Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of articles where cuttermen discuss why they go to sea.
Name: Chief Petty Officer William Cody Gentry
Rating: Machinery Technician (MK)
Age: 32 Hometown: Monroe, Georgia
Personal: married to Ashley and daughter Abigail
Joined Coast Guard: July 2009, Boot camp Company Charlie-182
Sea time to date: Eight years
Previous units: Coast Guard Training Center Yorktown, Virginia, for MK A School; Naval Engineering Support Unit Portsmouth, Virginia; Coast Guard Cutter Wrangle in Manama, Bahrain; Coast Guard Cutter James in Charleston, South Carolina; Coast Guard Cutter Cobia in Mobile, Alabama; Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast in Astoria, Oregon; Maritime Law Enforcement Academy as part of the Non-Compliant Vessel Pursuit School
Current assignment: Coast Guard Cutter Yellowfin, Charleston, South Carolina
Chief Gentry relishes the challenge of being a cutterman on small and large cutters. He takes pride in the hard work of keeping the cutter operational until it's time to come home for rest and routine maintenance, knowing he and his crew can put it back together again. He is driven to serve both his country and his family. From chasing narco-traffickers across the globe to ensuring the safety of the fishing fleet of Charleston, South Carolina, Chief Gentry values the variety of missions.
Why did you join the Coast Guard?
In my junior year of high school, I went from public school to home school and I was working full time for my mom’s cousin in construction. I was 17-18 years old, making pretty good money. My mom saw the road that I was going down and put a stop to that. She said, “You're going go to college or you're going join the military.” I asked, “Are you going to pay for college?” She said “nope” and so I turned to the military. My brother was already in the Coast Guard. I met with the Marines first but then my brother steered me away from the Marines and toward the Coast Guard. I just wanted to serve my country and do four years. That was the initial thought and then I reenlisted and reenlisted again and again. And here I am.
Did you ever seriously consider getting out of the Coast Guard?
Right before I came up on year 10, I wanted to get out. I really did. My wife was pregnant with our kid. I just wanted to be home and wanted to be a new dad. I started putting in job applications to jobs sought out my mentors. I sought some guidance from my dad and father-in-law and people in the Coast Guard and they told me how stable my job actually was. I might not be home, but I have a paycheck, I have healthcare. They said, “You're fine. You're good. Do not get out – that's crazy.”
I thought about all that and focused back on the initial reason I wanted to join: to serve. I knew not only I had an obligation to still serve my country, but I had that obligation to also serve my family.
Now we have a new addition to our family and I have all these resources at my disposal in the Coast Guard to help my family.
What is the allure of cutter life?
I really love the camaraderie, the mission, and the adventure. There’s something about coming in with a broken boat or a boat that's just real worn out from being out at sea and then turning it around, fixing it up, and getting ready to go back out. Then doing that over and over again. I love it.
It's so hard to put into words. It’s something I can't even explain to my wife. I mean, it's a crazy thing that we do. We love our family, but yet we leave them over and over again. The big thing that I always tell my wife is that there's an end to it. One day I will not do it. I really just love the mission and the camaraderie of sailing with a group of people. I've been fortunate to serve with really awesome men and women whose hearts were in it.
“I agree with Chief Gentry about the camaraderie. There is really nothing that can match it. When you’re underway, miles away from anyone else, the only people that you have to depend on are the ones that are in the confines of that cutter. As department heads you are responsible to train your junior members to act appropriately when things don’t go according to plan. As a junior member you have to trust your department heads are training you properly. As the Command you must ensure that these things come together to enable you to complete the mission. But the true camaraderie comes after it clicks that all this training is done for the safety of the crew. You are trained to keep each other safe, entrust each other with your lives. You make sure that you take care of one another so that you can get back to your families.” Silver Ancient Mariner Master Chief Petty Officer Michael Burch
What’s one thing in the Coast Guard that has challenged you?
Coming out of my shell. I've always been very shy, not a public speaker. The Coast Guard gave me that confidence.
Also, I wasn't one to study. I didn't like school growing up. I didn't like reading. So it was a challenge getting qualified, learning all this stuff. Hands on is a huge part of it, but to be good at something, you have to read, you have to study and get in books.
What sea stories are you going tell your daughter later in life?
When I was at my first unit, I went TDY (temporary duty) on the cutter Forward to do an Africa patrol with them for four months. One of the coolest things happened: we pulled into Monrovia, Liberia, and there were two guys there who were international students in my A school class at Yorktown.
These two guys stood up the Liberian Coast Guard after the Second Liberian Civil War in 2010. When we graduated, I thought I'd never see these guys again. The Forward moored up and their entire Coast Guard was there standing on the pier, and I locked eyes with both these guys. There were tears. It was crazy to sail all across the world and see two people that I never thought I’d ever see again in my life. That was amazing.
And then to do all that work on Steadfast. The amount of drugs that we intercepted is insane.
The crews that we had and the amount of work that we did. I literally missed the first half of my daughter's life to go out there and chase these narcotic traffickers all over the Pacific Ocean. Actually, I have it written all down in a journal. Every time I went to sea, I would journal. I won't even show my wife the journal, but one day when my kid is older, I'll give it to her so she knows where Dad was her first couple years of life.
Do you have any advice for young Coasties considering going to sea?
Don't look at the money that the Coast Guard is throwing at you. It's great. But the money will come whether it's with advancement or incentives. Go to sea for the experience. You’re just not going to get it anywhere else. It's not forever either. You didn't like it? Cool. But, if you do like it, there is an awesome path for you.
Another reason for young engineers to go to sea is because you can learn everything on a big cutter. It's all there. The small boats, the big engines, your AC, your hydraulics, every system is there. Everything you need to know for advancement is on a big cutter. If you go there as a young machinery technician or electrician’s mate, you're going to get good apprentice time because it's all there.
What do you know now that you wish you would have known joining the service?
I wish I knew how to manage money. I didn't start a TSP until 10 years in. It's crazy that I didn't do that. I really wish I had sought out to understand the ‘why’ of what we do as a service. It wasn’t until I was a first (class petty officer) and the commanding officer of the cutter Steadfast actually explained why we are doing what we're doing--why we're going all the way to South America chasing drug runners. I mean, I was all about chasing the drug runners. I thought it was the coolest thing ever, but I never knew why except for drugs were bad. I didn't know the international or global effect of drug running. I didn't know anything about the fisheries mission, really. It's not just counting and measuring fish. You're literally preserving our natural resources for our country and around the world. I never understood the impact we have globally and in our communities. That's something I wish I learned early on. If I’d had that education of what the Coast Guard really is earlier on, maybe I wouldn’t have been disgruntled about things at times. Understanding that ‘why,’ that's important.
In the News:
“The ocean is your office” Why Chief Llamas serves at sea > United States Coast Guard > My Coast Guard News (uscg.mil)
"I like a challenge" - Why CPO Sharina Komen serves at sea > United States Coast Guard > My Coast Guard News (uscg.mil)
SDRC - Incentives - All Documents (sharepoint-mil.us)
Office of Work-Life Programs (CG-111) | U.S. Coast Guard (uscg.mil)