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My Coast Guard
Commentary | April 15, 2024

“Looking up at the stars, hearing the ship under you and the water around you, and not seeing anything else around. “— Why Chief Warrant Officer Robert Kopser serves at sea

By AJ Pulkkinen, MyCG writer

Editor’s Note: This is the eleventh in a series of articles where cuttermen discuss why they go to sea.    

Name: Chief Warrant Officer Robert A. Kopser 
Specialty: Naval Engineering (ENG) 
Age: 52 
Hometown: Lexington, Kentucky 
Personal: Married to Jennifer Ann Bernard, with two “kids” Sara, 32, and Evan, 28, and one 16-month-old grandson, Andre 
Joined Coast Guard: 2000, after two years on active duty with the Navy and 10-years in the Navy Reserves 
Boot Camp Company: N/A 
Sea time to date: 20 years. On March 4, CWO Kopser became the 78th Master Cutterman in the Coast Guard. 

Previous units: CGC FORWARD (WMEC 911) homeported in Portsmouth, Virginia; CGC NORTHLAND (WMEC 904) homeported in Portsmouth, Virginia; CGC ADAK (WPB 87364) homeported in Manama, Bahrain; CGC PADRE (WPB 1328) homeported in Key West, Florida; CGC FARALLON (WPB 1301) homeported in Miami, Florida; Station Key West, Florida; CGC MORRO BAY (WTGB 106) homeported in New London, CT then shifted home port to Cleveland, Ohio; CGC VALIANT (WMEC 621) homeported in Mayport, Florida; CGC HEALY (WAGB 20) homeported in Seattle, Washington; Back to CGC VALIANT (WMEC 621) homeported in Mayport, Florida 

Current assignment: Main propulsion assistant (MPA), aboard CGC VENTUROUS (WMEC 625) homeported in St. Petersburg, Florida for two tours. 

Why did you join the Coast Guard?    

I started out in the Navy in 1988 and struck EM. I left the Navy in 1990 due to the budget cuts and the base closures. I then spent ten years in the Navy Reserves. I wanted to go back in the military when I lost my job, and I was all set to go in the Army. Being from Kentucky, I really didn't know anything about the Coast Guard. My wife was prior service, Air Force. She asked, “why don't you check the Coast Guard?” And I was, “OK. We'll do it.” 

That was the best decision, next to marrying her, I ever did make. 

Did you lateral entry into the CG as an EM3? 

That was another bonus for joining the Coast Guard. The recruiter said I was too old to go to boot camp - I was 30 at the time. They were short EMs, so I was able to come straight in as an EM3. 

I showed up to Coast Guard Cutter FORWARD in civilian clothes because I didn't know what uniform to wear or how to wear it. I said, “I've got experience, but I don't know what I'm doing here in the Coast Guard.”  

How would you compare your tours on the 270s (FORWARD and NORTHLAND) vice the 210s (VALIANT and VENTUROUS) vice the 110s (ADAK and FARALLON)?  

The 270s and 210s are very similar. I like the ride of the 210s better. And the endurance of them is just right. It can get a little long on the 270s when you're out with more fuel and staying underway a little longer. They are both great ships. I love the 210s and the 270s.  

The 110s, though, man I wish we still had them. They were nice workhorses. 

What are you looking forward to on the WMSL? 

I like large ships, so just the size of the ship. I'm looking forward to meeting new people and the new experiences with the engineering department. 

The plant is unique, the way it's able to be configured and everything. It's a lot more technologically advanced on the WMSL. If you don't know how to hook a computer to it, it's gonna be trouble to work on. Whereas, here on the 210, we're pretty much old school. You can fix things fairly easy on here. You can MacGyver a lot of stuff. 

Can you tell me about a fun experience you’ve had while assigned to a ship? 

I loved the mission working with the scientists on HEALY. That really made it special. In my time on there, we identified three new life forms and extended the continental shelf. 

Wait. What?! 

Yes, they identified three new species of life. One was a new type of jellyfish that they hadn't noticed before, and I don't remember the other two. It was really neat.  

Our scientists, with all of the ocean mapping stuff, were able to prove and extend the continental shelf for the United States into the Arctic by twice the size of California. So, we could prove we had a larger footprint in the Arctic. It was just very interesting and nice to work with the scientists. 

What’s your biggest lesson learned from being underway?  

Don't let anything drag you down. Don't give up. Don't. There is a solution. You may not find it immediately, but it’s there. Like on the ship here, if something breaks, something happens, you work through it.  

And, you don't have to work through it alone. Use your shipmates and friends around you. Even the ones you don't like, they have some good advice, and sometimes the ones you don't like are the ones you learn the most from. 

With your Master Cutterman Ceremony fast approaching, I imagine you had occasion to reflect on 20 years underway. What is it that keeps bringing you back to sea?  

