A Chief’s service is pure pageantry

Story by Petty Officer 1st Class Levi Read

Chief Petty Officer Lauren Walton (right with black dress), a yeoman at Coast Guard Sector Columbia River, walks across a stage at West Linn High School while competing in the Mrs. Oregon America pageant, March 17, 2018.
Walton was competing at Mrs. Clatsop County and competed in categories that included, swimwear, evening gown and interview. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Levi Read

Mrs. Clatsop County stood smiling draped in a black evening gown at the back of a small stage with a black curtain backdrop. She stood among 11 of her peers, all of them dressed to the nines, basked in blinding lights, while the emcee worked the crowd and repeatedly asking for support in the form of noise and applause. The 12 women, all beautiful, all talented, all successful, all married, all nervous and all who stood waiting the results of the Mrs. Oregon America pageant.

Chief Petty Officer Lauren Walton (right), administrative chief, Sector Columbia River, and her husband Chief Petty Officer Travis Walton, engineering chief, Coast Guard Cutter Alert attend a Chief’s Mess function in Astoria, Ore., Dec. 18, 2017.
The Walton’s both plan to retire in 2019 after 20 years of Coast Guard service and move their family to Idaho.
U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of Chief Petty Officer Lauren Walton.

A lot of work and effort was put into putting on the show that a pageant is, including a group dance, swimwear competition, evening gown competition and individual interviews with the judges. But truth be told most of the work done by the contestants was done long before they even thought about sashaying across a stage in front of family, friends and even strangers.

As Chief Petty Officer Lauren Walton, a yeoman chief of the administrative division, Coast Guard Sector Columbia River, walked across the pageant stage as Mrs. Clatsop County the following words were read by the emcee.

“Lauren has blonde hair and green eyes and is active duty Coast Guard and has served for 19 honorable years. She has been the president of the Chief Petty Officer’s Association Lower Columbia River Chapter, a non-profit organization, for the past 3 years raising money for Coast Guard members and their families who are in need. She is the leader of the Astoria Cloverbuds, a junior 4-H program that focuses on children between the ages of 5 and 8 years old, and she just loves doing that. Lauren and her husband Travis met during their respective Coast Guard careers, Mrs. Clatsop County Lauren Walton everyone.”

By day, Walton as the chief yeoman in the administrative shop oversees administrative support functions for 550 Coast Guard personnel including pay, entitlements, travel orders, awards, career moves, retirement and veteran benefits.

By night she is a doting mother and wife and somehow finds time for constant self-improvement including running half and full marathons. These things she looks forward to doing full-time when she retires from the Coast Guard in 2019 alongside her husband Chief Petty Officer Travis Walton, machinery technician aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Alert.

“When I retire I plan on staying home, learning to cook, garden and other homemaking activities,” said Walton. “I am going to put my heart and soul into my home, and I can’t wait to move to Idaho and get started.”

Chief Petty Officer Lauren Walton, yeoman, Coast Guard Sector Columbia River, with her family after competing as Mrs. Clatsop County in the Mrs. Oregon America Pageant held at West Linn High School in West Linn, Ore., March 17, 2018.
Walton’s community service efforts within Clatsop County, Oregon, helped her win the county crown allowing her to compete in the Mrs. Oregon America pageant.
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Levi Read.

In the meantime she will continue her role as president of the local Chief Petty Officer’s Association, where she has raised the visibility and achievements of this particular chapter to unprecedented levels.

“When I moved to Astoria 3 years ago as a brand new chief petty officer and joined the CPOA I was just looking to learn from the handful of chiefs that were actively participating in the CPOA,” said Walton.

During one of the meetings the association was looking for a new governing body and one of the members then Chief Petty Officer Garen Anderson, nominated Walton to be the president.

“Lauren was the ideal candidate for the Chief Petty Officers Association because of her bubbly, outgoing, commitment to the community and service with the Coast Guard,” said Anderson. “Without a shadow of a doubt, no one was better suited to fill the role of CPOA President than Lauren Walton.”

Under her leadership, membership tripled, community outreach soared to new heights, and the spirit of giving and compassion within the community was invigorated.

“At first I was extremely surprised by the nomination because I was a brand new chief, but then I received a split-second gut-feeling that I could make a difference,” said Walton.

In calendar years 2016 and 2017 the Lower Columbia River CPOA chapter raised $20,000 total and is on track to raise at least $50,000 in 2018 alone.

Walton believes the reason she has been successful in leading her peers is because she has a passion for helping others especially fellow Coasties, and the people she interacts with can see that.

