The second-in-command at U.S. Coast Guard Station Montauk, Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class and Executive Petty Officer Derek Paulsen, concluded his second tour there last week.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” the 29-year-old Springs resident, in his navy blue uniform, said in an interview at the station’s mess deck in Bruckenthal Hall, one day before his final day of duty on Friday.
A highlight of his latest tour, which began in February 2010, was starting up—along with East Hampton Town Chief Harbormaster Ed Michels—a fire service vehicle operators course designed to give formal training to local firefighters to assist the Coast Guard with search and rescue.
“Most have boats for their department, but they didn’t have any sort of training,” BM1 Paulsen explained. “They would just go out, and it would kind of be the Wild West. We didn’t want them getting hurt.”
But the Coast Guard is all about joint operations, he pointed out, so if the fire departments had certain training, it would be not only for their safety, but would also be an asset for the Coast Guard.
He and the harbormaster wrote up the course, taught topics such as how to run search patterns and different types of protective gear—like “float coats,” coats with built-in flotation, and anti-exposure coveralls—held drills and administered a final exam. Those who passed earned a certificate. The course started two years ago, with Montauk, Sag Harbor and Shelter Island the original participants, and expanded this year to include more of the East End and North Fork.
BMI Paulsen said he hopes the course will continue to expand west, and expressed a twinge of sadness that he won’t be around to teach it.
He “fleeted up” to the executive petty officer position after making first class in August 2010, and since has been tasked with ensuring the station and its 29 active duty and nine reservists run smoothly, as well as managing the station’s budget. The most common violations the Coast Guard in Montauk faces involve people catching fish for which they don’t have permits and boating while intoxicated.
BMI Paulsen’s new, two-year assignment will take him to Portland, Maine, where he will serve on a 100-foot patrol boat, the CGC Jefferson Island.
A lover of Montauk, he said he would like to retire on the East End eventually. One of his favorite aspects of being stationed out here was getting to know the community. He noted, for example, that his government housing is integrated into the neighborhood in Springs, rather than walled off.
The Hicksville native enlisted in 2001 at age 17, though he didn’t start boot camp until 18. His first tour in Montauk was from 2004 to 2008, during which he advanced from a BM third class to second class. He was then sent as a boarding and deck-watch officer to CGC Barracuda, an 87-foot patrol boat out of Humboldt Bay, California. His tour there was cut short by six months so he could return to Montauk after its former station commander and second-in-command were relieved of their duties. BM1 Paulsen declined to discuss that, but news reports at the time said the pair were ousted after taking two-million-dollar rescue boats into heavy surf even though they were not officially qualified to do so.
BM1 Paulsen hails from a military family, but is the only member to have joined the Coast Guard.
As a teen in the late 1990s, he was visiting his brother Jason at the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland when his career inspiration hit him. An orange boat had pulled up to a dock. Four guys got off, bought ice cream and went back on board, he recalled. “I’m assuming they got what we call now a SAR case, a search-and-rescue case, because they turned on their blue lights and they shot out of there as fast as they could. I was like, ‘Wow, that was so cool,’ and I just remember seeing the back of their vests saying ‘U.S. Coast Guard.’ That memory stuck with me for a long time.”
Aware of the power of such memories among children, BM1 Paulsen is particularly open to giving tours of the station to those who ask.
“He’s done an outstanding job,” said the station’s officer in charge, Jason Walter. “He’s always been very willing to cover other people’s positions, if someone was out sick or on leave. He’s always stepped up. It’s been a pleasure having him for the last three years,” He added, with a laugh, “It made it easy for me.”