Petty Officer 2nd Class James King, a maritime enforcement specialist at Maritime Security Response Team West, is the Coast Guard’s 2022 Enlisted Person of the Year
As a third-class petty officer in his first rated tour, King earned the role of squad leader on the Direct Action Section 7 team, a position normally assigned to first-class petty officers. A testament to his skill, King was hand-selected to support the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Marshals Service in coordinating a high-profile federal seizure of a motor vessel. He somehow still found time to complete his master’s degree in Kinesiology and was then accepted into an Exercise Science Doctoral program. He applied his professional education towards bettering the crew's health and wellness by developing and monitoring physical fitness programs for over 100 members of MSRT-W's crew. A true steward in his community, King routinely assisted multiple charitable organizations by distributing food and clothing to local families in need during his off hours.
MyCG recently caught up with King to talk about his career so far, and what it’s like to be recognized at this level.
How did you find out you were selected as EPOY?
I knew I had been nominated for the District EPOY, but time just kept going along and we just went about training. Then after a deployment my senior chief told the entire team, “Hey, guys, we have a debrief.” And so we all piled in the conference room and it was kind of funny because there's the Executive Officer, OPS (operations officer), and a couple of master chiefs. And I'm like, “This is a little top heavy. Why are they all here for this?”
And then we were doing a teleconference and one of my teammates pointed out that the top of the screen says EPOY up there. So I thought, “OK, like, well, that's kinda awesome. Maybe I won the one for District 11.” And then when the Vice Commandant pops on the screen, I was like, "Oh wow, I don't think this is about that debrief or about District 11.”
And then we spoke to the Vice Commandant for a little bit and he asked me to stand up and then that's when he told me everything.
So, I mean, it was a big shock. It was a very, very emotional time.
Having my whole crew there was the best part, to be honest. Having them all there, kind of supporting me. I was very thankful they could be there with me.
What motivates your drive? Picking up a master’s while on active duty and then pursuing a doctorate’s is very impressive.
Well, I'm not doing any classes right now. I'm still in the program and I will pick it back for the fall semester. There's a lot going on here at work and I like to have my down time too. Plus, I've been going to school at this point for, like 12-10 years, so I kind of wanted a break. I think my masters will suffice at this point for right now at least. I know it's not enough for me in the long run, but I know for right now I'll be OK.
How do you find that balance? It sounds like you’ve drawn healthy boundary lines for yourself.
I kind of just take stock of how I feel. Like as of late, I've been really focused on mental health. It's been important to me to reflect and understand where I'm at in terms of “is this too much? Is it not enough? Will this impact how I work? Will this impact how I feel outside of work?” So, it's really just sitting down taking time, reflecting on myself, journaling, things like that. Those are important to me. So that's where I find the time to kind of see where I'm at.
Operationally, you’ve done some cool stuff. What stories will you be telling when you retire?
For the most part, it honestly will be very little operationally. It'll be more about the people that I've spent my time around and the people I've been able to help. I think that's my favorite thing about the Coast Guard or the military in general is the people you meet. I've even met some cool Army and Navy guys. We're all doing very similar work. It's like we're all meshed together. But, I mean, I think I will kind of a sprinkle in some operational stuff here and there, but it's the people that make me enjoy doing what I do.
How has your focus on people enabled you as a leader?
I would say I am the product of the people who taught me how to do this job and got me to this point. They were patient and they were understanding with me as I was going through my qualification process. They allowed me to flourish and understand what the job takes. I see the squad leader position more as helping guide people and bring them up, not so much directing them. I don't need to tell you what to do because you already know what to do. My job is to just help you get to that point. What do you need? How can I help you? And where can we go from there?
This EPOY selection comes with an advancement, right?
Yeah, I am happy about that. I mean, I can't be mad about that.
What ONE thing the CG could do to make your job just a bit easier?
It would be great to get physical therapists or performance coaches, not just for the DSF (deployable special forces) but for the Coast Guard in general. I know there are surfmen taking a beating up in the northwest. Fitness and exercise and longevity are big to me. This job takes a lot out of you physically. So you have to know how to best take care of yourself if you want to have a life beyond the Coast Guard.