By Chief Warrant Officer Sara Muir
Ensign Peyton Phillips is not just an officer aboard the USCGC Myrtle Hazard (WPC 1139); he is a testament to the rich diversity and depth of experiences that contribute to the strength and versatility of the U.S. Coast Guard. His personal story intertwines cultural immersion, academic rigor, and a legacy of aviation, painting a picture of an individual whose journey is as unique as it is inspiring.
A 2023 graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, he serves as the first lieutenant on Myrtle Hazard, a role both demanding and dynamic. On these high-speed, advanced vessels, the first lieutenant is essential in managing the synergy between the ship's departments, ensuring readiness for a variety of missions. The FRCs, designed for rapid deployment, are at the forefront of the U.S. Coast Guard's efforts to maintain security and enforce laws in the vast and challenging Blue Pacific waters.
The small crew size of an FRC, typically around 24 members, means that each member plays a critical and multifaceted role, often far from the familiar comforts of home. This creates a unique set of challenges in terms of operations and logistics, requiring a high degree of coordination, resilience, and adaptability.
However, it's not just the logistical and operational challenges that define life on a Guam-based FRC. There's an element of excitement and pioneering spirit as these ships are pushing the boundaries of the U.S. Coast Guard's operational capabilities and setting many firsts. Phillips, reflecting on the difference between his current role and his academic life at the Academy, said, "It's a lot more than theory and analyzing numbers. Every day is different, and there’s a thrill in knowing that what we do out here really matters, not just for us but for the entire region."
Phillips' proficiency in Japanese, a skill he developed during his formative years in Japan and Taiwan, was pivotal during the Myrtle Hazard’s recent expeditionary patrol in support of Operation Blue Pacific travelling from Guam to Australia with notable time in Papua New Guinea. This mission was significant in operationalizing a newly signed bilateral maritime law enforcement agreement with Papua New Guinea and conducting the first joint patrol between the two nations.
His language skills were particularly useful in facilitating fisheries boardings within Papua New Guinea's exclusive economic zone. Reflecting on the values he absorbed in Japan, Phillips stated, "Living in Japan, I was deeply influenced by the culture's emphasis on doing everything to the best of one's ability, and finding 'ikigai', a sense of purpose in what you do. There is a deep respect for others. This has greatly shaped my approach in the Coast Guard, where every action and decision hold significant weight and purpose."
But the success of Phillips’ Japanese application on this patrol did not happen in a vacuum. He had the opportunity to collaborate with Cadets Genzo and Seiji Gonzales from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy earlier in the summer. The Gonzales brothers, hailing from Saipan in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, spent their summer break from the Academy with U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam, gaining invaluable hands-on experience. Their background, which includes a verbal understanding of Japanese passed down through their family, complemented Phillips’ reading proficiency in the language. This synergy led to the creation of a quick reference Japanese translation sheet, a crucial tool for effective communication during radio calls and boardings of Japanese-flagged fishing vessels.
Phillips, reflecting on this collaborative effort, said, "Working with the Gonzales brothers was a great example of how different skills come together in the Coast Guard. They could speak Japanese, and I could read it. Together, we created a translation sheet that was vital for our operations. It was a bit nerve-wracking at first, as I was self-conscious about my language skills, but it turned out to be an incredibly rewarding experience."
The collaborative effort between Phillips and the Gonzales brothers not only facilitated Phillips’ later successful communication with the operator of a Japanese fishing vessel but also underscored the value of cultural knowledge and language skills in maritime law enforcement. It is an example of the climate of teamwork on Myrtle Hazard and the importance of harnessing the diverse skill sets of our workforce.
Phillips’ path to the U.S. Coast Guard was deeply influenced by family ties to aviation. His grandfather's role as a structural mechanic on U.S. Coast Guard helicopters ushering in the use of the then HH-65 Dolphin helicopter and his father's engineering background sowed the seeds of his aviation interest. He has fond memories of hours spent in small planes with his father, a private pilot. Rather than seek flight school immediately, Phillips chose to first gain a comprehensive understanding of the Coast Guard's core missions and the cutter fleet. "I wanted to get underway experience first and see this side of the Coast Guard mission, before hopefully flying someday," Phillips stated, reflecting this thoughtful approach to his career.
Phillips' educational background in operations research and data analytics from the Coast Guard Academy adds a layer of analytical expertise to his skill set. Speaking of his academic journey, Phillips revealed, "I started out as a marine environmental science major, and I wanted to go into the medical field if I didn't go into the Coast Guard." However, he eventually switched majors, influenced by strong mentors and his growing interest in data and analytics. "There were no labs. So that was a plus,” he joked. "And the faculty, I can’t say enough good things about the math faculty."
His life experiences, marked by frequent moves and cultural adaptations, have imbued him with patience, resilience, and adaptability – traits crucial for his role in the Service. Phillips described the impact of these experiences, saying, "The change, being used to change, was a big factor. And something that's been really helpful."
What comes next? Phillips' aspirations to become a pilot are inspired by his family history and personal passion. Looking forward to his future, he expressed his desire to fly, preferably rotary wing aircraft, "just being in the action." This ambition underscores his commitment to service and family.
Ensign Peyton Phillips’ story is a vivid illustration of how individual backgrounds, enriched by diverse experiences and skills, contribute to the collective strength and effectiveness of the U.S. Coast Guard. His contributions aboard the USCGC Myrtle Hazard in the short time he’s been aboard along with his multi-faceted background underscore the Coast Guard's values of respect, diversity, and adaptability, essential for its complex and international missions. Phillips' journey from an international upbringing to his pivotal role in maritime law enforcement highlights the profound impact of diverse backgrounds in shaping a robust and adaptable service culture.