Rescuing someone lost at sea is no common feat. But, when you have 27 years of service in the Coast Guard, it’s all in a day’s work.
Michael Stephens, Security Manager and United States Coast Guard Veteran, began his military career in 1985 when he was working as a federal agent with the Treasury Department. While spending time in Palm Bay, Florida, he ran into an acquaintance, a police chief, who approached him with the prospect of joining the Coast Guard Search and Rescue Port Security Unit in Port Canaveral. It didn’t take much convincing for Stephens to sign up.
For the next four years, Stephens served as a reservist, meaning he was on duty one weekend per month to assist boaters in distress. And with his area of operation stretching all the way from Sebastian Inlet to Ponce Inlet, there was rarely a dull moment.
“Having to find boaters in that big of an area based on their last known location, and sometimes not even having radio contact with them, was definitely challenging,” said Stephens. “And, of course, you don’t go out on a nice sunny day, because boaters aren’t in trouble on a nice sunny day.”
Despite the unpredictable schedule, high-stakes work and harsh weather, Stephens said he found the duty interesting, and even fun: “Every day was different.”
Stephens moved on from search and rescue in 1989 to join the Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS), where he stayed until his retirement from the military in 2012. There, his duties ranged from investigating maritime crime to providing security detail for high-ranking public officials like former President Bill Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore, and the Commandant of the Coast Guard.
While Stephens’ years of service brought about one-of-a-kind experiences, they weren’t without sacrifices – particularly spending time away from family. In 2003, he was activated to work on an intelligence project with the FBI for Operation Iraqi Freedom, which meant spending five months travelling to Washington, D.C. and Malta.
“When I joined the Coast Guard, we knew I could be activated at any time,” said Stephens. “And then, when I was activated, I was gone for five months and not able to help with anything on the home front. It takes some good family support behind you to get through that.”
But like so many others who have served, Stephens found the support of another family – his fellow military members – during the times he was away from home.
“There’s an important bond you form within the military,” said Stephens. “You go out on calls together, you eat together, you sleep on the same schedule and you rely on each other to know your jobs. There’s a lot of camaraderie, a lot teamwork and a lot of friendship.”
Michael Stephens is part of the 10 percent of OUC’s workforce that is comprised of veterans. At OUC, we’re committed to offering opportunities for success and quality of life to individuals who currently give or have provided service to the United States Armed Forces. To our own veterans and to all who have served, we thank you.