Posted by Petty Officer 2nd Class Renee Aiello, Tuesday, December 7, 2010
The Compass program has been created to broaden the Coast Guard’s presence in underrepresented communities. Individual members or units have the ability to sign-up for the program in an effort to spread the mission of the Coast Guard to communities where recruitment offices and/or Coast Guard units are not in the immediate vicinity.
Most recently, Coast Guard Marine Safety Lake Charles, located in the heart of the Lake Charles, La., community, was named the Diversity Champion of the Week. The acknowledgement came directly from the Coast Guard Headquarters Diversity Staff. The Diversity Champion distinction is bestowed upon an individual or unit who has made significant contributions in support of the Commandant’s Diversity Strategic Plan.
“I am extremely proud of the initiative shown by our Compass program participants. We have a good group of members who are highly committed to making a difference within the Lake Charles community,” said Lt. Cmdr. Robert Compher, commanding officer of MSU Lake Charles. “The experience will not only raise awareness about the Coast Guard to members of the local community, but will serve to enrich the lives of our volunteers as well,” he said.
MSU Lake Charles has taken the challenge of the Compass program as a unit mission. The process was the combined efforts of Chief Warrant Officer Keith Wilbee and Petty Officer 3rd Class Anthony Williams, a marine science technician at MSU Lake Chares.
“We thought it would be an awesome opportunity to be able to go into the under- represented communities and put the Coast Guard out there,” said Wilbee.
Wilbee then generated an all-hands e-mail to the unit asking for volunteers to join the program. The response was overwhelming: a team of 15 personnel replied with explicit interest, said Wilbee.
To clarify, Lake Charles is east of the Texas border over the state line. As Wilbee explained, the closest Coast Guard recruiting station is in Metairie, La., which is approximately three hours from Lake Charles.
“More often than not, people have never even heard of the Coast Guard. I make contact with the school and get us involved with community events and then as a whole we get out there to raise awareness,” said Williams.
Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew Hutchins, also a marine science technician at MSU Lake Charles and Compass program volunteer, explained about a recent event the group attended at a high school in Anacoco, which is located in central Louisiana. In Anacoco, there are not a whole lot of opportunities for employment following high school graduation, he said.
“There is a lumber mill and a health clinic in the town as the main sources of real employment opportunities,” said Hutchins.
Anacoco is just north of Ft. Polk, which means that students only see representatives from the Army up there. The majority of the students had never heard of the Coast Guard and the jobs and educational opportunities offered within the organization, said Hutchins.
“The students were asking us realistic questions. It was if they were seeing the Coast Guard as an attainable goal instead of something unrealistic that they could never dream of achieving,” said Hutchins.
Williams added that the Compass program enables Coast Guard members to reach out to all demographics.
“We are able to reach all different cultures and all different demographics through the Compass program,” said Williams. “We show them that goals are attainable. I think the Compass program gives the students the tools to reach those goals,” he said.
Wilbee is a huge proponent of the Compass program, and takes a great sense of pride in the Coast Guard and what it brought to his life. Now is Wilbee’s opportunity to “pay it forward” and show the next generation the benefits of life in the Coast Guard.
“I grew up in the 1970s in Kansas City and both my parents had passed away by the time I was 14,” said Wilbee. “I thought I had no opportunities until I stumbled onto the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard was the best thing that ever happened to me. It provided me with the tools I needed to succeed and now it’s time I pass that knowledge on to the next generation,” he said.