Spouse of Coast Guard Boatswain’s Mate Chief Wesley Lewallen
U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Legare
Assuming the role of single parent while their spouse is deployed, handling anything and everything that is thrown at them, comes as second nature for many military spouses. Cathy Lewallen, spouse of Coast Guard Boatswain’s Mate Chief Wesley Lewallen, is no exception, and is used to dealing with difficult situations through her job as well.
In addition to the daily endeavor of raising her own three teenaged children, Cathy advocates for countless others as a Virginia Child Protective Services social worker for the city of Hampton. As a senior social worker, Cathy is on call 24/7, and can receive calls at all hours of the day and night to deal with cases running the gamut from neglect and abuse to juvenile criminals. Handling these cases can be tough enough, but when her husband is at sea aboard U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Legare (WMEC 912), the challenge can be even greater.
“We have no relatives living here,” Cathy said. “I am fortunate to have established long-term friends. When I had to respond to a call when the kids where younger, co-workers or friends would come over and watch the kids. Or coaches would drive the kids to and from soccer practice. In the middle of the night, my friends would grab a blanket and sleep on the couch.
“Now that my oldest, Anthony, is 16, I can just tell him I’m leaving and that he’s in charge,” Cathy continued. “If it’s in the middle of the night, he can roll over and go back to sleep. And if they need to go somewhere, he can drive them.”
Cathy said she has been blessed with good, responsible kids, who include Tiffany, 15, and David, 12.
“We have also had foster kids in the house,” Cathy added, “who understand and tolerate ‘mom’ having to get up and take care of things and be gone sometimes.”
Being a social worker has more than prepared Cathy to be a command ombudsman and deal with any issue the families might have.
“Being able to be an effective ombudsman comes naturally to me,” Cathy explained. “My experience as a social worker helps me to maintain a clear mind and decide the best way to handle the situation.”
“Mrs. Lewallen quickly and discretely managed in excess of 15 highly-sensitive cases involving the families and loved ones of Legare’s crew,” said Lt. Cmdr. Holly Harrison, Legare’s executive officer. “She spent numerous hours keeping the command and families informed, sharing timely information and coordinating resources to assist dependents while the ship was at sea. She has been a calm voice and a steady hand in times of crisis.”
Cathy has had more hands on time as ombudsman for the Legare than her previous ombudsman job with Coast Guard Cutter Bear, since the Legare deployed to West Africa. With the ship deployed from September 2006 to May 2007, Cathy became her own advocate during her own family crisis just prior to Christmas in 2006.
“My grandmother passed away the first week of December,” Cathy said. “The second week, my husband’s mother died, so he flew home. My cousin died the same week. Right after he left to go back to the ship, my father died. He was going to fly back home again, but I told him to stay, that I was ok, and he needed to be there.”
Before the deployment had even started, Cathy helped the crew and their families to prepare to deal with these types of events through pre-deployment briefs. Facing the long deployment ahead of them, she and the morale committee came up with fun things as well, to ease the separation fears and build morale.
“Before they left port, I collected cards from the command members to keep on hand until a family member’s birthday or anniversary and then mail the card locally,” Cathy said. “Then I would get phone calls from the people I had mailed cards to, they would tell me about getting the card and be so excited, and then it would dawn on them I was the one who mailed it. It was wonderful.”
Cathy did a similar thing for the crew for Christmas. Together with the morale committee, they collected about $4500 worth of presents from all over the country. They sewed goody bags from donated fabric and filled them with things like candy, gum, peanuts and Silly String. Then everything was loaded onto the cutter before the ship left port.
“The crew was surprised to wake up Christmas morning and have presents waiting for them,” Cathy said. “I loved hearing the stories about the crew opening the presents, negotiating the exchange of something from their goody bag for their favorite, like exchanging gum for peanuts. And the story about the Silly String fight, can you imagine 110 people on a cutter spraying silly string at each other? Just hearing about all this was my reward.”
Cathy admits she gets a personal high out of volunteering, and that getting a simple thank you, or hearing the excitement in someone’s voice or helping them stay calm during a crisis, is enough reward for her.
“In doing all of this,” Harrison added, “she has significantly contributed to the effective accomplishments of the Coast Guard’s many missions, with much emphasis on taking care of our people.”
On top of everything else, Cathy was accepted into the Master’s Degree program at Norfolk State University and began taking classes in January.
“I’ll be getting a Master’s in community counseling,” Cathy said. “It will take me 18 months to complete the program. Luckily, my kids are older and my husband will be transferring to a four-year shore tour this summer.”