The job of a Coast Guard Yeoman (YN) is much more than administrative paperwork. Their job also consists of counseling personnel on career changes, entitlements, retirement processes, benefits, and solving any problem a member might have in staying ready for service. Petty Officer 1st Class Nicole Hopkins, a yeoman at Training Center Cape May, has proven to be a valuable asset to the Recruit Servicing Personnel Office (RSPO) and the Coast Guard at large.
Hopkins has spent the last 13 years dedicating her time and energy to the service. In 2016, she arrived for the second time at the gates of Training Center Cape May. However, instead of being a recruit like in 2007, she is now responsible for overseeing the recruit hiring process at the Training Center, making sure recruits receive pay and entitlements, and that they get their orders executed properly.
Hopkins leads her team to do one of the most important missions, to hire and process recruits into the fleet. The entire hiring process for recruits is reviewed and approved by two auditors in the RSPO, Hopkins, and Petty Officer 1st Class Oquanna Wolfe.
Additionally, the RSPO consists of six SPO technicians that are split into two teams managed by Hopkins and Wolfe. During the hiring process, the technicians take recruit data along with the information packets received from the recruiters and put it into Direct Access, the Coast Guard human resource database, when the recruit arrives for training. This information is then reviewed for accuracy and approved by the two auditors.
“As an auditor, I’m responsible for ensuring the information my SPO Technicians enter into Direct Access for all transactions is accurate and then I sign off as the Pay Authorizing Official to get recruits paid,” said Hopkins.
With the outbreak of COVID-19, the RSPO has taken on some major changes.
“COVID changed almost every aspect of our work in the Recruit SPO,” said Hopkins.
Policy changes came weekly, if not daily. Typically, the RSPO would have processed and hired a company of over 100 recruits within their first three days at the Training Center, now they must wait a minimum of 72 hours before they can even touch the documents brought by recruits to mitigate the risk of exposure. The technicians now direct recruits to travel straight to their units rather than allowing them to take leave due to the COVID-19 outbreak and work through the processes of making travel arrangements.
“The biggest challenge has been keeping up with new policy – especially in the beginning. Making sure recruit processes aligned with Coast Guard and local policy as it rolled out and not using outdated guidance was the most challenging thing I’ve faced,” said Hopkins.
Hopkins has proven her leadership skills during this trying time and was able to not only take care of her family at home but also look after the welfare of her team in the RSPO.
“At first, COVID had a major impact on my work-life balance. I was a single parent for the last year with three children, so I had to have family members step in to help care for the kids with schools shut down. Now that COVID procedures have become the new norm, I’ve been able to settle into that routine, but my children are still hanging out with family members until summer camps and schools reopen.”
Hopkins gives many hours to help her team. She steps in when they show signs of struggle, and when they were having a hard time keeping up with the workload. As a leader, she attempted to make the best decisions for her team and the Coast Guard.
The work done in the RSPO is often overlooked even though it directly impacts mission readiness.
“Sometimes it’s a little surreal to think about how what I do impacts the Coast Guard at large. It’s very easy to “lose sight of the forest for the trees” if you will,” said Hopkins. “The particulars of RSPO work can overpower the bigger picture and it’s easy to forget that the work we do directly impacts fleet readiness.”
However, with leaders like Hopkins, the Coast Guard can continue the important work it is assigned with new personnel ready to take on the challenges fresh from Training Center Cape May.
“I do my best to be an empathetic leader, to create bonds with my team that will help give insight into why they perform the Coast Guard mission every day,” said Hopkins. “To me, being a good leader means you’re not asking people to do things you wouldn’t do yourself and really making an effort to understand the needs of your team. If you don’t take care of your team, they can’t perform and accomplish the mission.”
Story by Seaman Josalyn Brown