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A Matt That Matters
by U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Shannon Kearney
September 21, 2020

On an average day before the COVID-19 virus impacted the world, Matt Smith would oversee the Instructional Systems Branch at Training Center Cape May, New Jersey. He supervised the instructors who taught classes to recruits, and he managed the instructor qualification courses that accredited people to teach future recruits.

But, when the COVID-19 virus hit the United States, it changed the way the training center ran things. A two-week isolation and observation processing period called Restriction of Movement (ROM) was created for incoming recruits, and it significantly affected Smith and his Instructional Systems Branch.

Matt Smith, the Civilian of the Quarter for April - June 2020, teaches a class of recruits about leadership on August 27, 2020 aboard Training Center Cape May, New Jersey. Our Training Center staff serve the American public by leveraging their talent and passion to produce mission-ready recruits, and delivering professional, high-quality services to enable future missions for our units, tenants, and regions. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Shannon Kearney)
Matt Smith, the Civilian of the Quarter for April - June 2020, teaches a class of recruits about leadership on August 27, 2020 aboard Training Center Cape May, New Jersey. Our Training Center staff serve the American public by leveraging their talent and passion to produce mission-ready recruits, and delivering professional, high-quality services to enable future missions for our units, tenants, and regions. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Shannon Kearney)

Smith’s dedication to duty, his humility, and his extraordinary work ethic were seen by his direct supervisor, Lt. Cmdr. Scott Koser, and they contributed to him earning the Civilian of the Quarter award on July 31, 2020.

During the quarter, I visibly saw him put in a ton of effort towards the job, and I saw him struggle through some challenges of not just instruction, but also challenges with some learning resource centers, said Koser, the Instructional Systems Branch Chief. He was taking a role in solving problems that weren’t necessarily his. And although nobody was really in a position to solve them, he took on the responsibility to try to create a resolution.

“My whole team basically had to do ROM watches instead of teaching their normal slate of stuff,” said Smith. ”They were doing these two-week rotations, so they’d be two weeks on straight, every day, then some comp time, then back into another two-week rotation.”

Some of his staff members were able to teach their courses to recruits while they were in ROM, but anything outside of that ROM area was left for Smith to attend to.

To put this into perspective, typically one to two companies are in ROM at a time, while seven to nine companies are still marching around the Training Center, attending classes like normal.

Smith willingly stepped up during a pandemic and dedicated 30 hours a week teaching Coast Guard recruits things about first aid, CPR, family benefits, leadership, flags, pennants, and online mandated training.

Matt Smith, the Civilian of the Quarter for April - June 2020, teaches recruits how to administer CPR and first aid on August 25, 2020 aboard Training Center Cape May, New Jersey. Our Training Center staff serve the American public by leveraging their talent and passion to produce mission-ready recruits, and delivering professional, high-quality services to enable future missions for our units, tenants, and regions. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Shannon Kearney)
Matt Smith, the Civilian of the Quarter for April - June 2020, teaches recruits how to administer CPR and first aid on August 25, 2020 aboard Training Center Cape May, New Jersey. Our Training Center staff serve the American public by leveraging their talent and passion to produce mission-ready recruits, and delivering professional, high-quality services to enable future missions for our units, tenants, and regions. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Shannon Kearney)

He also submitted 250 tickets to a virtual help desk on behalf of Coast Guard recruits coming through boot camp to make sure they had a smooth transition to their next unit, and also administered final exams to recruits, all while overseeing the instructor systems branch.

Smith recognized that his staff was going to be stretched thin, and he offered up his services to fill the post-ROM instructor duties, said Koser. He knew for sure that it was going to be demanding of him, and he was more than willing to take on the extra workload to help the training center as a team.

“He is meeting the duties and expectations of someone two to three paygrades above him,” said Cmdr. Jed Young, the Training Officer for Training Center Cape May. “But he will also talk to a non-rate in the most humble, down-to-earth fashion.”

Only Smith would be such a high performer, but would also be so humbled about receiving an award highlighting the hard work they did, that he would describe it as surprising that he got it over anyone else who stepped up during the initial impacts of the COVID-19 virus.

“I think Matt is first to point out other people’s achievements before his own,” said Koser. “When he found out from a back-channel that he was being nominated for this award, he immediately re-directed and tried to highlight other people in his staff that are as deserving of the award.”

“He really looks out for other people and provides opportunities to advance and develop them professionally where, in my opinion, I think he does more than he needs to,” said Young. “But he does it because he wants to help people, and he enjoys working with people and developing them.”

“Any number of people could have gotten it because everybody stepped up their game with this whole COVID stuff,” said Smith, “Everybody had to take on new things, and everybody had to push outside their comfort zone, you know? I mean, I know for a fact that I could point to various people around the base that did extra things, and I think that’s awesome.”

On July 31, 2020, Matt Smith received a plaque, a parking space, time off, and a booming round of applause from his peers and his supervisors as he was recognized as the Civilian of the Quarter for his extraordinary hard work and dedication to his duties from April to June 2020. Smith’s photo and his Civilian of the Quarter plaque will hang from the wall in the Command and Mission Support building for everyone to see, and that’s something that a not-so-average civilian should be proud of.

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