Meet Your Coast Guard Reserve

This is the sixteenth post of a month-long question and answer series, introducing members of the Coast Guard’s Pacific Northwest Reserve Force and recognizing their contributions to our country and community.

Commander James Hotchkiss
U.S. Coast Guard Reserve
Port Security Unit 313 (Everett, WA)

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Q. Where is your hometown?
A. Originally Riverside, California, but I now reside in Waterloo, Illinois, a St. Louis suburb.

Q. How long have you been in the Coast Guard?
A. I’ve been in the Coast Guard for 27 years in total. Eight years active duty enlisted as a QM1, one year reserve enlisted and 18 years reserve commissioned officer.

Q. Why did you join the Coast Guard? Why do you stay/what keeps you motivated?
A. I almost joined the Marines about midway through my senior year of high school, but my parents persuaded me to wait to enlist until after graduation. In the meantime, a Coast Guard recruiter sent a flyer. The photos in the flyer made it look like people in the Coast Guard just had more fun. I stay mostly because it is fun and I do enjoy it. I enjoy working with people who are like me, people who enjoy their work but are no less serious and committed than other services.

Hotchkiss 1Q. Have you been deployed since joining the reserves? If so, where and when?
A. Yes. I am currently deployed as part of Maritime Security Detachment (MARSECDET). Previously, I deployed to Kuwait in 2010-11 as XO (Executive Officer) of Port Security Unit (PSU) 308. In 2003, I was mobilized and sent to Headquarters Department of Homeland Security as an intelligence analyst. In 2001, I was mobilized after the 9/11 Terrorist Attack to Group/Air Station Humboldt, Bay, California.

Q. What are some of your responsibilities while on duty?
A. I am Commanding Officer (CO) of PSU 313 and Commander of MARSECDET. For my first year in the unit, until we actually deployed, we worked very hard training tactical boat crews, though I rarely get out on the boats. I am responsible for all of the training, readiness and personnel administration for all 140+ personnel assigned. On deployment, we send our boats out on Anti-Terror/Force Protection (AT/FP) patrols, guarding the coastal approaches to our area of responsibility. We add additional AT/FP patrols and provide maritime security during high tempo periods.

Q. What do you do on a typical duty day?
A. A weekend drill in a PSU is like 48 hours of “New York Minutes.” We are always driving and pushing our crews during a typical drill. We have a flurry of leadership meetings, all hands musters and operational briefings. It often is hard to fit in junior officer mentoring and actual occupational skill building activities. While deployed, for me, it is pretty much an 8-5 type schedule except when it is not. With a 24/7 joint forces operation, where the coasties are the only people in the entire operation that manage certain patrols, I have to be ready to take operational calls all day and all night.

Q. What’s your most memorable experience since joining the Coast Guard?
A. As a QM2-underway Officer of the Deck and Conn on the Coast Guard Cutter Attu, operating in the Straits of Florida on the 2000-2400 watch, we were being chased by another 110-foot WPB (Coast Guard patrol boat). We were in a hurry to get from Key West to Miami for a dockside, so we were going flank speed, approximately 30 knots. It was a typically busy night for marine traffic in the straits, but we kept hearing the Coast Guard Cutter Baranof on the radio reporting to Group Miami about a fast moving contact. Meanwhile, I had this constant bearing-decreasing range contact of the port side. Finally, the skipper got on the radio and called the cutter. It was us they were chasing. It was very stressful and I was exhausted at the end of that watch.

Q. What is your occupation outside of the Coast Guard? Where?
A. I am a Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT) instructor for National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA), St Louis, Missouri.

Q. How do you balance Coast Guard and civilian life? Any challenges?
A. Honestly, in a PSU, and especially as the CO, it is not much of a balance. The Coast Guard wins. Challenges include flying to drill each month and taking work home. I get a direct flight to Seattle and shuffle my work schedule, so that I fly out on Thursday night and back on Monday afternoon. While deployed, I certainly miss my family and home life. It will be close to 13 months away from home by the time I get back. I also had to forego some job opportunities because of the pending deployment. However, I think it is worthwhile and would not change a thing.

Hotchkiss 2Q. Are there any skills you’ve learned through the Coast Guard that you apply to your civilian career and vice versa?
A. Maps and geography had always been an interest of mine and I would often spend time flipping through an atlas or just looking at fold-out road maps. My interest in mapping led me to choose the Quartermaster (QM) rating. While aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Attu, I began my association with NGA’s predecessor, the Defense Mapping Agency (DMA). As a QM, my job was to maintain the inventory of nautical charts and publications. I used DMA’s weekly Notice to Mariners (NTM) to make pen and ink corrections to paper charts. At some point while aboard the Attu, I found an error on a chart and I mailed in a discrepancy report from the back of the NTM booklet with my recommended correction. This got me thinking about how maps are made, who makes them, and what type of training one needs to become a map maker. After earning both a B.A. and an M.A. in geography from the California State University system, I started at NGA in 2007. It felt like my odyssey that began in 1990 with chart corrections aboard the Attu, was now complete.

Q. How does being in the reserves impact the service as a whole?
A. Having been mobilized four times now and all of my drilling time in between, I have always felt more like a part-time active duty than a reservist.

Q. Anything else you’d like for us to know/include?
A. My nearly eight years of service in three different PSUs have been both challenging and rewarding. In Kuwait, my unit protected shipping during the drawdown from Operation Iraqi Freedom. We helped protect Iraq while it got its feet on the ground economically by selling its oil on the world market. In my current deployment, we are part of the force providing maritime security overseas. In a PSU, I feel like I am living the Coast Guard Reserve recruiting slogan of “Jobs that Matter.”

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