Written by: LT Connie Braesch
“A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader, a great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves.” - Eleanor Roosevelt
Our Guardian of the Week is this year’s Captain David H. Jarvis Inspirational Leadership Award winner. As the Executive Officer of the Coast Guard Cutter Jarvis at the time of the award, CDR Matt Meilstrup truly embodied the spirit of Captain Jarvis – a Revenue Cutter Service pioneer for whom the CGC Jarvis is named and whose enduring leadership is kept alive by Coast Guardsmen like Meilstrup.
Receiving a nomination for a prestigious service award is a proud moment in anyone’s career, but receiving the nomination from those you lead – rather than from those that lead you – is a true honor and a tribute to Meilstrup’s ability to inspire others.
Being second in command at any Coast Guard unit is not an easy or popular job, particularly on one of the largest cutters in the fleet – a 378-foot High Endurance Cutter. In two years as the XO, Meilstrup made unparalleled advances in both the cutter’s operational performance and the quality of life onboard the ship.
Spending nearly 270 days underway in just one year meant Jarvis was not only a place to work but also a place to live. Meilstrup judiciously managed the ship’s budget and reallocated resources to complete projects and improve shipboard life for the crew including revitalizing berthing and remodeling the gym.
“CDR Meilstrup had tremendous respect for all of us,” said LT Heather Bacon-Shone, operations officer on Jarvis. “I think that’s because he first saw us as people, and secondly as shipmates, and only thirdly as cooks, Chiefs, junior officers, boatswains’ mates or firemen.”
Understanding the value of getting the crew involved, Meilstrup engaged the officer’s wardroom and the Chief’s Mess. He built camaraderie throughout the ship empowering all levels of leadership to make a difference. His efforts helped more than 170 crewmembers attend formal service and college courses. Another 100 members took advancement exams, 90 earned advancements and several junior officers qualified to command their own cutters.
“One of his signature trademarks was the nightly ‘Fireside Chat’ delivered as the last pipe of the day,” said Bacon-Shone. “In it, CDR Meilstrup would review highlights of the day’s events, giving shout-outs to often unsung hard workers whom he’d observed during his walks about the ship, and then alert us to the next day’s events.”
“I have always believed in looking out for my colleagues, building a cohesive team without barriers, challenging people to advance their professional knowledge and giving maximum effort on whatever task one is given,” said Meilstrup.
In fact, Meilstrup was recognized in 2010 by the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard as an Honorary Chief Petty Officer for his outstanding impact on the Chiefs’ Mess and enlisted members.
“I was glad to have been part of that process and was exceptionally happy for him since he takes great pride in this achievement,” said LCDR Guy Morrow, engineering officer on Jarvis. “He made me a better writer, supervisor, and friend by being all those himself.”
“CDR Meilstrup is a truly extraordinary officer and we were all very lucky to have the opportunity to work with him and call him a shipmate,” said Bacon-Shone.
As the current commanding officer for the CGC Confidence, Meilstrup continues his dynamic and engaging leadership style.
“I’m exceptionally proud to be a Cutterman,” said Meilstrup. “There’s a special bond between shipmates that doesn’t exist elsewhere; that camaraderie is why I keep going back to sea, why I strive to be the best shipmate I can be.”