The camaraderie of being on the ship, knowing that I can rely on the people around me. They have my back. They know I have theirs. It's just a special bond that you build with the people underway. 

I also tell the younger crew: It can be a time to disconnect. You don't need to be on your phones and on the internet all the time. Disconnect. Spend the time for yourself. Yes, you have family at home and they may have problems and they do need you. But if they can manage for a few days, let them. Take care of yourself and then you'll be better prepared to take care of them. 

And then what really got me was walking outside at night with no light, just looking up at the stars, hearing the ship under you and the water around you and not seeing anything else around. 

That is what drew me to it and has kept me going with it. It makes me realize just how small we are in the big comparison of things. And yet, no matter how connected and close we say we are with family and everything, when you get out there and you are all alone, yes, you are small on this planet. 

It makes me feel there is a reason we're here. It just makes me feel closer to what’s important and at peace.

It's definitely helped my marriage, too. My wife always jokes, “the secret to the long marriage is have your spouse join the Coast Guard and stay on ships!” 

I had Kentucky in my Final Four. What went wrong this year and who is Jack Gohlke?! 

Ohh no, Oakland just killed us with him. It was terrible. Uh, yeah, it should have never happened. But hopefully Kentucky will start getting some senior guys and keep players instead of the one and dones. We don't need the All Stars. I would like someone that stays two to three years at a minimum, learns the system. They don't have to be the greatest basketball player. They’ve just have to give their all to it. 

And as you see, with a lot of the teams that are winning this tournament, those are the teams that are winning. 

The Coast Guard is offering a lot of incentives to get underway. How do we get people to want to do what you did and keep going back? 

I think the Coast Guard is on the right track. But throwing money at them really isn't gonna solve the issue. It’s temporary. It does entice people to come, but to keep people underway we need more. The more we are able to keep our significant others - spouses, family members - involved with the cutters through things like the Ombudsman program and stuff, the more it would really keep people coming back to ships or staying on them. 

A lot of the areas that ships are stationed are very desirable, and of course there's some that aren’t. 

Keeping multiple ships in the area would give an individual that really likes that area, the opportunity to go from ship-to-ship - like I have done at times - and not have to move the family as often. 

But then where the ships are in a less desirable location, maybe the Coast Guard can look at what can we do for the family in those spots. We should try to promote it for the families too, by saying, “hey, this cutter is here and this is what the Coast Guard can do or is doing for the family, not just the member.” 

The spouse’s job is harder than the member’s job, I feel, because they have the worry. We know what's going on and where we're at and what we're doing. We may not know everything they're doing, but they know nothing about what we're doing. They have that worry and stuff. 

Where we go on a cutter is neat for the member, but where we're putting the families can be neat, too. You've only got one family, so we need to incorporate the family into the seagoing service, better. 

The Ombudsman network, MWR support, work-life support - they're doing excellent work. They're doing all the right things. But, of course, there's more we can do on that side to assist. 

What advice would you have for a young engineer heading to their first ship? 

My advice would be: this is a seagoing service. So first and foremost, know what you're getting into before you raise your hand. This is a seagoing service. Yes, aviation and land jobs are very vital to the Coast Guard, but the ships are the bread and butter. 

And, if you don't like being underway, it's only a three-year job on average. The way time flies nowadays, it's over before you even realize it and you've ended up making really good friends. 

Life is not supposed to be easy. And definitely not at sea. 

When you have a problem out here on the water, you can't rely on just picking up a phone and calling a friend and saying, “hey, this is what's going on.” You have to be able to have the fortitude in yourself to say, “hey, I'm not gonna let this beat me. I will find a way through it.” 

That's where the camaraderie and your friends on the ship play a huge part and all of the supporting factors the Coast Guard and the military, in general, has for individuals. 


  1. "I like a challenge" - Why CPO Sharina Komen serves at sea  
  2. “The ocean is your office” Why Chief Llamas serves at sea   
  3. “The impact we have globally and in our communities” - Why CPO Gentry serves at sea  
  4. Special edition of Why I Serve at Sea — Captain Patrick Culver, Gold Ancient Mariner #16 
  5. “An experience you’re not gonna get anywhere else.” — Why Petty Officer 1st Class Benjamin Yoder serves at sea  
  6. “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  
  7. “This is where I belong.” — Why Petty Officer 1st Class Britney Cabrales serves at sea 
  8. “This is a challenge, and it is what you make of it.” — Why Petty Officer 1st Class Ashley Moulden serves at sea 
  9. "I 100% fell in love with being underway"'— Why Petty Officer 1st Class Tyler Deitrick serves at sea 
  10. “Having a cup of coffee on the fantail after four to eight watch“— Why Chief Petty Officer Robert Patrick Elliott serves at sea