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Book Review, NRJ 65.2

May 18, 2020 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

Minding the Helm: An Unlikely Career in the U.S. Coast Guard

Kevin P. Gilheany

The perils of traveling the world’s waters demands only brave souls serve aboard a seagoing vessel, and requires the most valiant souls to save them when they are distressed. The United States Coast Guard, formed from a merger of the United States Life-Saving Service and the Revenue Cutter Service in 1915, has a rich tradition in endangering their own lives in order to save those in need throughout American waters. Many have sought to join the ranks of these brave individuals including Kevin P. Gilheany, who dreamt of enlisting in the Coast Guard as a young boy in Manhattan. In Minding the Helm: An Unlikely Career in the U.S. Coast Guard, Retired Chief Warrant Officer Gilheany candidly describes his time and adventures in the United States Coast Guard. Through his service, Officer Gilheany accomplished his youthful aspiration of going to sea, along with experiences only obtained through military service.

After progressing through boot camp, he received his first orders to report aboard the cutter Bear, after a brief spell aboard Gallatin in New York. From there, Quartermaster Gilheany served onboard the Coast Guard’s sail training vessel Eagle, in New Orleans as quartermaster of the buoy tender Wedge, and as an operation controller at Long Island’s Moriches Station before finally returning to New Orleans. He provides tremendous insight into the day-to-day activities enlisted men in the Coast Guard experience, as well as the characters and friendships encountered along the way. Additionally, the author includes snippets of Coast Guard history to supplement his narrative. All reveal the honor Gilheany attaches to his service in the Coast Guard.

While he recounts his professional and personal development, Officer Gilheany offers his own perception into the many major events that occurred during his service. Serving from the 1980s to the early 2000s, he witnessed the Challenger explosion, as well as the 9/11 attacks either firsthand or through exercises in their aftermath. For instance, the reader experiences the surreal sensation of watching the World Trade Center, a building he had viewed on the New York skyline since his childhood, fall. Instances like these deepen the audience’s understanding of his dedication towards his country through his Coast Guard service. In his eyes, he had been blessed with the ability to serve and strode to make a difference in the wake of each of these tragedies.

Perhaps the most entertaining part of Gilheany’s memoir are his recollections of his fellow crewmembers. Often, he fondly remembers the friendships he cultivated throughout his service; he also recalls the individuals and characters who irritated him beyond comprehension. The New York native frequently had to suppress his natural urge to speak against the sloth and unprofessional behavior displayed by his colleagues throughout his assignments, but he never let it prevent him from performing his duties. That attitude helped the young misfit from New York enjoy such a lengthy and successful military career.

Kevin P. Gilheany’s, Minding the Helm: An Unlikely Career in the U.S. Coast Guard, showcases his exemplary two and a half decade military career. Joining the Coast Guard helped him develop personally and allowed him to accomplish his childhood dreams. His book brilliantly captures his perspective on his service and his character, molded through constant adversity. Historians and enthusiastic readers alike will appreciate Retired Chief Warrant Officer Gilheany’s rendition of his career serving in the United States Coast Guard.

  • Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2019
  • 6-1/4” x 9-1/4”, hardcover, viii + 269 pages
  • Photographs, notes, bibliography, index. $24.95
  • ISBN: 9781574417500

Reviewed by Will Nasiff, East Carolina University

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