After growing up as the fifth child out of 10, it comes as no surprise that Master Chief Petty Officer Vince Patton, USCG (Ret.), thrives as part of a team. He joined AFCEA International in 2011 and recently took the helm of the newly established Homeland Security Department. It’s the latest role in a career that has taken Patton across the globe, from Coast Guard cutters to classrooms and beyond.
Patton’s work ethic developed early as he watched his parents raise their six boys and four girls in Detroit, Michigan. “My parents were both very hard working people,” he relates. His father served for 34 years in the Michigan Army National Guard, and his mother worked for 46 years as a nurse. In addition, Patton drew inspiration from the success of his siblings, particularly his older brother. “He has always been my mentor and role model. He enlisted in the Navy, and of course, I wanted to do the same thing.”
On Patton’s 17th birthday, he marched into the recruiter’s office to sign up for the Navy’s Delayed Enlistment Program for high school seniors. He patiently waited as the recruiter took a phone call, glancing around at the decorations on the walls. It didn’t take Patton long to realize the office was covered with Coast Guard emblems. “I was too embarrassed to tell the recruiter that I made a mistake ... so I decided to pretend that I was interested and then go find the Navy recruiter. Of course, it never happened.” He spotted a Coast Guard unit citation on the wall detailing a ship that rescued 2,400 people from a cruise liner, and he decided he was in the right place.
While on active duty on a cutter tasked with weather and oceanographic research, Patton had the opportunity to pursue a college education. Without the convenience of online courses, he relied on volumes of textbooks crowded onto the ship. “I used to pay one of my shipmates $1 a week to rent storage space in his locker, because I didn’t have enough room in mine.” After two and a half years on the Coast Guard Cutter Dallas, Patton had accumulated 63 semester hours of college credit, and within five years, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Pacific Union College.
With encouragement from his supervisor at his next assignment, Patton continued to take advantage of the Coast Guard’s education program. He achieved his master’s degree at Loyola University while simultaneously assisting with the university’s Educational Enrichment Program helping inner city students graduate. For his thesis, Patton outlined a similar program for the Coast Guard aimed at women and minorities, which the service adopted and implemented at the Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May, New Jersey.
But his time in the classroom wasn’t over yet. He earned his doctorate in 1984 from American University’s Education Program, and his dissertation covered the development and implementation of the Coast Guard Enlisted Evaluation System, which is still in place today.
After retiring from active duty following 30 years of service, Patton devoted the next two years to attending Graduate Theological Union, where he earned his divinity degree and became an ordained minister. He’s actively involved with a number of social service activities, including volunteering as an on-call chaplain for the Virginia Trauma Response Team and serving as a back-up minister at Arlington National Cemetery. In addition, he completed 17 marathons until suffering from extensive knee damage.
Whether in work or in his personal life, Patton lives by three core values—people, passion and performance—and he encourages others to identify their own core values to measure success. His advice to young professionals is to “get a mentor, take advantage of learning from that mentor and pass those learned values and experiences on to someone else.” And above all, Patton relates, “It’s about the sense of enthusiasm to commit yourself to being part of something.”