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My Coast Guard
Commentary | Feb. 23, 2024

“Having a cup of coffee on the fantail after four to eight watch“— Why Chief Petty Officer Robert Patrick Elliott serves at sea

By AJ Pulkkinen, MyCG staff writer

Name: Chief Petty Officer Robert Patrick Elliott 
Rating: Machinery Technician (MK) 
Age: 34 
Hometown: Glendale, Arizona 
Personal: Married for six years to wife, Taylor, and two children: their four-year old son, Macklin, and 16-month-old daughter, Matilda 

Joined Coast Guard: 30 OCT 2006  
Sea time to date: 8 1/2 on seven ships 

Previous units: Coast Guard Station Rockland, Maine; Coast Guard Cutter Tackle (WYTL 65604) homeported in Rockland, Maine; Coast Guard Cutter Hollyhock (WLB 214) homeported in Port Huron, Michigan; Coast Guard Cutter Long Island (WPB 1342) homeported in Valdez, Alaska; Coast Guard Cutter Chandeleur (WPB 1319) homeported in Valdez, Alaska; Coast Guard Cutter Farallon (WPB 1301) homeported in Valdez, Alaska; Coast Guard Station San Juan, Puerto Rico; Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau (WHEC 722) homeported in Alameda, California; Coast Guard Cutter Sherman homeported in Alameda, California; Patrol Forces Southwest Asia Shoreside Support 

Current assignment: Cutter Transition Division of the Surface Acquisitions Logistic Center (SALC) in Baltimore, Maryland 

What is the Cutter Transition Division of the Surface Acquisitions Logistic Center (CTD of SALC)? 

We are the experts at decommissioning old cutters and placing them into a layup status. Once they’re sold to another country, we run them through dry dock and train the foreign country on how to operate them. Tomorrow, I’m headed to Greece to help with a decommissioned 110'. This will be my fourth trip to Greece in support of them receiving 4 of the decommissioned WPBs from Bahrain. 

Did you join the Coast Guard knowing you wanted to be an MK?    

Yes. My dad just retired from the Coast Guard last March. He was an MK and led me in the right direction. I actually graduated high school at 16 and joined at 17. I went from boot camp to MK A school. 

Any regrets? 

No, I love it. I plan on staying until they make me leave. 

Looking at the list of your previous units, you’ve been assigned to 10 units in 18 years. Do you think changing units that frequently has helped your career? 

I think it did. It made me really diverse. I’ve got almost 8 1/2 years of sea time on 7 ships. 

If you had to pick one, which would be your favorite underway tour thus far? 

As a whole, I’d have to say the HOLLYHOCK. Great Lakes buoy tenders, specifically 225's, are a hidden gem in the Coast Guard. All of the ATON is on a set schedule every spring and fall, icebreaking in the winter, and summers are relatively low key with the exception of fun PR events like the Great Lakes Tall Ship Festival and Coast Guard Festival in Grand Haven, Michigan. Crew wise, it would be the TACKLE, and location-wise, it would be the 110's in Alaska. 

You liked Alaska? 

It’s awesome. I had pulled in there a couple of times on the 378'. Then I used my number one pick leaving Bahrain (PATFORSWA) to go to Valdez. Part of me wants to go back. 

What motivates you to keep going and keep trying new things like this? 

I get bored really easy, so a four-year tour for me is too long. With this job being four years, that as much as our job changes, I’m hoping that I can keep that boredom from setting in. Usually around the two-year mark I’m like, “alright, let’s go do something else!” 

Is that why you decided to pursue your merchant mariner credentials? 

I think what spurred that on was that I had a really good EO (engineering officer), Chief Warrant Officer Jared Crotwell, on HOLLYHOCK. I saw him doing it and he made it super easy for everybody else to do and encouraged it. All of main prop (ship’s engineering team) was either approved to test for their license or got their license. 

I spent probably my first 14 or 15 years in the Coast Guard just having fun and enjoying it. 

