A West Lincoln High School graduate recently received an Honorary Cutterman award. Sarah Campbell is the first spouse in the 228 year history of the Coast Guard to receive this award. The Honorary Cutterman award is a new award for spouses who have served with distinction alongside their Cutterman spouse. It won’t be for every Cutterman spouse, but for those who help to serve the Coast Guard and their families.
Campbell’s husband, Joshua Campbell, a Lincolnton High School graduate, serves as culinary specialist chief on the Coast Guard cutter Mackinaw. He received his Cutterman pin after five years of service.
“It’s a pretty big deal, there’s not a lot of Cuttermen,”Sarah Campbell said. “A lot of the guys like to either be on small boats or at land units and not spend a lot of time at sea because you’re away from your family. Josh has got almost 13 years of sea service. He likes being on ships.”
Sarah Campbell serves as an ombudsman for the Mackinaw, acting as the middleman between the command, the Coast Guard families and community.
“When the ship is out, they don’t always get great cell phone service,” she said. “I had a mom call me one night at midnight, her little boy had a fever of 105 and she couldn’t get ahold of her husband. I put her in touch with the ship. They don’t give every spouse the ship’s cell phone number. I have direct lines to command. We were able to get her husband home to help her.”
Campbell has had to get in touch with the ship for reasons such as wives going into labor early or family members who have passed away. The ombudsman program is entirely volunteer. Campbell had to take a training program and has to keep up training hours to stay certified.
“Spouses can come straight to me, they don’t have to go to command, if they’re being abused or neglected or if their children are being abused,” she said. “If, for example, a wife were being abused by her husband and went straight to command, it could play out differently than if she came to me first. I can be a buffer and get her to the right help. They can come to me if their husband is having a hard time on board and I can take things to command.”
Campbell also assists with ship ceremonies and events and volunteers at Cheboygan's (Michigan) public middle and elementary schools. When the government shutdown deprived the Coast Guard members of their pay, Campbell worked with the chamber of commerce, local schools, churches, companies, and organizations to create a food pantry at Coast Guard housing and financial support for the ship's crew.
Joshua Campbell didn’t always want to get into the Coast Guard. He attended Western Carolina University and attended for a year and a half, returned home, volunteered for the Lincolnton Fire Department for a while, working at an ice cream shop, was a lifeguard at the Lincoln Country Club and then thought he’d join the Marines.
“I got a postcard in the mail for the Coast Guard so I went down and talked to them,” he said. “I ended up signing up and in January, 2001, I went into the Coast Guard.”
He started out as a seaman apprentice at the bottom of the totem pole. He worked in many different areas of the ship including the galley, which he liked. He then went to Coast Guard culinary school in San Francisco and then served in Boston on a Coast Guard cutter as a third class petty officer.
“It’s pretty interesting,” he said. “You cook three to four meals a day. The fourth being midnight rations or ‘midrats.’ You’d spend 13 to 17 hours in a galley at a time cooking for 100 people. I did night baking for a while baking bread, cakes, cookies, etc. I learned how to cook everything.”
Joshua and Sarah Campbell met at junior cotillion school which was then held at the Lincoln Cultural Center. They dated during Sarah’s senior year in high school and stayed in touch through college and after Campbell joined the Coast Guard. While he served in Boston, she would frequently fly to Boston to spend time with him when the ship docked. They married in 2006 and currently have two children.
Joshua Campbell’s slowly worked his way up the ladder to chief petty officer. The Coast Guard cutter Mackinaw, which he is stationed on, has a rich history. The original Mackinaw was built in 1944 as part of the war effort during World War II to meet the heavy demands of war materials and transportation during winter months. Campbell served on this ship during boot camp. It was decommissioned in 2006 and now serves as a museum. He’s now on the new Mackinaw which was commissioned in 2006.
The Mackinaw is used to put out buoys in the Great Lakes in the spring and fall and to break ice during the winter to enable passage of shipping containers transporting, among other things, iron ore and coal. It’s also used to transport Christmas trees to Chicago. The ship that used to transport Christmas trees, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, sank in a Lake Superior storm on Nov. 10, 1975, with the loss of the entire crew of 29.
The Campbells are currently home visiting family and will be returning to Michigan Saturday, Aug. 31. They’ll be transferred one more time next year to as of now, an unknown location for another three years. This will be their last transfer as Joshua Campbell will retire after that and the family will move back home to Lincoln County.