitely a good motivator. I enlisted and planned to do public affairs. It turned out to be less challenging for me to become a citizen than my sister who went to college.
How was your first deployment?
I was assigned to the Tahoma, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. My first patrol was not the greatest. What they don’t tell you at boot camp is that you’re going to be mess cooking, standing double 4-to-8 (0400 to 0800 and 1600 to 2000) watches, learning about the ship, getting your Damage Control Watch Qualification Standards packet and other quals signed off all at once. For me, it was overwhelming. Plus, I was the only new seaman on the ship. At the time, Tahoma was patrolling fisheries in District 1. I didn’t even know that was something the Coast Guard did. Out of bootcamp, I was hoping for a small boat station. I remember telling my Suppo, “Maybe this isn’t for me. I know the Coast Guard allows you to change your mind in the first year. Maybe I shouldn’t be doing this.” And he said, “No. That is an option, but I think this is for you and you’ll be well taken care of.”
What changed your mind?
It felt better after the first couple patrols. I told myself, “Hey, I can do this.” I like a challenge. On Tahoma, I had started working full time with the EM (Electrician’s Mate) shop. I thought I wanted to be in public affairs, but when I saw the EMs doing their thing, it kind of became a challenge I wanted to take on. I was used to doing electrical stuff with my dad. During Tahoma’s dry dock I did a lot of projects with the EMs. I got to work on the cutter’s lighting in the hangar, learned how to write danger tags and complete maintenance procedure cards. That’s also why I went back to a cutter after that. After the first patrol, I knew what I was getting myself into.
When was the moment you knew the Coast Guard was where you were supposed to be?
When I was on my second cutter, Coast Guard Cutter Spencer, I was able to take on additional responsibility. It was great just being on board and working with other members in that EM shop. I was able to get quals as an E-5, that are typically reserved for E-6s. In terms of performance, I was able to step out of my comfort zone underway and earn Underway Engineer of the Watch and Inport Engineer of the Watch. It was a little intimidating to do my boards, but I did it.
What’s the coolest thing about cutter life?
To me, it’s getting to know the people you work with on a different level. You’re not just going to work and leaving. When you’re underway, you're spending more time with your crew than your family. You learn what people like, don’t like, their interests, their families. On the 270s, you have a lot more people so there are different personalities to get used to working with. On the Maui, there were only 23 people on board. While underway, when we weren’t working, everyone was hanging out on the mess deck, eating, and watching movies together.
I was also surprised how much I love the port calls. When I was on Spencer, we did a trip to Iceland and stayed there for over a week for a joint agency exercise. I went to the Blue Lagoon for a spa day with one of the other females onboard and split a hotel room. Iceland also has this super famous hotdog stand, it’s cool being able to find places like that. The Icelandic, Dutch, and Canadian Coast Guards were there, too. It was an amazing experience because we were able to walk over to the Canadian cutter and tour their ship, even trade coins and t-shirts.
What was the hardest thing you’ve had to do in the Coast Guard?
Being on a 110 (Island Class patrol boat) in Patrol Forces Southwest Asia (PATFORSWA) was the toughest experience. We were far away from our families in Bahrain on an aging cutter that had a lot wrong with her. Maui was the oldest operational 110’ at the time, and she definitely let us know it with things breaking. During Maui’s dry dock the challenges were endless: we were trying to navigate language barriers, deal with setbacks in scheduling, and get the ship ready for sea. Being in Bahrain as the world was going through COVID-19 was also very difficult. A lot of people, including myself, didn’t have the opportunity to see their families at the halfway point.
What’s been your most memorable moment afloat?
I’d say my cutterman ceremony. I was lucky to be able to share it with another member and it was held out on the Maui. It was a day underway trip, where we had extra people onboard, and I had close friends from other cutters who got to come. It was emotional thinking of everything that went into it. All the sacrifices I’d had to make and what your family goes through for you to earn that pin.
Anything you wish you’d known before joining the Coast Guard?
That just like any other job you do, there will be good days, bad days, some really good days and some really bad days, but there’s always the next day. And it does get better and balance out. Towing a fishing vessel back with its crew – things like that are very rewarding. You might not always see the reward when you go underway, but it’s there.
Is that what you’d tell your younger self?
Knowing what I know now, I would say, the Coast Guard is going to give you some amazing opportunities throughout your career, take them! You’re going to get opportunities to develop yourself personally and professionally. If those opportunities are not coming to you, go out find them, because there’s a lot of them out there. And while it may make you nervous or hesitant to go for a certain job assignment, to put cutters on your pick list or even to start working on a qualification above your paygrade, there is a lot of growth that can come from saying yes to those opportunities.
Do you have any advice for new recruits about getting used to life at sea?
What helped me was having that mentor to talk to about what I was feeling. Or talking to people in the crew who are going through what you are. Before I went to sea, I thought I would hate how long we were gone for and worried how long I would have to wait to email my family and call them. But I found once you get in the groove of being underway, it’s easier than you think to put your phone off to the side. It will still be there in two weeks.
I’ve spent most of my twenties underway. When I started, you couldn’t download Netflix like you can now. So, I always caught up on my reading. I’d download books – like for a while I read everything by Chuck Palahnuik, who wrote the Fight Club – and disappear into them. Even if it was just when I was done for the day or in my rack. Now that I’m doing inspections, I’ve become a true podcast person. Just listening to those, getting those 30 minutes to yourself is definitely helpful.
What's next for you?
This coming summer, I’ll move to Washington, DC to become the Women Afloat Coordinator. I’ve been interested in this position for a while, so when it became available, I felt I had to apply. I am incredibly passionate about this role, and I am excited to be an additional resource for females and commands, to help get more opportunities for those desiring to go afloat.
I still have more than half of my career to go, so there’s likely a cutter somewhere in my future, possibly as an Engineer Petty Officer or Main Propulsion Assistant.
In the News:
- For more information about opportunities for women afloat, contact Enlisted Personnel Assignment Division Senior Chief Petty Officer, Ramona Mason at 202-795-6573.