Chief Petty Officer Lauren Walton, administrative chief, Coast Guard Sector Columbia River, and fellow members of the Lower Columbia River Chapter of the Chief Petty Officer’s Association provided barbecue hot dogs and hamburgers at a Valentine’s Day CPOA fundraiser held at the Sector Columbia River Coast Guard base in Warrenton, Ore., Feb. 14, 2018.
The Lower Columbia River Chapter of the CPOA under the presidency of Walton has raised more than $20,000 in the past two years in support of Coast Guard and local community members in need.
U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of Chief Petty Officer Lauren Walton.

Some of the most notable achievements of this CPOA that Walton has overseen is the creation of the first scholarship this chapter has ever handed out, which gave a student $1,000 in 2016 and $2,000 in 2017 with the hopes of doubling the scholarship money again in 2018. This chapter also gave $1,000 dollars in support of foster kids who live in Clatsop County. Among other things they have sponsored and continue to sponsor the local swim team and a local little league baseball team. They sponsored a little civilian girl for 6-months of Tae Kwan Do lessons, including her uniform, who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend.

The achievements listed above have gone outside the Coast Guard network, but there has been many instances where the CPOA has been able to help Coast Guardsmen through emergency situations and has fed personnel at the sector on several occasions with barbecue hot dogs and hamburgers without charging for it, which always raises the morale of the crew.

The money is raised through bake sales, car washes and donations from community businesses and members. One of the most successful fundraisers has been the annual Valentine’s Day raffle that has raised $5,000 in the two years that it has been held. The raffle prizes are all donated by businesses within the Coast Guard City of Astoria and the surrounding communities.

“I have seen the buy-in from these people and businesses because they have seen the good that comes from our efforts,” said Walton. “They are made aware of what their contributions and donations go toward through my interaction with the local newspaper, the Astoria Executive Women’s Group, the Chamber of Commerce, on top of public and personal one-on-one meetings.”

On top of the 15 hours per month she spends doing CPOA activities, Walton leads 12 kids ranging from 5 to 8 years-old in Junior 4-H (Head, Heart, Hands and Health) in a group known as Cloverbuds. The program focuses on caring for smaller animals like rabbits, chickens, hamsters and Guinea pigs. The kids learn presentation skills, community service, leadership and public speaking.

“The idea is to have the kids have fun, while actually teaching them life-skills at a young age and get them prepared for 4H,” said Walton.

Chief Petty Officer Lauren Walton, administrative chief, Coast Guard Sector Columbia River, volunteers time as a leader of a Junior 4-H club known as Cloverbuds at a Cloverbuds meeting in Astoria, Ore., Feb. 11, 2018.
Walton was recently recognized as Mrs. Clatsop County and competed in the Mrs. Oregon America Pageant, which recognizes married women who succeed in profession, with family and community service.
U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of Chief Petty Officer Lauren Walton.

All this community service brings they story back to the Mrs. Oregon America Pageant. The pageant was created in the spirit of the Miss America and Miss Teen America circuits but celebrates being married, having a family and community service.

“Up until participating in this pageant I had never participated in a pageant before,” said Walton. “My only experience prior to this pageant was seeing the Mrs. America pageant participants walk through the lobby of a hotel in Nevada when I was 18-years-old.”

But now as a 40-year-old women preparing for retirement, Walton was looking into ways to improve her wardrobe and still keep looking good outside the Coast Guard.

“I kind of stumbled upon the pageant and thought it was something completely different than military life,” said Walton.

But as it turned out military-life prepared her to succeed in pageant life because contestants are expected to be on time, look sharp and speak up.

“I totally recommend other women getting into pageantry because it all starts with community service,” said Walton. “It is never too late to reach for your dreams, I recommend stepping out of your comfort zone and going for it! It can only help you grow!”

Walton learned that pageantry is hard work after putting 70 to 100 hours into it. In the end Walton was not selected as one of the four finalist, but that was okay because she was in it more for her heart than for a crown.

“The women I competed against are amazing and are very dedicated to family and community,” said Walton. “I tried to win, but those women were just too amazing!”

Walton is proud of what she accomplished. She does the things she does because it matters to somebody else. She wants to encourage every chief petty officer to join and participate in their local CPOA.

“I love helping people, especially junior Coasties,” said Walton. “There is nothing like the heartfelt thank-you I receive when we are able to help someone in need. It locked me in forever.”

Chief Petty Officer Lauren Walton (fourth from left), yeoman, Coast Guard Sector Columbia River, stands with eleven of her fellow contestants during the Mrs. Oregon America Pageant held at West Linn High School in West Linn, Ore., March 17, 2018.
The pageant was created in the spirit of the Miss America and Miss Teen America circuits but celebrates being married, having a family and community service.
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Levi Read

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