The Coast Guard names its civilian employee of the year, and some of his work is below the waterline

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Every year, the Coast Guard recognizes a half dozen members of its civilian workforce who’ve gone above and beyond what’s asked of them, and inspired others. This year’s winners have just been announced, and our guest is one of them. TJ Tangert is a Painter/Blaster at the Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore, where he’s worked for just under two years. He joined Federal Drive with Tom Temin to talk about the award and his work at the yard.

Interview transcript:

TJ Tangert: The way I am, I come in here to the Coast Guard yard, I didn’t do anything special. I came in and worked with a great team. I had great leaders to show me how to do things the right way. And I was just blessed enough to receive it for 2020. But I definitely can’t do it myself. Nobody can. It’s definitely teamwork here. A lot of great hard workers, not just me by far. And so that’s why the Coast Guard yard is doing well like it is today, because I feel like the team of workers down there, they just really work well together and get things done.

Jared Serbu: Yeah TJ, and just to back up a little bit for listeners who may not know exactly what happens at the Coast Guard yard or that there is a Coast Guard yard. Can you talk with us a bit about what actually happens at the Coast Guard guard on a daily basis.

TJ Tangert: Sure, of course. Here at the Coast Guard yard in Baltimore, I do anything from blasting the boat to prepping to painting, cleaning up. We maintain and repair different cutters. From the 154s to the to 225s, I’ve been on the 87s, the 140s, I’ve worked on the 110s. I feel like I’ve been on almost every boat here. And that’s the goal, try to get to know every Coast Guard Cutter here as much as possible.

Jared Serbu: So pretty good mix of relatively new boats and ones that are getting on in years and probably take a pretty good amount of work to keep them sea worthy, it sounds like, right?

TJ Tangert: Yes, that is correct. It’s not just me, it takes the whole yard, a whole team to get everything done efficiently, correctly the first time.

Jared Serbu: What does it take to get to know a new class of boat for the first time? How different are they when you when you get to work on a new one for the first time?

TJ Tangert: Well, for the paint shop where I’m currently at, they’re all pretty close. As far as when there’s paint work needed to be done, prep it, blast it or jet water it. The only thing different really would be what different boat I’m working on because paint in a tank on a 154 versus a 225, for me personally, I’m painting the tank, but I’m showing correctly and I just carry that out throughout whatever boat I work on.

Jared Serbu: What brought you to the Coast Guard in the first place? What made you decide this was the kind of work you wanted to be in?

TJ Tangert: That’s interesting story actually. Long story short, I went to culinary school, I had a plan, I wanted to own the restaurant, do the whole chef thing. But then, I’m a single father and restaurants, their Monday night is weekends and nights. And that was difficult for me. And I worked with, there’s a coworker who was a general manager, I worked with his wife in the restaurant and she encouraged that I should apply, knowing my work ethic, and she was telling me how great of a place it is to set up a career. And so I applied and here I am almost two years later.

Jared Serbu: Does it feel like something you’re gonna be able to make a career out of?

TJ Tangert: I sure do. My plan is to retire here. I’m planning on moving up as much as I possibly can, this is a great place to work here at the yard. They have programs for people who really don’t know too much about the yard and Baltimore. They have high school kids come in and do interns and try to get a feel, show them it’s a good career place to be. And like I said before, it’s a great group of people to work with. We’re all hard workers, and we all get get the job done right.

Jared Serbu: What do you like most about it?

TJ Tangert: The family, the family feeling that is here at the Coast Guard yard. Whenever somebody has some kind of issue, whether it’s personal or here at work, it doesn’t matter what shop it’s from. It seems like everybody just kind of bonds together and helps everybody out. An example would be the Christmas charity. Everybody just pitches in and gives families who are unfortunate, are not fortunate enough, and they just help so many people out inside the yard, outside the yard. And I just think it’s so awesome to be amongst a great group team of people working together.

Jared Serbu: Yeah, TJ, I understand one of the reasons for your nomination was some of the charity work that you’d have done. I’m not sure if that’s within the Coast Guard for that Christmas program that you just talked about or outside. You mind telling us a little bit more about that part of your life?

TJ Tangert: Yeah, sure. It was a program, basically just to get people here at the yard to help donate, whether it be cash or actual presents, toys. And then once they get everything together, they pack them up, and they take them either to a school, or they’ll set up a place, a well known place where people can come and and they just spread joy from there. And the stories I here, I wish I could have made it to one, but it was hard with the scheduling, but the stories I hear, it just makes so many people happy. And I just think that’s awesome that there’s still people out there doing stuff like this.

Jared Serbu: That’s great. One question that comes to mind right now is a lot of us are teleworking at the moment and not the sort of thing that you can do in your line of work. Can you tell us a little bit about what doing this job through the pandemic has been like? Did it really change anything for you all?

TJ Tangert: The only thing that really changed is wearing that mask consistently, because we’re always close by, either a mask or some people even wear the half face respirator. But other than that, that’s really the only thing that we really try to pay attention to, or that we can or able to do is wear a mask and kind of do social distancing as much as possible while working on the boat at the same time. Obviously, if you’re on a tank or something close together, we’ll just put on a full face respirator and suit up just to be on the safe side. Works got to get done.

Jared Serbu: Right. The reason I asked is that, from what I’ve heard, some of the productivity in the Navy yards went down quite a bit, especially in the early part of the pandemic, but it sounds like it hasn’t really hurt you guys much.

TJ Tangert: It hasn’t. I’m fortunate and lucky enough that I personally worked through the pandemic. I haven’t taken off yet. I’m very thankful that people I’m working with we’re all staying safe, and we’re all thankful that we’re still getting a paycheck. Some of the things I hear on the news, it’s just a shame. So I definitely got to be humble and thankful that I’m still having a job here with with the Coast Guard yard.

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