Now as I’m getting older and retirement is getting closer, I am looking at things that I can take advantage of to make me more sought after for future employers. My goal is just getting any kind of qualification, license, or certification that I can that the Coast Guard will offer me. I know that the Merchant Mariner credential looks really good on a resume. 

I got my associates degree in Applied Science with a focus in Electro-mechanical Technologies using Tuition Assistance (TA).  

I did my journeyman diesel mechanic license through USMAP (United Services Military Apprenticeship Program). I finished my refrigeration technician through USMAP and am just waiting to get my license. 

Then I got my Merchant Mariner credential as the QMED (Qualified Member of the Engineering Department (QMED). 

What would you do differently in pursuit of your QMED? 

I’d actually do a lot different because the process has changed since I did it. The process was kind of tough. I had to send all my stuff to the National Maritime Center (NMC). They approved me to test and then I had to go from Port Huron, Michigan, down to the exam center to Toledo, Ohio. I took like 9 exams over two days.  

But now it’s all done in house! Now your local ESO (education services officer) can administer the test after you complete a PQS (performance qualification standards) and have a memo signed by your commanding officer after it is approved by our M2M (Military to Merchant) program. 

And--it’s just two exams, so 200 questions. From what I’ve gathered, they’re not easier, but worded in a way where they’re easier to understand than the test that the NMC regional exam center gives. 

If you’re proactive about it, you can probably be done with the whole process in six months. 

How did the knowledge you’ve built from A school and your RPQs (rating performance qualifications) prepare you for those exams? 

I would say it completely prepared me for those exams because, even though I had to take the 9 separate 75 question exams, almost all of it was A school-level knowledge stuff. There was some boiler and steam stuff on the exam that being on a 378' and working around boilers really prepared me for. 

It’s all basic engineering questions that you can work through using just common sense. So, you’re getting a professional license for stuff you already know…for free. 

What advice would you have for junior members? 

Take advantage of everything that the Coast Guard has to offer for stuff like this, because it’s all free. Anything that you can get for free or relatively low cost to the Coast Guard, do it. 

There’re not a whole lot of jobs out there that would just throw money at you like this to get these certifications, licenses. Tuition assistance is up to $4,500 a year now. Take advantage of it. 

And you can double dip. The $4,500 for TA is on top of the $4,500 a year for Credentialing Assistance (CA). Like you can double dip! That’s $9,000 a year out there. 

I plan on advancing my license. Now that I have my QMED license, I plan to use CA to attend firefighting school, lifeboat school, and stuff like that that I need for the next higher license. All of these courses, and even actual QMED courses (which you can take in lieu of being an A-school graduate (*cough- for strikers) are all covered by credentialing assistance! 

Why do you think more members are not taking advantage of this? 

I think they just don’t know how easy it is. People say, “I wanna get my merchant mariner credential.” So they pull up the checklist and it’s all this stuff that they have to get done and it looks like a lot. Just that initial shock factor discourages people from pursuing it any further. But once you break it down into little pieces, it’s really not a lot of stuff that you have to do. Once you look at it, it’s pretty easy. 

What has been your best port call? 

One of my favorite port calls was Victoria, Canada. It’s, like, the cleanest place I’ve ever been. I just went out sightseeing around the town. We were there for a couple of days, so there was a lot of sightseeing. 

I also sailed the LONG ISLAND from Valdez, Alaska, down through the Panama Canal and up to Baltimore to decommission her. That was probably the most fun trip. It took 44 days. It was a long time on a small cutter, but it was a good time. We had a good group of people. 

What do you miss most about being underway? 

The first time I got underway, I grew up really fast. I was 19 on a 378' and I had an absolute blast. 

For three years, I got to see the world. That’s what I really enjoyed about it: visiting all these cool places. 

I just really like being underway. If I could get down to specifics, it would probably be having a cup of coffee on the fantail after four to eight watch. 

Yeah, that’s my favorite. 


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