From the Homefront: What Coastie kids think aviators do

Twice a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “From the Homefront,” a column for Coast Guard spouses by Coast Guard spouse Shelley Kimball. Shelley has been married to Capt. Joe Kimball, chief of the office of aviation forces at Coast Guard headquarters, for 15 years. She currently serves on the board of directors for the Military Family Advisory Network.

Written by Shelley Kimball

The Kimball Family. Photo courtesy of Julie Forgeng Photography.

The Kimball Family. Photo courtesy of Julie Forgeng Photography.

I think it’s safe to assume that when Cmdr. Elmer Stone took his first Coast Guard flight 100 years ago, he did not foresee this much paperwork.

In honor of this year’s celebration of the centennial of Coast Guard aviation, we asked Coastie kids what they think aviators do all day. Some themes emerged: sitting around all day, being away from home a lot, keeping people safe, and doing a lot of paperwork.

My family is no exception. Our kids are pretty active in Coast Guard life, and their dad is the chief of the Office of Aviation Forces. I was a bit surprised to hear what they think pilots do at work.

Portrait of Shelley Kimball.

Portrait of Shelley Kimball.

Grace, who is 11, thinks aviators are busy on very long flights:

“I feel like Coast Guard pilots, some of them early in the morning, they get in the plane or helicopter. When they fly out, they don’t come back until late at night. Half of them are surveying the ocean to make sure there are no broken ships, lost ships, or any people that have been taken away from the ships,” she said. “The other half looks for illegal drug ships (Dad told me this), and they all do this from early morning until late at night to make sure everybody is safe, our county is safe, and our country is safe.”

Joe, 13, has clearly absorbed what his dad means when he tells people he “flies a desk” now that he is at Coast Guard headquarters:

“I think Coast Guard pilots fly around in Casas and helicopters, sometimes sit in offices, but most of all, they help save lives. Without them, I don’t know where we would be,” Joe said. “When you’re at work, I think they just help fix up the aircrafts and boats, but they also still, even though they are sitting in their offices, they are still saving lives.”

Addison Allen, 9, seems to agree with Joe. Or perhaps it is because her dad, Lt. Cmdr. Ryan Allen, the C4ISR platform manager in the Office of Aviation Forces, flies a desk at headquarters, too. Addison said pilots, “sit at a desk all day, go on night flights, and go to cool places without us.”

I thought perhaps it was an issue in aviation forces because Rhett Walker, 6, also noticed the paper in the life of an aviator. His dad, Lt. Cmdr. Will Walker, is the ship helo platform manager in the Office of Aviation Forces.

“Coast Guard pilots do work, work at the computer, print stuff and fly,” Rhett said. “When they fly, they rescue people and look for crimes.”

The Lavinder family: Sarah, her son Nolan, daughter Felicity, and husband Lt. Daniel Lavinder, a 65 pilot. Photo courtesy of the Lavinder family.

The Lavinder family: Sarah, her son Nolan, daughter Felicity, and husband Lt. Daniel Lavinder, a 65 pilot. Photo courtesy of the Lavinder family.

But then, other Coastie kids also said paperwork was a big part of the life of a pilot. For example, Henry Langston, 6, and his sister Maggie, 3, said, “They all fly helicopters all day and work at their desks.” Their dad is Grant Langston, an H-60 pilot stationed in Kodiak, Alaska. Their mom, Holly, said that Maggie has always called helicopters “O-cha-chas” because she had trouble pronouncing it when she was younger.

And then Kaeden Smith, 9, whose dad is Chief Petty Officer Jeffrey Smith, stationed in Kodiak, said “Coast Guard pilots do paperwork all day.”

Beyond the paperwork, our Coastie kids also notice that aviators are away from home a lot.

Deanne Bland, whose husband Cmdr. Chad Bland is the executive officer at Air Station Miami, said that when their son Tyler was about 7, he used to tell everyone he wanted to become a pilot because they get to stay in hotels. Tyler is now 15, and he still plans to follow in his dad’s footsteps.

The Lavinder kids, whose dad Lt. Daniel Lavinder is a helicopter pilot in Kodiak, have all the details. Nolan Lavinder, 7, said his dad “flies on a helicopter and C-130s.” Nolan’s little sister, Felicity, 5, said her dad’s flying time is a family effort.

“Daddy gets his work suitcase and gets on an airplane ride but not the helicopter,” Felicity said. “He flies the helicopter and mommy picks him up then he comes home. He sleeps at work.”

Some of our kids think pilots get a whole lot done in the course of a day. Owen Smith, 9, whose dad is Lt. Cmdr. Paul Smith, who is the assistant operations officer, rotary wing, at Air Station Miami, said aviators’ schedules include both flying and completing their training. In one day.

“They fly around all day and save people, and they go to flight school,” he said.

