SITKA, Ala. – From the rolling prairie and wide-open pastures of southern Goshen County, to ocean views and mountainous terrain in Sitka, Alaska, 2015 Southeast High School graduate Colt Wilson’s path to the U.S. Coast Guard began when he was just a child.
“I was probably 8 or 10 years old, and I always knew I wanted to fly, whether that was a pilot or air crewman,” Wilson said. “I had seen a picture of a bright orange and white helicopter that said U.S. Coast Guard, and I told my mom, ‘That’s what I want to do,’ – she shook it off at the time. I remember I had a Coast Guard patch, coffee mug, hat. I always had Coast Guard gear.”
Wilson is originally from Wyoming, attending elementary school in the Albin and Chugwater areas. He moved to Montana and spent six or seven years there, before enrolling at Southeast High School his freshman year – the alma mater of his parents, Fred and Erin.
“I applied to the Coast Guard Academy my junior year of high school,” Wilson said. The elite program, designed to produce officers, accepts about 300 students annually. Wilson wasn’t invited to attend, but he didn’t let that stop him from joining the service – he eventually spoke to a recruiter and enlisted. “Now that I’m in (the Coast Guard), I can see the officer route wasn’t for me. I like the enlisted side. We are the working force, kind of the unsung heroes. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
After Wilson enlisted, he completed boot camp and was stationed at an air base in Sitka, an Alaskan island city of approximately 9,000 residents and just 14 miles of road from one end to the other.
“Being able to live in one of the beautiful places, in my opinion, on Earth … and being paid to do it (is amazing),” Wilson said. “I got here when I was 18. How many 18-year-olds can say they completed boot camp, moved to Alaska and are getting paid to do it?
“Alaska’s a nice fit,” he continued. “We do endure 18 hours of darkness (a day) in the wintertime, but the summers make up for it. It hasn’t gotten dark here (when I’m awake) for the last two, three, four weeks maybe. It’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – the hunting, fishing, even the camaraderie. You can pop your head in a local mom-and-pop shop and listen to the old fishermen tell stories.”
Wilson added occasionally a cruise ship will drop its anchor on the main cable tying phone, internet and power to the isolated city, which causes multiple day-long blackouts.
“I thoroughly enjoy it, but I’m an outdoorsy type of person,” he said.
Wilson’s daily duties include base maintenance, which he described as “keeping things looking nice and running nice” and snow and ice
“My unit has three helicopters attached to it and our main mission is search and rescue,” he said.
It’s been two years since Wilson began his military service, and his career highlight is meeting his wife, Lottie, who serves as a ship mechanic in the Coast Guard.
“I didn’t expect to be married at 20 years old, but the stars aligned and I’ve never been happier,” Wilson said. “Meeting someone who has the same work ethic and the same values is difficult on the civilian side (let alone the Coast Guard) – it’s nice to know we share those beliefs.”
In the future, Wilson hopes to become an aviation mechanic for the Coast Guard. He leaves for aviation maintenance school in Elizabeth City, N.C., next month.
“I will graduate in February and will report back to Sitka,” Wilson said. “As an aviation mechanic, I would serve either a two-year or three-year tour.”
Wilson tries to return to Goshen County once every six months, usually staying for about three days each visit.
“Then I’m ready to go back (to Alaska),” he said.
Although Wilson said he keeps an open mind about where he may be stationed in the future, he hopes he will remain in America’s “last frontier.”
“I love it. My wife is warming up to it, she was originally stationed in Puerto Rico,” he said. “I’d like to possibly stay in Alaska … if we do get stationed in the lower 48 or down south, I’m open to that, too.”