Editor’s Note: This is the eighth in a series of articles where cuttermen discuss why they go to sea.
Name: Petty Officer 1st Class Ashley Moulden
Rating: Yeomen (YN)
Hometown: Topeka, Kansas, where Yeoman are born
Hobbies: Karaoke and acrobatics
Joined Coast Guard: Aug. 23, 2011, Boot camp company: Q-185
Sea time to date: 5yrs, 2 days
Previous units: Coast Guard Cutter Willow (WLB 202) homeported in Charleston, South Carolina; Coast Guard Cutter Hamilton (WMSL 753) also homeported in Charleston, South Carolina; Base Detachment Saint Louis, Missouri; CG Station Monterey, California
Current assignment: Customer Service Center at Coast Guard Training Center Petaluma, California
How did you seek out joining the ranks of the permanent cutterman?
I made second right before I left Base Detachment St. Louis and I already had orders to the CGC Hamilton for a third-class billet. My detailer asked, “I know that you just made second, umm…” and I stopped him. I asked “Can I please keep the boat, Sir? Can I, please?” I was so excited about it.
And he asked, “Why do you wanna go?” I said, “I want to see new places. I want that adventure. I want the experience and I want the sea time.” He responded, “Alright, you got it!”
I was so lucky that I got to do a full tour in a pay grade mismatch on the CGC Hamilton.
And then I ended up making first within a year of getting to the CGC Willow. Again, my detailer engaged. I said, “I have one more year until I get my permanent cutterman’s pin.” But he told me that I wasn’t going to be able to stay and that I would have to put in picks.
I contacted the Women's Afloat Coordinator and just talked with her. “I really wanna stay here. I really want to achieve this permanent cutterman's pin. That's the main reason why I chose to stay afloat.” She was able to convince him to let me stay for one more year.
I got my permanent cutterman's pin on July 5, 2023 and then two days later, I PCSd to Petaluma. So, I have five years and two days of sea time.
Did you always want to be a yeoman?
I wanted a rating that I could use on the civilian side when I get out. That has changed and I want to do something different, but the original intent was to be able to have a military career and to balance my home life with my work life.
Have you been able to do that: go to sea and still maintain that work life balance?
Yes and no. While I'm not married, I have a lot of outside hobbies that I partake in. I have a lot of friends and two cats. In that sense, yes, there's work life balance. On the CGC Hamilton, we were out for four months, in for four. So, I found a little bit of a balance.
I feel like that's the issue for the whole Coast Guard, even if you're not going to sea, you go somewhere for three to four years. You make all of these friends and then you leave again. So, I think the work life balance is, in a way, a struggle for everybody, not just sea going people.
So, where have you really felt like you built that community?
Ohh Charleston, South Carolina! I was stationed in Charleston for five years. I was on CGC Hamilton for three years and on CGC Willow for two, and it was the longest that I've lived anywhere in my personal Coast Guard career.
I am an avid karaoker, so I found a great community of karaoke friends. I've also been in acrobatics for about 10 years now and found a lot of friends in the acrobatic community as well.
How do you go about finding acrobatic friends?
I started acrobatics in Monterey and really got into it in Saint Louis. I use Facebook whenever I move to find those communities and to connect with people. Then meet up at ‘jams.’ There are so many Facebook groups, there's usually an acrobatic community page.
How is being a Yeoman underway different than being a Yeoman ashore?
I think one of the biggest differences is: here in an office, I have a spreadsheet with all these EMPLIDs (employee identification numbers) and names, but I don't know any of these people. I take care of them, but I don't know any of them. On the cutter, you work with them and see them every day. You know their problems, their families, and their stories. It's easier to have a little bit more compassion towards what they need or what they want, because it's not just an EMPLID anymore. There's a connection to that person.
On the CGC Hamilton, it was just a YN1 and myself. One patrol, we had to leave our YN1 behind, so I did a 105-day patrol by myself, taking care of a crew of 150 people during PCS transfer season. Having that experience helped me get ready for independent duty on the CGC Willow and helped earn my COMM (CG Commendation Medal).
I understand you did more than just the standard admin jobs while underway.
On the CGC Hamilton, I was detainee watchstander and master helm. I steered the ship through the Panama Canal. How many people can say that?! I was also fire team qualified for helo ops (helicopter operations).
