Cotton’s dreams of ocean adventure, travel come true in Coast Guard as 87-foot patrol boat captain

Michelle Cotton courtesy photos
Lieutenant Junior Grade (LTJG) Rebecca Cotton of Glenrock assumed command of the U.S. Coast Guard Station Crescent City, California and became the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Dorado’s newest captain on June 13. The Dorado and her crew are responsible for protecting a 280-nautical-mile stretch of coast from Cape Sebastian, Oregon to Point Arena, California.

Cinthia Stimson

By Cinthia Stimson

Lieutenant Junior Grade (LTJG) Rebecca Cotton didn’t have any idea what she wanted to be while she was growing up in Glenrock – what she did know, was that she wanted to travel the world and have adventures like the ones she read about in books. She loved the ocean and wanted to see the world.
Now, she’s captaining and in charge of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Dorado, a marine protector class coastal patrol boat based in Crescent City, California.
Alongside her crew, she’s busting drug smugglers, helping refugees and saving lives on oceans around the world.
“I actually didn’t know what I wanted to do at all until senior year of high school,” said Cotton, who graduated from Glenrock High School in 2011.
Cotton didn’t know if there were any career options out there that involved that type of a lifestyle.
Nothing seemed to be what she was looking for as she searched for a life path that was on par with her dreams – not until she came across the U.S. Coast Guard during an internet search.
“At first I didn’t even know what (the Coast Guard) was. Once I looked into it, I set my heart on it immediately. The Coast Guard Academy was the only college I applied to. I’m so glad it worked out,” she said.
Cotton attended the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 2011, in New London, Connecticut. She graduated with honors in May 2017, majoring in International Relations.
“The academy is a four year Bachelor’s degree and commissioning program for future Coast Guard officers. It’s very different than going to a civilian college. Class is considered a military obligation. We couldn’t skip for any reason.”
On top of earning a degree, Cotton underwent mandatory military training, geared toward preparing the cadets for leadership in the Coast Guard fleet.
“What I learned most at the academy was how to look at a hard (situation) and then work until it was done, how to manage stress and pressure, and that with the help of God and good friends nothing is impossible,” Cotton said.
Following her junior year at the academy, Cotton took an 18-month sabbatical to serve as a missionary in Hong Kong for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, where she learned – among other things, how to speak fluent Cantonese as she proselytized to the locals.
“I grew to love everything about Hong Kong, especially the people. They’re some of the most hard-working, genuine and courageous people I have ever met,” she said.
Next to her career in the Coast Guard, Cotton said her mission trip to Hong Kong is one of the most fulfilling things she’s ever experienced.
Her life continues to be one big adventure after another since she graduated from the academy.
Her first assignment was onboard the 210-foot Cutter Valiant, with the primary mission of counter-drug operations in the Caribbean and eastern Pacific Ocean.
Cotton spent two years aboard the ship.
She was assigned as a deck watch officer and her primary role from day one was learning to handle the ship, and the rules and skills of navigation.
She also had collateral duties that were useful in her development, she said, such as being assigned as support department head, as training officer and as helicopter control officer (HCO).
Most junior officers coming out of the academy end up on a cutter like Cotton did, and most have the same sort of experience she does, but only a small percentage of them go on to command billets.
After Cotton served a year on board the Valiant, her commanding officers knew she wanted a career afloat and encouraged her to screen for command. She submitted her name into a pool of other officers whose commands recommended them to serve as commanding or executive officers, too.
After considering the performances and supervisor recommendations of each candidate, they select several applicants who will be given command billets, she said.
“I contribute the honor of my selection to God, to my supervisors and to the crew on the Valiant, who coached, taught, mentored and helped me for the past two years. Life for a junior officer onboard a cutter can be a taxing experience. Success is directly connected to the care and concern of your command. I was blessed with an excellent command for two years onboard Valiant serving with both Capt. Tim Cronin and Cmdr. Matt Waldron,” Cotton explained.
Cotton said the ship went on six patrols to counter drug trafficking in the U.S., and the ship and crew were involved in several successful cases.
Cotton refuses to take sole credit for the accomplishments achieved onboard the ship. She said that like anything the Coast Guard does, each case takes the teamwork of multiple Coast Guard vessels and everyone onboard.
