2011 Coastguardsman of the Year
MST2 Nicole EmmonsRecently married to Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Michael Emmons
LAKE CHARLES, La. — Adversity doesn’t scare Marine Science Technician 2nd Class Nicole Emmons.
When fellow recruits affectionately called a then-25-year-old Emmons “Grandma” at boot camp, she finished as the honor graduate. When a seventh-grader at a local school asked her what it felt like to do “a man’s job,” she began going to local high schools to encourage young women to join the Coast Guard.
And when Emmons was faced with the task of creating a homeland security unit from scratch at her home station, she helped build a team that’s thriving today.
For her tenacity, commitment to community service and drive to mentor younger colleagues, 30-year-old Emmons is the 2011 Coast Guardsman of the Year. She is stationed at Marine Safety Unit Lake Charles, where she helps plan the Coast Guard’s response to situations such as oil spills.
“She is willing to step up as necessary and take that authoritative lead, but she is willing to step aside and mentor and develop the strengths of others,” said Chief Marine Science Technician Chris Ellison, Emmons’ supervisor, who nominated her for Coast Guardsman of the Year.
Emmons joined the Coast Guard after working at a series of places that didn’t quite fit — a gem-mining tourist site, at Walgreens as a pharmacy technician and later assistant manager, and a veterinarian’s office.
One day, when she was unloading a Walgreens truck in Clearwater, Fla., a Coast Guard helicopter flew by.
“I thought, ‘That’s the job to have, right there,’” she said. “I was aware of the Coast Guard [in Clearwater], because it’s so big down there. But that was kind of my defining moment.”
Within about a month, she had gone to a nearby Coast Guard recruiting office and signed up. Soon, she gave her two weeks’ notice at work and was off to Training Center Cape May, N.J.
“I wanted to work my way up,” Emmons said. “Not that you don’t have respect if you don’t work your way up, but if I chose to be an officer one day and be a leader, I’d know what it’s like to clean bird stuff off the pier. I would know what it’s like to be scrubbing bilges and shining brass.”
Emmons wanted to be a marine science technician to do hands-on work with industry and protect the environment. Like many MSTs, she has tackled a number of roles in her field — pollution, law enforcement, facilities and now planning.
Among her peers, Emmons is known for jumping on any opportunities to volunteer — everything from breast-cancer walks to Habitat for Humanity to the Compass program, a diversity oriented program in which Coast Guardsmen go to local schools and talk to students about careers in the service.
She also takes time to mentor younger colleagues, helping them in any way she can to get their quals and move up in the service.
“It’s just Nicole,” said her direct supervisor, MST1 Daniel Lanno. “She never turns down an opportunity.”
As a law-enforcement instructor at MSU Lake Charles, Emmons took on the task in fall 2009 of building a homeland security unit for her station on top of her regular duties. She trained Coast Guardsmen to perform security boardings and conducted them herself, working 60 to 70 hours a week when the unit was in its infancy.
“She has stepped up to the plate numerous times,” said Lt. Michelle Ferguson, chief of response at the unit. “She’s a phenomenal person. She has drive, and that’s what separates her from a lot of others.”
Emmons hopes to be a leader in the Coast Guard, as either an officer or higher up the enlisted chain. She also hopes to start a family in the next few years with new husband and fellow Coastie Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Michael Emmons.
Nicole Emmons learned in June that for a second time she didn’t make the cut for Officer Candidate School. But she said, like so much else in life, facing a tough challenge ahead doesn’t mean she’ll quit.
“It’s going to be a bumpy road,” she said. “It’s not going to be easy, because it’s very competitive right now, but I’m going to keep trying.”