BY MARLENE BROWNING-WAINSCOTT
Before Joe and Jean Clark made Owen County their home in 2004, the couple dedicated their lives to serving their country. Jean was a member of the U.S. Coast Guard, and after 34 years of service, retired with the rank of commander. Joe was a member of the U.S. Marine Corps. After 22 years of service (which included Marine detachment aboard the USS Yorktown and combat operations with the 1st Recon Battalion in Vietnam), Joe retired with the rank of first sergeant.
Joining the Coast Guard
Jean Clark had little exposure to the military growing up; however, this all changed when she joined the Coast Guard Reserve in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1972. “I first went into the Coast Guard Reserve. I was a single mom and could use the extra money,” she reflected. “I found that I enjoyed it, and it offered many opportunities.”
Jean’s early military career took her to many places across the United States, including Governors Island, New York, Portsmouth, Virginia, St. Louis, and Alameda, California, where she performed personnel support duties. “During these assignments, I fell in love with the Coast Guard and decided to become involved in active duty and was assigned to the Training Center in Alameda where I was involved with training reservists and assigned to the Health Services Division.”
The journey from E1 to commander:
Jean Clark’s career in the Coast Guard spanned more than 34 years and included active and reserve service. She began as enlisted (E1) and retired as commander. During her long career in the Coast Guard, she performed many duties. When she became a commissioned officer, her assignments were focused on logistics which included force optimization, training and support, budget procurement, health services, housing, and family support.
“At that time, Desert Shield/Desert Storm was brewing, and I was recalled to active duty at the 11th Coast Guard District in Long Beach, California,” she said. “Because of my logistics background, I was put in charge of the division responsible for activating and deploying our port security units for service in the looming Gulf War. We were sending many personnel who had never been on active duty to a war zone and leaving families who had no understanding of how to function in a military environment behind. It was a high-stress, challenging position, but one of the most rewarding I have experienced.
“As this assignment wound down, I was approached to remain on active duty through the Reserve Program Administrator program and happily applied. My assignments included Coast Guard Headquarters, Washington, D.C. from 1992 to 1997, where I managed the overall Coast Guard Reserve’s multi-million-dollar budget. In 1997 I was transferred to Integrated Support Center St. Louis, where I was the Chief Optimization and Training Officer, managing logistics for units throughout the northern area of the 8th Coast Guard District. In 2001, I was selected for the position of Executive Officer in the Integrated Support Center, Cleveland, Ohio.”
Jean Clark retired from the Coast Guard in 2006.
“Joe and I had decided we wanted to retire and build a log home in Kentucky, and I was fortunate to get assigned to the Chief of Auxiliary services in Louisville in 2004, once again managing logistics for a terrific force multiplier for the Coast Guard.
Joe and I settled in the beautiful hills of Owen County where I substitute taught for a number of years, and he worked as a rural carrier substitute at the post office.”
On being a military family
When Jean joined the Coast Guard, she did not know that the military would be where she would spend the next 34 years of her life and where she would meet and later marry a Marine. In 1982, she met Joe while the Marines were in Alameda at their reserve training unit.
“By 1984, we had decided to marry, but he received orders to Recruit Training Center, San Diego, and there was no available CG billet for me in the area, but love won out, and I reverted to reserve status and accepted a position at the CG Air Station San Diego from 1984 through September 1990,” she recalled.
“We laughed about the Marines and the Coast Guard and how we ever got together. Marines celebrate their birthday with the Marine’s ball complete with full dress uniform and ball gowns; the Coast Guard has a picnic—completely casual and where you may even find a dunking booth. The Marines and Coast Guard have such a different culture,” Joe laughed.
“While it may be different, you understand the culture,” Jean added. “When you are married to someone in service, there is no room for insecurity. While separations due to assignments were still hard, you had that first-hand experience of being the one who was leaving. It gave you an appreciation. You know the dangers, the missing of family, yet the dedication required.
“Joe and I were unique in the way that we both experienced being the military member and being the military spouse. One transfers to a new city, gets up, puts on a uniform and reports to a place where he or she immediately fits. The other gets up that same morning and deals with getting kids into school, getting a new driver’s license, locating new doctors and vets and finding a new job in a place where they are a stranger. Joe retired in 1986 in San Diego. I followed him down there as a military spouse. He followed me after that in my career. In 1990, I was called up for active duty during Desert Shield and remained on active duty for the rest of the time.”
Thoughts on military service
“Being in the Coast Guard was the most rewarding time of my life. I know of no other place where we take young people and give them so much opportunity and so much responsibility, and we hold them absolutely responsible.”
During Jean’s career in the Coast Guard, she was an integral part of ensuring that the needs of the military personnel were met and ensuring the expediency of their missions. Due to the Coast Guard’s smaller budget, emergency funding was often necessary for major incidences that occurred in the waters under the Coast Guard’s watch, such as major oil spills that may occur in the ocean. The immediate funding for these occurrences depends on the expediency of the approval from Congress. This means quick contact with members of Congress for approval, regardless of what time—day or night—the incidence may occur. Much of the time, the process would take two days due to the challenges of reaching the members that may not be easily contacted.
During Desert Storm, Jean recognized that due to the urgency of the need to receive funding as quickly as possible to contain these possible catastrophic events, the process needed to be streamlined. Through Jean’s diligence, the process was streamlined down to mere hours during Desert Storm.
Like most military service members during their time in service, their focus was not on commendations and acknowledgment but rather a complete focus on the mission, ensuring the safety of their military family and protecting their country. The result of this dedication to service is tangibly represented in the commendations and recognition they receive from their branch of service.
During Operation Desert Storm, Jean played an integral role in both the lives of active duty service members and their families. Because of her efforts in developing and operating the Ombudsman program to assist service members during this critical time, Jean was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal. In addition to this honor, she received a number of personal awards, including commendation medals, achievement medals and numerous Letters of Commendation.
“I couldn’t be more proud of my service, and of having a husband who proudly served as an active duty Marine in both war and in peacetime, and who also supported me in my career as a military spouse.”