Gabriel Capistrano, 13, and his brother Chandler, 11, summed up what their dad Cmdr. Flip Capistrano, executive officer of Air Station Borinquen, Puerto Rico, does all day: “He flies. And he helps people. And he flies.”

Eligh Kalani Ortiz, 4. Photo courtesy of his mom, Rae Ortiz.

Eligh Kalani Ortiz, 4. Photo courtesy of his mom, Rae Ortiz.

James Stroup, 4, said, “They go on boats all day,” while his sister Jesse, 7, clarified, “Boat or plane pilots?” When her mom, Jennifer clarified aircraft, Jesse said, “They work and fly on planes all day.” Their dad is Petty Officer John Stroup, a gunner’s mate at Air Station Kodiak.

And, most importantly, our kids think Coast Guard aviators keep us safe. Jonathan Weiser, 5, whose dad Lt. Chris Weiser is stationed at the Force Readiness Command, focused on search and rescue and communication.

“They rescue people,” he said. “If people on boats or soldiers need help, they can come back and tell people.”

Eligh Kalani Ortiz, 4, whose dad is a coxswain at Station Fort Macon, North Carolina, said, “They fly out and hook to a crane and fly around and see if the waves are bad, and if they are, they go get people.”

The Rife boys have it covered. Their dad is Petty Officer Dustin Rife, stationed at Air Station Kodiak. Three-year-old Conrad said that pilots help people and fly all day. His brother, Bradley, 6, had a whole story to tell.

C-130 pilots take three parachutes with them when they fly and jump out while flying. They have a lot of other pilots to keep flying the aircraft,” he told his mom, Alicia Kay Rife. “When not flying they are teaching other pilots to watch out for other airplanes. Helicopter pilots help people to get off sinking boats. They say ‘No, a boat!’ when they fly away from the sinking boat after saving everyone from the boat.”

The Rife family: (from left) Bradley, Alicia, Emmett, Conrad, with SK2 Dustin Rife. Photo courtesy of Rife Family; photo credit Breanna Peterson.

The Rife family: (from left) Bradley, Alicia, Emmett, Conrad, with SK2 Dustin Rife. Photo courtesy of Rife Family; photo credit Breanna Peterson.

The Pickrell kids weren’t sure at first, but that’ s understandable because their dad, Cmdr. Kristian Pickrell, a staff judge advocate at Coast Guard headquarters was on buoy tenders before they were born, and he has had a desk job since they’ve been born. But once they figured it out, they were right on target.

“Mine were very sheepish, which makes sense as daddy isn’t an aviator,” said Rhonda Pickrell, mom to Eleanor, 11, and Oscar, 9. “Their uncle is a private sector sea pilot so initially they both said ‘drive ships!’ When I tried again specifying Coast Guard air pilots, they said ‘drive planes!’ and ‘practice rescuing people out of the water and then actually doing it!’”

Logan Russell, 4, whose dad is Lt. Richard Russell, the executive officer of the North Pacific Regional Fisheries Training Center, made an alarming observation.

“Coast Guard pilots rescue people who have fire on them!” Logan said.

Photo courtesy of Julie Forgeng Photography.

Photo courtesy of Julie Forgeng Photography.

Shawna McQuate’s little ones were also slightly confused about aviators, but then who knows? They may be right. Her husband, Lt. Daniel McQuate is in marine safety facility compliance. Their 4-year-old, Annie, said of pilots that “they drive boats.” When Shawna asked their daughter, Addison, there was more to the answer.

“When I asked my 3-year-old what Coast Guard pilots do all day, her response was, ‘They talk to captains,’” Shawna said. “While this may be true, she made a pirate growl, so I don’t believe she means the rank captain. She means a pirate captain.”

The Breuer kids each have their own way of explaining what aviators do at work. Their dad is Lt. Chris Breuer, an ALPAT pilot. Nathaniel, 4, said, “They do something flying.” Big sister Hannah, who is almost 8, was succinct: “Fly. Tell people stuff. Sail. Protect. Learn how to fly. Save people.”

But 5-year-old Ben Brewer? He knows it all:

“I think they do nothing. They fly all day,” Ben said. “They load up the helicopter. They get ready to take off. And they get ready to turn on the spinners. They take off by then. Then they land and take off. They take off again after landing. And then they get ready to off-load the helicopter. Then they go inside. And then they change their clothes back to normal. And then they go home and come back later to do paperwork. And then they come back later for more flying and stuff. And then they load up to go to a boat and then the boat takes them halfway and then they fly the rest of the way and find a hotel and then sleep. The next morning they wake up and go to an appointment. And then they start back home.”

What do your kids think Coast Guard pilots do all day? Tell us in the comments section below!

The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Commandant or of the U.S. Coast Guard.


The Kimball Family. Photo courtesy of Julie Forgeng Photography.

The Kimball Family. Photo courtesy of Julie Forgeng Photography.

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