“It’s always exciting when we get a potential case – everyone is woken up by an alarm, usually in the middle of the night. Then we launch our (helicopter) or small boat to chase and apprehend the smugglers who are usually in unlighted, small, fast vessels.
“My primary job onboard in general was driving the cutter, so if I was ever on watch during a case, I would assist or keep the cutter on scene to provide support to the boarding team once they stopped the target vessel. If any of us junior officers were driving during those cases we had our captain right next to us advising us,” she said.
Generally a drug bust means the cutter detected the drug smugglers, pursued and stopped the vessel, seized the contraband, then detained the traffickers, Cotton explained.
The Valiant made three of those types of busts while Cotton was part of the ship’s crew, all of which involved smaller or unknown amounts of contraband, “because the smugglers sunk the vessels before the Coast Guard could stop them,” she said.
One of her most memorable experiences while serving onboard the Valiant was during hurricanes Irma (Aug. 30, 2017) and Maria (Sept. 16, 2017).
The crew assisted in evacuating more than 100 U.S. citizens from the devastated island of St. John’s (U.S. Virgin Islands), where they’d run out of food and their homes were destroyed.
“We took them onboard the cutter and ferried them to nearby St. Thomas where they were able to get passage to either the states or Puerto Rico,” she said.
She soon expanded her responsibilities within her career when she assumed command of the U.S. Coast Guard Station Crescent City and became the captain of the Cutter Dorado on June 13.
The Cutter Dorado has a crew of 11 people, including Cotton. It’s primarily a local law enforcement boat that assists with vessel safety, fisheries enforcement and search and rescue missions. At times, they also transit south to assist in counter-drug and migrant operations on the California-Mexico border.
Officers on their second year are only given command of patrol boats like the Dorado.
The commanding officer is much more involved in daily operations than the commanding officer of a larger cutter,  which is why it is a good billet for younger officers who have less time in service, Cotton said.
“With only 11 people, the whole crew has to work together to function. (We) become a very tight-knit family. My new crew has been amazing in helping me learn the standard operating procedures of this platform and familiarize me to the Pacific northwest area of operation. I feel a huge responsibility not just for the mission but for the safety and well-being of each of my crew-members,” she said.
Cotton is the daughter of Tim and Michelle Cotton of Glenrock. In addition to the Coast Guard and God, she credits her parents for who she is today.
“My mom is such an amazing support to me. Both of my parents are my strongest, most-constant support in everything I do,” she said.
Cotton misses Wyoming every once in awhile. She misses the wide, open prairies and said she hasn’t ridden a horse in two years. She misses her family. What she doesn’t miss are Glenrock winters, though.
During her Coast Guard career Cotton has experienced more unbelievable adventures than she ever could have dreamed of, she said. She intends to continue her career as an “afloat” officer (onboard Coast Guard vessels) and is considering going to graduate school some day.
She’d also like to eventually settle down and have a family, so for now, she’s taking it “one tour of duty at a time.”
Cotton said the greatest motivation she’s found along the way is being able to work side-by-side with the extraordinary men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard.
“They are dedicated people who routinely leave their families to do back-breaking work, sometimes months at a time. They do incredible missions on extremely limited budgets with materials that are only functional because of how well they are maintained. I have learned so much from working with these capable and intelligent people and find motivation in serving alongside them,” Cotton said humbly.
She speaks self-effacingly about herself and does not require the credit for anything she’s done as a team, she said. If anything, she rarely speaks of her own accomplishments, but raises up her colleagues and crew for the credit.
“It’s not what I’ve done that is important to me – it’s the people I’ve met, the things I’ve learned and the service I’ve been a part of. Everything the Coast Guard does is teamwork. Everything I’ve done has been with the coaching and assistance of my command and crew,” Cotton stated.


Glenrock Independent

Physical Address:506 W. Birch, Glenrock, WY 82637 Mailing Address: PO Box 109, Douglas, WY 82633 Phone: (307) 436-2211

The Glenrock Independent is located in the Bronco Building

Office hours: Monday, Wednesday, Friday - 10:00 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday - 9:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.

Subscriber Login