HONOLULU — Home will always be home to Lockhart native Marty Parkins.
“You never forget where you come from,” the 30-something said.
He always tried to stay on the east coast of the country to be close to his children — 17-year-old Paige Elaine and 13-year-old Jeffrey — and he tries to get back to Union County at least twice a year.
But as the winds of life decided to take him in another direction, one completely opposite of where he was planning to stay, he didn’t struggle and now — instead of the Palmetto and pine trees of his beloved Upstate home — he’s basking in the sun and sand of the beaches of Hawaii.
Operations Specialist First Class Parkins moved to Hawaii in 2007 after accepting a position with the U.S. Coast Guard District 14 Command Center. He now works in the office of the admiral who oversees the district — which is entrusted to watch over 12 million square miles of the Pacific Ocean.
The district is in charge of all Coast Guard activity in Guam, Honolulu, Singapore and even gets as far as Japan and oversees the seas everywhere in between.
His schedule has him on for two 12-hour days and then off for two on a rotating basis. Every call that comes into the District 14 command center is filtered through his office. The main duty of the Coast Guard is to coordinate search and rescue missions and he plays a key part in that process.
“I’m the one who coordinates getting a helicopter out there to get this guy and take him to a hospital,” Parkins said.
When he is on duty, search and rescue missions find him coordinating with several people, from helicopter pilots to rescue personnel. He also speaks with the doctors responding to incidents, keeping them apprised of a patient’s condition and stats. It’s also his duty to tell pilots when to turn around and when to keep going.
He sees a variety of calls come into the command center through his position — anything from protecting the endangered species that live in its area and busting ships carrying illegal drugs or illegal immigrants to the search and rescue missions many are familiar with as the Coast Guard’s duty to recovery operations to find someone whose end came at the mercy of the sea.
The Hawaii-based branch of the Coast Guard takes care of it all in those 12 million square miles and, unlike other branches of service, it can arrest people. Parkins said the Coast Guard works hand-in-hand with local officials and state DNR officials in several of those areas.
The agency also conducts safety inspections of fishing boats and their crews, does searches of foreign vessels to make sure there is no contraband present and performs open-sea rescues and medical transports when needed. District 14 even handles pollution control in its 12 million square miles of ocean.
They do it all and they are one of the first lines of defense for the nation in that part of the world.
Parkins became involved with the Coast Guard a little more than 10 years ago.
He served in the U.S. Navy after graduating from Lockhart High School in 1990 and was shipped straight to the Persian Gulf at the age of 18 after receiving his training. When he left the Navy in 1992 he came home to work as a corrections officer first in Union County and then at the York County Detention Center before joining the Coast Guard in 1999.
After basic training for 12 weeks in New Jersey, he was stationed in Yorktown, VA, for four months while he completed the Coast Guard’s basic intelligence course.
Then it was to the open sea for the Lockhart native as he began his service in District 7 based in Charleston. For two and a half years Parkins was involved in counter-drug enforcement, illegal immigration and other operations on the Caribbean Sea. There were several occasions he and his fellow Guard members intercepted vessels and confiscated more than 15,000 pounds of drugs.
“It’s a different world,” Parkins said. “I spent four and a half years of my life on the sea.”
He then went to the Maritime Intelligence Fusion Center in Dunlap, VA, where he spent his days working with officials from several agencies including the FBI, CIA and Navy. It was his job there to coordinate operations with the Navy to monitor underwater and high priority vessels in the Atlantic. There even were a couple operations he worked on that brought enough attention to go to the President.
Parkins was in that position from 2003-07 until he was given the opportunity to go to his new Hawaiian home.
He really enjoyed the law enforcement aspect of his time on the eastern seaboard of the United States, but in order to be promoted in the Coast Guard an officer must not only spend time on the water but in the other aspects of the agency’s responsibilities.
Parkins has seen a lot in his time with the Coast Guard. He said one of the most frequent types of calls that come through the Hawaii office are people — mostly fisherman — who have cut off a finger or appendage. Unfortunately, he also has seen the worst end of the search and rescue spectrum.
“It happens all the time,” Parkins said.
Swimmers, vacationers, surfers and others who brave the waters off the beaches of Hawaii all run the risk of being caught in undercurrents or simply not paying attention and being washed out to sea.
“Our first mission is to save people and property,” Parkins said, but in the event the Coast Guard is not able to find a person alive, its members are committed to doing everything in their power to find them and bring them back to their family and friends.
But even with the tough calls and hard situations that can often occur with people, boats, planes and other seafaring activities, Parkins can’t imagine doing anything else.
“Honestly, I love my job,” he said. “I think I have the best job in the world.”
Parkins said he has the privilege of being a part of an agency that’s main goal is to protect people and country, save lifes and keep people safe.
He loves his job, but Parkins admitted it wasn’t what he expected to be doing.
“I never thought I’d be doing this stuff,” he said. “And I never thought I’d be in Hawaii.”
But Hawaii is where he is and — other than not getting to see his children and family as often as he would like to — you won’t get any complaints out of him.
He lives on the 31st floor of an apartment building in Waikiki. He can look out his window and see the entire beach and the entrance to Pearl Harbor. There’s even a private school nearby so he can sit on his balcony and watch high school baseball and football.
Parkins even has gotten a good seat at the NFL’s Pro Bowl.
He was selected to carry the Coast Guard flag as part of the Honor Guard for the 2008 Pro Bowl in Honolulu. His family and friends back here at home might remember — a cameraman took a shot right at him for five seconds during the singing of the National Anthem that was broadcast across the nation.
What some people might not know, however, is that being a part of the Coast Guard has its benefits. While Parkins — who is a huge Dallas Cowboys fan — was there to represent the Guard, he had the distinct pleasure of meeting and getting a photo taken with Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.
“They have him listed on the roster as 6’3”,” Parkins said. “I’m 5’11” and he’s just as tall.”
So he does get to enjoy Hawaii on the personal level. Parkins recently started golfing and has been known to snorkel and SCUBA dive from time to time as well. He is even getting remarried May 8 at Bellow’s Beach Air Force Base to his fiance Kangsachita Semklin — a Melbourne, Australia, resident from Thailand — who he met while she was vacationing in Hawaii.
And while Union County and Lockhart will forever hold his heart, especially since his children and parents Jeff and Ginger Parkins of Lockhart still live here, Parkins who has been to France, the Caribbean and other locales around the world while serving with the Navy, Hawaii has become a new home.
“The beaches here are the prettiest I’ve ever seen in the world,” he said.