Honor, Respect, Devotion to Duty: CS1 Mason Champlin

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Written by Petty Officer 3rd Class Brian McCrum

Petty Officer 1st Class Mason Champlin takes a moment to show off his awards and achievements in his basement office situated in Lakewood, Ohio, Dec. 9, 2017. Champlin's latest achievement is the oar-shaped plaque he earned as the special command aid of the year. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Brian McCrum.

Petty Officer 1st Class Mason Champlin takes a moment to show off his awards and achievements in his basement office situated in Lakewood, Ohio, Dec. 9, 2017. Champlin’s latest achievement is the oar-shaped plaque he earned as the special command aid of the year. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Brian McCrum.

Cooking kalua pork for a Hawaiian-themed dinner requires plenty of preparation…and a leaf blower.

Petty Officer 1st Class Mason Champlin uses a leaf blower to prepare the Coast Guard's 9th District commander's house for a holiday party in Lakewood, Ohio, Dec. 7, 2017. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Brian McCrum.

Petty Officer 1st Class Mason Champlin uses a leaf blower to prepare the Coast Guard’s 9th District commander’s house for a holiday party in Lakewood, Ohio, Dec. 7, 2017. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Brian McCrum.

In the backyard of the admiral’s quarters in Lakewood, Ohio, Petty Officer 1st Class Mason Champlin, a culinary specialist in the U.S. Coast Guard, finishes rolling up the chicken wire garden fence for the vegetable garden he built last spring. He picks up the leaf blower and begins corralling the dead leaves into a manageable pile. The leaves wrangled, he continues planning the Hawaiian menu for the holiday party while painting the shutters in the formal living room of the admiral’s house.

As the Special Command Aide (SCA) to the Coast Guard’s 9th District commander, this is just another day at the office for Champlin.

“Our basic mission statement is to relieve the flag officers of any minuscule job that would otherwise interfere with their official duties,” said Champlin. “Flag officers are, by far, in my opinion, the busiest people in the Coast Guard. They are constantly in meetings or on the road. That’s why they have a full staff trying to help them maintain their schedule.”

Having been the SCA for two district commanders over the past 2 ½ years, Champlin has had plenty of experience being the head chef and event planner for official parties, as well as being the caretaker for everything that goes along with the upkeep of a 100-year-old house and property. For his efforts, Champlin was selected for the 2017 Special Command Aide of the Year award, which recognized him for his leadership, job performance, self improvement, community involvement and commitment to the Coast Guard’s core values. While the SCA competition is a Coast Guard specific honor, the winner goes on to compete against the enlisted aide of the year from each branch of service in Washington, D.C. Champlin just returned from Washington, D.C. a week earlier after the enlisted aide from the Army won the overall distinction.

“That was an experience to say the least,” he said. “They sit you down in front of a board of retired generals, retired admirals, other retired enlisted aides and retired flag officer spouses as well, and they’ll ask you a list of questions about your job and how you would handle specific situations within your [Representative Facility] to make sure that you have a broad understanding of the positions. It’s a unique job, it really is.”

Given the uniqueness and relative rarity of the job, it is surprising that Champlin actually knew of the job before he joined the Coast Guard and had the position as a specific career goal. He knew it was a position that he could apply for once he had served three years of required sea time, as well as having reached the rank of petty officer first class. However, his real reason for joining was his passion for cooking.

Petty Officer 1st Class Mason Champlin prepares for a Hawaiian themed holiday party at the Coast Guard 9th District commander's house in Lakewood, Ohio, Dec. 9, 2017. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Brian McCrum.

Petty Officer 1st Class Mason Champlin prepares for a Hawaiian themed holiday party at the Coast Guard 9th District commander’s house in Lakewood, Ohio, Dec. 9, 2017. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Brian McCrum.

“The only reason I joined the Coast Guard, was to cook,” said Champlin, now in his ninth year of active duty. “I’m not cooking for me; I’m cooking for others. I just happen to like it. At the end of the day, I’ll cook anything if my crew wants it.”

Champlin said culinary specialists are often underway and he looks forward to getting back underway after his tour of duty as the SCA is up in a year and a half. He said he doesn’t mind deployments or the long hours because he enjoys trying to make the food the highlight of the deployment for his crew.

“When you’re in the kitchen it doesn’t matter; it’s fun.”

Champlin said running a galley underway is the equivalent of running a restaurant, without the monotony of having to cook the same menu day in and day out.

“Even on the boat and at stations you’re not cooking the same stuff every day,” he said. “You get to make your own menus; you have complete creative control – that is the real difference between working on the civilian side versus the military side. So I really like that aspect of it.”

Now that he is the SCA to the ninth district commander, Champlin doesn’t cook nearly as much on a daily basis because he only cooks for official events when the admiral is entertaining. These events occur about every two weeks and entail much more than just food preparation. He said as a SCA he is essentially an entire catering company in one when it comes to putting on an event. But even when an event is not going on, Champlin is constantly busy with anything from cleaning the official entertaining spaces, to ironing and maintaining the admiral’s uniforms, to mowing the lawn.

“The way I always say it is we’re about 30% [culinary specialist], 30% [store keeper], 30% [damage controlman] and 10% non-rate,” said Champlin, who enjoys the variety. “How many other cooks can say, ‘oh yeah I came into work today and raked up a whole bunch of leaves. I have some new shutter pulls to install in some shutters upstairs; I have some painting to do on the same shutters, and then tomorrow I’m cooking.’ It’s just such a dynamic schedule.”

As his tour of duty winds down over the next year and a half, Champlin will continue to work on his master’s degree in entrepreneurship, having already completed his bachelor’s degree in management. He hopes to open a restaurant when his military career is over, and he continues to scope out potential locations as he travels from duty station to duty station in the Coast Guard.

Petty Officer 1st Class Mason Champlin uses this room in the 100-year-old house to plan many of the Coast Guard 9th District commander's events. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Brian McCrum.

Petty Officer 1st Class Mason Champlin uses this basement in the 100-year-old house to plan many of the Coast Guard 9th District commander’s events in Lakewood, Ohio, Dec. 9, 2017. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Brian McCrum.

In his basement office of the 100-year-old house, among his many other awards, achievements and challenge coins, sits his special command aide of the year plaque in the shape of a small oar. Champlin stands up and picks up the paddle.

“Everything I won was on the shoulders of other people just as much as it was my efforts,” he said. “It’s a team effort; it’s not just me.”

His enthusiasm for the work, coupled with his skill and devotion to the job, clearly made him an obvious choice for the annual award.

“I’d like to give someone else the opportunity to get in the program, and I’d like to get back to an operational unit to share my knowledge.”

Given his many and varied experiences so far, that breadth of knowledge will undoubtedly be of value to his next unit and to the culinary specialist rating as a whole.


U.S. Coast Guard Culinary Specialists receive their “A” School training at Training Center Petaluma, California, with 13 weeks of state-of-the-art culinary training. Culinary specialists serve in approximately 370 different units worldwide supporting the Coast Guard mission. The current designation of “culinary specialist” was instituted in January of 2017 after changing from the title of “food service specialist” to “more accurately reflect the unique culinary skills and professional expertise held by members of the rating.” For more information, please visit http://www.gocoastguard.com/

 


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