Defense Media Network

Interview With Capt. Paul A. Flynn, USCG

Former Commanding Officer, Training Center Petaluma

Courtesy of Surface SITREP, published by the Surface Navy Association (


Capt. Edward Lundquist, USN-Ret: Tell me about TRACEN Petaluma. What’s your mission, and why does the Coast Guard have a facility here?

Capt. Paul A. Flynn: We are a collection of schools, really. It’s not one school. We work for Force Readiness Command. The Coast Guard has several training centers. We complement the Aviation Technical Training Center (ATTC) Elizabeth City, NC; the Aviation Training Center (ATC) Mobile, AL; TRACEN Yorktown, VA; and Training Center Cape May, N.J. Cape May is our boot camp. Yorktown provides the training for seven ratings, and we have seven ratings. ATTC has three ratings. We also have the Maritime Law Enforcement Academy down in Charleston, South Carolina, where they train our maritime enforcement specialists. So one third of the Coast Guard ratings train here. This is the only major training center on the West Coast. We have Store Keepers; Yeomen; Health Services Technicians; Culinary Specialists; Electronics Technicians; Information System Technicians; and the Operations Specialists. We have those A Schools here, plus any of the C Schools that go along with those. We teach advanced repair courses for our CIC and bridge systems; and we have a System Manager Course for any of the ITs who are going to manage a network on a ship or a small boat station. If you’re going to be an independent duty corpsman, or an independent duty Food Service Officer, you’re going to come to a C School here. We also host the Chief Petty Officer Academy here. They belong to the Leadership Development Center in New London, Connecticut. So this is not just a “school” – it’s a collection of schools under the Training Center umbrella.

How many people come to your Senior Enlisted Academy?

Flynn: That’s about 800 people a year. We convene about 11 four-week classes per year, with about 70 in each class. There are some Reserves that go through for a two week course that would complement that.

How many A-school graduates do you have each year?

Flynn: We have between 700 and 900 A-School graduates a year, depending on loading. We have about 2,500 C-School graduates. The A schools teach the basic knowledge for the rating, and the C-Schools get into specific systems. So if you go to ET School, you’re going to come back here at some point to get a C-School on a specific radio, radar or a system for your ship. That’s why the C-School ends up having a larger number.

Tell me about the base.

It’s kind of a little town out here. We have 127 housing units on the base; a fire department; police department; chapel; gym; theater; and all the things that we need to take care of our people and do our mission.

Why Petaluma? This isn’t on the water.

Back in the 1970s, we Coast Guard had outgrown our base on Governors’ Island and was looking for a new location for a training facility. At the same the Army was trying to get rid of this communications station they had since World War II. The Security Agency came here in 1942 and built a field station to monitor Japanese communications. We liked it because we didn’t have a training center on the West Coast, and it had a lot of room where we could grow, if needed.

TRACEN Petaluma

A birds-eye view of U.S. Coast Guard Training Center Petaluma, located in Petaluma, California, May 10, 2019. The TRACEN Petaluma commander is responsible to train, develop, and support leaders ready to perform Coast Guard missions. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jordan Akiyama

How do your students get here?

They can fly into San Francisco or Oakland and take a bus up to Petaluma. It may seem out of the way, but our schools at Yorktown or Elizabeth City are also some distance from an airport. Yorktown isn’t too far from Portsmouth, where the Coast Guard has a lot going on. You don’t fly into Cape May–you fly in to Philadelphia and drive an hour and a half. And we’re not too far from Alameda, which is also a big Coast Guard base. It’s a little bit off the beaten path, but a lot of Coast Guard places are off the beaten path. One of the retention challenges in the Coast Guard is dual-military families and being co-located. And this makes for a good spot for that, where you have a lot of people in Alameda and a lot of people up here. We don’t have a problem finding people who want to go to Petaluma. Five of the six ratings in the Coast Guard that have a double-digit percentage of women, are here. The cooks, corpsmen, storekeepers, yeomen, and Oss have greater than 10 percent female, so when you’re trying to do Co-Los, this makes for a good spot for a lot of dual military families.

You’re surrounded by cattle ranches in rolling hills right near Sonoma’s wine country. It’s almost idyllic to be out here.

It’s a nice spot. It certainly has its challenges. It’s an expensive area to live. But you have some benefits that maybe other locations don’t have. It shakes out in the end.

How do you get along with your neighbors here in the community?

There’s been a military facility here for many years. This area is known as Two Rock. More than half of the students at the local Two Rock elementary school are Coast Guard kids. Even though the base today is called Training Center Petaluma, the local people in Sonoma County call it the Coast Guard station at Two Rock. Even the Army called it “Two Rock Ranch Station.”   Today we have a great relationship with our neighbors. Petaluma has a huge Veterans Day parade every year, and our color guard and Coast Guard platoon leads the parade marching every year. It’s wonderful to see all the veterans, because we’re the only military base in Sonoma County. Having that kind of link back to the military is really amazing to see. There are a couple of WWII vets still around, and a lot of Korean and Vietnam vets, and they’ll be lining the streets with their hats, standing up for the flag when it goes by. It’s really cool to be a part of that. But what’s even more amazing is after we’re across the finish line of the parade, and we’re watching the rest of the groups, I see so many of our Coast Guard people and their families who are with the Little League, gymnastics, or the Boy Scouts, or some other organization in town. Even though we have 127 housing units here, that’s nowhere near as many people as work here–many of them live in Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Sebastopol and the little towns around here.

If you could wave a magic wand, is there anything that you would like to see improved or changed?