The CGC Willow was the most challenging because it was an independent duty tour. My yeoman job was more of a collateral because the mission of the ship comes first. I would have to work my yeoman job around being up on the bridge. Each of the independent duty rates are either a QMOW (quartermaster of the watch), lookout or on the helm and there's only three independent duty rates, so you're almost always up on the bridge during buoy evolutions.
Did you ever get out on deck?
I did. I did do a heat and beat, but I did the peening — which is where you come in after they heat and beat and you smooth out the top of the pin so that it doesn't come out.
Where did you go on CGC Hamilton patrols?
So many cool places, I don't remember where all I've been anymore. I’ve been to the Black Sea. Unfortunately, it was during COVID, so our port calls were very limited, but we did go to Malta, Italy, Georgia and Ukraine. We worked with the Ukrainian Coast Guard, and it was really cool.
I've also been to Peru, Aruba, the Bahamas, Costa Rica, Huatulco, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Guam.... I mean, there's just so many places I'm trying to remember them all. So many cool places – it’s like getting paid to go on vacations.
While we went to Peru, they offered us these packages for about $100 for an all-day tour. We went to this cafe to have a Peruvian lunch where we got to try Peruvian mead, which is like a wine. And then we went dune buggying on the sand dunes. We also surfed down dunes on these little sleds. That was really cool. The last part of that day, we were on a boat tour, and they took us to the cliffs. And on the cliffs, the natives had this carving that can actually be seen from space.
Getting to see all of this in person was just really cool.
How many people from your high school can say any of this, you know?
I don't think there's anyone that can say that they've done those things.
What has challenged you in the Coast Guard?
This is actually my first job being a supervisor and that's a challenge in its own. It is a challenge to learn how to handle the personal issues. On the CGC Willow, though, I had a really good first-class mess, and we were the go-tos for any issues that we had with personnel on the boat. I feel like it helped me grow a lot. I still reach out to them, even though we have all PCS’d to new units, for advice on how to handle situations.
That's another reason why I loved being underway: you make these friendships, these strong friendships that will last a lifetime. I'll never not have them. I know that. I know three people that I could call if I needed help or needed to ask questions. You truly become like family. I have made friendships that will last a lifetime with my fellow E-6's from CGC Willow. We helped each other so much underway and even back on land. I am so grateful for my chosen family.
Do you have any advice for people considering getting underway for the first time?
I think people are scared to get underway because they see it as a roadblock rather than a challenge. Roadblocks are a hard stop, something you can't get past, right? But if you start to look at it as a challenge, challenges are fun. Most people like overcoming them and I think that's the mindset that people kind of need to have if they go afloat. This is a challenge, and it is what you make of it.
It's all based off your attitude. You can go to a boat and have the worst time of your life, and it's probably because of your attitude and how you're looking at it. But if you have a good attitude, you make your own morale. Attitude truly is everything.
I loved walking into my office and shooting people with nerf guns or like making my own fun.
I'm like the queen of dad jokes (I’m not a dad though so I'm a faux pa!). I would call my captain for her morning wake up at 5 am and give her the morning weather report and then I would tell her a dad joke because she loved jokes. So now I have a library of dad jokes in my head.
You make your own fun. You just have to have a positive attitude. If you're scared, just think of it as a challenge. You know, it's not the easiest thing in the world to do, but there's all these experiences.
I have so many sea stories.
In the News
“This is where I belong.” — Why Petty Officer 1st Class Britney Cabrales serves at sea > United States Coast Guard > My Coast Guard News (uscg.mil)
“What other crazy things can I do out here that I would never get to do anywhere else?” — Why Petty Officer 1st Class Benjamin Davis serves at sea > United States Coast Guard > My Coast Guard News (uscg.mil)
“An experience you’re not gonna get anywhere else.” — Why Petty Officer 1st Class Benjamin Yoder serves at sea > United States Coast Guard > My Coast Guard News (uscg.mil)
Special edition of Why I Serve at Sea — Captain Patrick Culver, Gold Ancient Mariner #16 > United States Coast Guard > My Coast Guard News (uscg.mil)
“The impact we have globally and in our communities” - Why CPO Gentry serves at sea > United States Coast Guard > My Coast Guard News (uscg.mil)
“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)