SOUTHWEST HARBOR—U.S. Coast Guardsman Chrissy Hemphill, lead boarding officer at the United States Coast Guard station in Southwest Harbor, was recently chosen as USCG District 1 Person of the Year. She was honored at a ceremony at the station on May 4.
“Leaders look up and out. They go, what can I do better for the people that rely on me?” Command Master Chief Charles ‘Rob’ Bushey said during the ceremony. “It’s obvious you don’t do this job for you,” he said to Hemphill. “Taking care of your crew. Being part of the community. Being better, pointing out things we need to work on. That’s what leaders do.”
Hemphill, who has been stationed in Southwest Harbor for the last two years, was also promoted to petty officer first class at the event. Officials from New England, Washington, D.C., and the Federal Law Enforcement Center attended both in person and virtually. Hemphill’s wife, Theresa, and 3-year-old daughter were also there to celebrate the honors.
As the lead boarding officer for the station, Hemphill performed about 235 boardings last year in which she and her crew inspected both commercial and private boats for safety, compliance and seaworthiness. In addition to inspections, Hemphill and her crew respond to emergencies. One such event included a domestic violence situation that occurred between a couple who were traveling through the area. Hemphill was responsible for deescalating that situation.
“I did it by just speaking with them, calming them down,” she said in a way that leaves little question about her ability to do so.
After 13 years in the Coast Guard, the award was not given to Hemphill simply for her exemplary performance but also for the work she has chosen to do regarding racial equity and education. As an instructor at the station in Southwest Harbor, Hemphill leads groups in exercises and conversations focused on respectful law enforcement practices employing an awareness of different cultures and racial experiences.
“It’s needed and I feel like if not me then who?” she said. “These groups of people here are phenomenal. I trust them. They really take in what I’m saying because I’m a minority here.
“Most of our conversations that we have are about things that are happening currently. We have really great conversations. We’ve all learned to listen to one another… It’s brought us closer together.”
Her work is not just focused at the Coast Guard station but throughout Mount Desert Island with other law enforcement and town officials, as well as organizations focused on racial equity and awareness.
“I’ve been working with different groups around the island, learning how changes are made,” she said. “In order to make changes, people have to be uncomfortable.”
During the ceremony, Hemphill got to say a few words and had several thank-you’s to hand out to those within the Coast Guard, as well as some outside the organization.
“(Thank you to) the community for allowing me to share experiences and sharing your experiences with me,” she said. “And us just learning from each other and having difficult conversations. It’s what we need. We need to be having difficult conversations if we’re going to make changes.”
Bushey said that before the ceremony, he had asked members of Hemphill’s crew to share some thoughts about her. He leaned toward her being everyone’s big sister, but most said she felt more like the station mom.
“Everybody comes to you because they know you’re going to give it to them straight,” added Bushey.
When Hemphill joined the Coast Guard shortly after graduating high school, she didn’t expect to serve more than the initial four years. After being stationed in Hawaii and Florida, she and her family landed in Maine. In addition to her service, Hemphill is working on her master’s degree in criminal justice public administration.
“I want to be educated about what I’m doing,” she explained. “I want to make sure I’m not violating people’s rights.”
Because she is an instructor, Hemphill is planning to use what she learns to help guide those she is teaching. A member of her sector’s diversity and inclusion subcommittee, she will take the helm of that group this summer.
“A lot of leadership is opening their eyes and really listening to everyone and trying to make appropriate changes,” said Hemphill, who commended her superiors for their support and recognition. “That’s what gives me hope that we’re moving in the right direction.”