One would be the galley training facility. One of our training facilities was the original Army galley where they fed the soldiers in the late 40s. It’s small. And to try to fit 16 or 18 students in there… is tight. It would be good to have something more modern and spacious where learning may be a little bit conducive. I’d like to improve the wireless infrastructure and habitability of our C-school barracks, and bringing it up to 21st century kind of standards because I think that that has an impact on professionalism, and the way our people approach their careers   People get “re-blued” here.


At a lot of our outlying units, we have people who are pretty much on their own. Maybe they aren’t always paying attention to how sharp their uniform looks, or maybe they don’t polish their boots every day. The school re-orients students back to what the basics. They get back in touch with the core values, customs, courtesies and traditions of the service. People are a little more aware of their military bearing and their appearance. We make sure the grounds look nice. It’s a different environment, with an emphasis on professionalism. And I think that has a big impact on the culture at the units when the students go back. They remember what they were called to do. I call it “re-blueing.” And that’s one reason we want to make this place the best possible environment for them to study and learn.

And it also sends a message, maybe, that this is what the Coast Guard thinks of them.

It absolutely does. It changes the mentality, I think, a little bit. And that can go a long way we surround our students and staff with a professional environment. Peale step up their game, and live up to that standard.

You also have new accessions. So you are helping them understand the Coast Guard.

Right. We see people coming from boot camp, and we’re turning them into petty officers. So we want to give them that same professional environment. Having the A-School students and C-School students together is a great opportunity to re-orient everybody to what the standard is, and to what they can achieve, rather than settle for something less.

I had the opportunity to visit some incredible simulators here today. How would you the value of that training.

The simulators can put a crew member of a who has a role on the bridge or in CIC – the things that are going to make the mission go –in an environment where they can replicate the scenarios they may face at sea, over and over until we have really good teamwork. When you’re at sea, you can’t create those situations for practice. You can’t rehearse going in or out of Dutch Harbor or Kodiak, Alaska, in the fog many time. If a ship has been in the yards, and a lot of the bridge team has changed out over that summer or the period of time that you were in the yard, and it’s been five months since you last pulled in and out of your own home port, there is a huge value to have that simulator, and to work your team through so it’s not the first time they’ve seen it, and practice it over and over. It’s a way to practice what the ship will or may be doing in real-time – and to practice it safely so that people have a good degree of competence and confidence. It’s also a way of preventing people to become over-confident.

We can put the teams in a lot of different scenarios with levels of complications. Even simple things like talking on the radio. That is hard to do if you’ve never done it. If you have a lot of new people on the bridge, and there are seven conversations from three different speakers, you can lose the bubble fast. The simulator can remind even experience watchstanders of how complicated it can be. We want to instill confidence but not over confidence.

The Full Mission Bridge Simulator (FMBS) at work at TRACEN Petaluma, California.

The Full Mission Bridge Simulator (FMBS) at work at TRACEN Petaluma, California.

When the simulator changes from daylight to night it becomes a totally different situation.

A lot of ships don’t pull in and out of port at night. Quite often when you do, it’s because you have to.  So these scenarios are a new experience for a lot of the students. The important thing is that they learn to work as a team. And you have both the bridge and CIC, in separate spaces, and they can’t even see each other, but they’re working with each other, building that teamwork and that confidence in one another. And we can offer this challenging training in a short amount of time. We can run seven scenarios in the morning. Whereas underway, depending on where you’re patrolling, it may take you seven weeks to get seven scenarios.

Your instructors must also be learning a lot.

The instructors have come from the fleet, and they’re going back to the fleet. I think these evolutions will make them much more experienced and proficient when they report to their next cutter.

What’s the most gratifying part of the job?

That’s a good question. You would think that coming to Training Center Petaluma, it’s about making third class petty officers. That’s a big part of what we do, creating those A-School graduates. But for me, what I enjoy seeing is the instructors, who are first class petty officers, being better-prepared to be chiefs, because of how they make that third class petty officer. So it’s gratifying to see them get promoted. There’s been quite a few E6s who have made E7 while I’ve been here, and I’ve seen them go through the chiefs academy, I’ve seen them go through chiefs call to initiation, I’ve seen them going from being a movie theater watch stander or a gym watch stander, to being the Officer of the Day, and watch them growing into that role.

Those watches are leadership opportunities.

I had an E6 who was concerned that he was falling behind his peer group in his rating – he was a storekeeper – because he wasn’t doing storekeeper stuff. He thought, “I’m falling behind as an SK1 because I’m teaching people to be an SK3.” I said, “Yeah, maybe a little bit. But you’re smart enough to pick that stuff up and you can stay familiar with it here if you want to. They should be worried about falling behind of you in terms of leadership capacity.” The E6 standing watch running the base theater is managing students who are making the popcorn and selling the Milk Duds and the tickets, and counting the money. But he or she is also interacting with those students in an environment outside the classroom, and usually its students who aren’t in your school house, and it’s a neat opportunity to observe those students in a different setting and to provide a different type of mentorship or counsel.

Our base OOD is always a chief. It’s just an incredible leadership opportunity for them. They learn a lot about themselves and others. It’s easy for an E6 or an E7 to be content within their shop, or their division, and do storekeeper things and work with storekeepers and maybe dabble with others on occasion when they have to. But the way it’s set up here, they have to develop relationships with those other ratings. That’s what’s going to make them better chiefs one day. That’s what’s going to make those chiefs better master chiefs one day, and to be a command master chief somewhere, because they worked with other ratings, they know what other peoples’ concerns are, they know to seek some perspective before they go throwing their opinion around. That’s what I’ve enjoyed over two years, is seeing those senior enlisted and junior officers grow, get promoted, and go on to some other really cool job.


Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...