29 years and 5 different military services later

A Coast Guard chief's journey

Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Blaine Lee stands in front of an HU-25 Falcon Jet in a hanger at Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod, Mass., Thursday, Jan. 22, 2009. Lee, an aviation maintenance technician, will retire soon after a 29-year career, during which he served in all five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.

A visit with CPO Blaine Lee at Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod

Story and photos by Seaman Sabrina Elgammal, First District Public Affairs

Chief Petty Officer Blaine Lee knew at a young age that he wanted to serve his country and travel the world. His only problem was he didn't know which branch of service to join.

So, over the course of the next 29 years, he joined them all.

Despite his father's service in the Air Force, three days after graduating from Lewisville High School in Lewisville, Texas, in 1978, Lee left for Marine Corps basic training in Parris Island, S.C.

Chief Petty Officer Blaine Lee places "then" and "now" portraits of himself side-by-side to illustrate his 29-year journey through the Armed Forces, from Marine Corps recruit to Coast Guard chief petty officer, as he sits at his desk Thursday, Jan. 22, 2009 at Air Station Cape Cod. Lee, an aviation maintenance technician, has served in all five branches of the military to fulfill his dream of flying.

"I couldn't wait the whole summer to be a Marine," said Lee, an aviation maintenance technician at Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod. "Looking back on it now, I should have enjoyed my summer first before going away to boot camp."

When he was sent to Japan to work on aviation launch and recovery teams aboard aircraft carriers, Lee discovered a passion for aviation he hadn't yet explored.

"I felt like a kid with his nose pressed against the window of a toy store," said Lee. "I was absolutely fascinated by the aircrafts."

In 1982, Lee joined the Navy Reserves.

"I was a young adventures man who just wanted to travel," said Lee. "So I went out and researched what the other branches of service had to offer me. I figured with all their aircraft carriers I would get to travel and eventually get to fly."

During a deployment to Alaska, Lee was introduced to the Army National Guard and thought it might be a good fit for him. Two months later, he signed up.

Lee was assigned to an infantry scout platoon but got out after three months. He decided to take a break from the military and got a job with an Alaska offshore oil rig drilling company.

After two years of growing a beard and drilling for oil, Lee decided he couldn't be away from aviation any longer, so he joined the Alaskan Air National Guard and was assigned to an aviation crash crew unit.

"Can I fly in an aircraft as a flight mechanic?
When the recruiter told me yes, I was sold, I was ready to ship out that very second

"Once again, I was on the ground looking up at the planes above me," said Lee. "Only this time I was in a huge red response vehicle ready to act if something should go wrong."

Lee paid a visit to a Coast Guard recruiter in Anchorage to see what the country's smallest military service had to offer. His first and only question for the recruiter was, "Can I fly in an aircraft as a flight mechanic?"

"When the recruiter told me yes, I was sold," said Lee. "I was ready to ship out that very second."

Eighteen months later, Lee received orders to the Coast Guard's aviation machinists mate school, and 10 years after beginning his military career, finally got to fly in a C-130 Hercules aircraft.

For the next seven years, Lee took to skies. Then in 1995, Lee was involuntarily separated under the high year of tenure policy, which required that an enlisted person be promoted by certain time-frames, or must separate from the service.

"Everyone that worked with Blaine was upset when we found out he had to leave," said Chief Petty Officer Davide Giordano, an avionics electrical technician at Air Station Cape Cod, and long-time friend of Lee's. "He was too busy working hard to sit down and take some test to advance."

Not wanting to leave the career field he'd worked so hard to reach, Lee joined the Air Force Reserves as a senior airman. Because of his aviation experience with the Coast Guard, Lee was able to get right into an aviation position.

"He was happy in the Air Force, but he missed his Coast Guard," said his wife of 17 years, Robbin. "He always talked about how the Coast Guard felt more like a hobby than work."

"He was happy in the Air Force, but he missed his Coast Guard. He always talked about how the Coast Guard felt more like a hobby than work."
               - Lee's wife Robbin.

In 1997 the Coast Guard retracted the high year of tenure policy and began issuing waivers for members who were separated from service under the policy.

"The day I found out about the waiver, I re-enlisted in the Coast Guard active duty," said Lee. "And I never once looked back."

After 29 years of service, retirement looms. Lee plans to return home to Texas with his wife and 15 year-old son, Cameron.

And although Lee has yet to decide what the next chapter is for him after retirement, his military service will forever be in his heart.

"It's been a long and unforgettable journey," Lee said. "For the past 12 years I've been fulfilling my life-long dream of flying."

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