USS HARPERS FERRY (LSD 49), at sea --
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Erin Patrick, combat cargo officer aboard the USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49), misses her husband and four children back in North Carolina, but doesn’t let that stop her from getting the job done far away at sea.
Patrick has been deployed away from home 18 of the last 24 months, including a year-long deployment to Afghanistan. And now she’s stationed on an often-deployed ship in the Pacific.
“I have four kids, ages nine, six, five and two,” the 33-year-old Mesick, Mich. native said. “I know my family will be ok back at home because my husband is a strong man. But I miss them, and knowing I am far away from them for quite a while is difficult.”
As a combat cargo officer, her duty involves coordinating the movement of all vehicles, equipment, and personnel of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit that moves on or off ship. As the 31st MEU is the nation’s force-in-readiness in the Asia-Pacific region, and has conducted four humanitarian assistance disaster relief operations in the last two years, that can make her a busy woman.
“My job is to keep the communication going between the blue (Navy) side and the green (Marine) side,” said Patrick. “Everything on this ship that has wheels or is cargo, we control how it comes on, goes off, and moves around. We stay busy and I enjoy what I do, it is something new every day. It is very different from the town with only one flashing yellow light where I grew up.”
But that isn’t her only job on ship. She takes time to mentor junior service members aboard the ship.
“Yes, I’m the combat cargo officer, but my second job is to mentor the junior Sailors and Marines and be someone they can come talk to when they are in need,” Patrick said.
Her 14 years with the Marine Corps gives her experience to help younger, less experienced Marines and Sailors.
“I like to mentor and take care of the junior service members,” said Patrick. “And while on a ship, that means the Sailors.”
Patrick started out in the Marine Corps as a private first class, one of the first females introduced to the landing support field in 1997, and says it was difficult.
“You did not have anyone to vent to or to connect to as a female when I first joined,” said Patrick. “I want these junior service members to have someone for them, unlike I did. There is always somebody they can talk to.”
Sailors often stop by her office on ship to get advice about career choices, decisions, advancement, and even finances.
Seaman Ronika Peeples, 22, of New Orleans, La., stopped by to ask about tax preparation and filing instructions.
“She has been like a mother to me,” said Peeples. “She gets on me about my advancement tests, my career, doing my work during the day, every time she sees me she asks if I’m getting something done.”
Patrick enjoys helping guide the younger generation and feels as if many young service members could use strong, healthy influences at the early stages of their professional journey.
“She (CWO2 Patrick) is helping me out picking a rate for my career. She is helping me decide if I want to stay in the military,” said Peeples. “She is my motivation for wanting to be here. Before I met her I was willing to do anything to get off the ship, but every since she’s been here it has been a 360 degree turnaround. Now I always see something positive. She’s everything I could ever ask for. And she helps me with my taxes.”
Patrick explains that her strength and motivation comes from having her priorities in order. “First we put all our trust in God because without Him, nothing is possible,” she said. “Then my strong husband is a mentor to our children. He takes care of the kids, and works full time, coaches youth football, and is also going to college.”
Patrick has a special way to spend time with family even though she is far away.
“I call back to my family in the states, we rent the same movie for a night, and we watch it together over the phone. That is our family date night.”
It is evident that Patrick’s family extends beyond her husband and children - it encompasses the junior service members that she mentors daily.
“The Sailors just want someone to talk to and share experiences with,” Patrick explains. “Some of them come from difficult pasts, and they’ve never had a strong female influence in life. I am looked at as a mother figure here. That is my purpose. I am here to help those that don’t have anybody else to talk to.”
“She is like a mother to us,” Peeples agreed. “I’d do anything for her, and I’m so glad she is on this ship.”
Patrick was selected as a 2010 recipient of the Women’s History Month Science, Technology, Engineering and Math role model award.
Patrick is scheduled to be assigned to the USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) for another year-and-a-half. She has been selected for promotion to Chief Warrant Officer 3, and plans on applying for the Marine Corps’ limited duty officer program.