Faces of MSC: Captain Edward Santillan

Captain Edward Santillan joined Military Sealift Command in 1999 as a supply utilityman on USNS Walter Diehl (T-AO 193). Six months later he decided to join the deck department as an ordinary seaman, and within a year he earned the able seaman certification. In 2002, he took eight months leave to attend Maritime Professional Training at Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., paying for his own tuition to get his license as a 3rd mate. Santillan steadily upgraded his license all the way to captain. In his 15 plus years with MSC, he has completed  19 tours and served on nine ships, including USNS Kiska, USNS Guadalupe (T-AO 200), USNS Shasta, USNS Carl Brashear (T-AKE 7), USNS Amelia Earhart (T-AKE 6), USNS Mt. Baker, and USNS Yukon (T-AO 202). He is currently civil service master aboard USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50).

Santillan1). What unique opportunities has MSC offered you?

Throughout my career I have been on AE, AO, AKE, and ARS platforms, which each have their unique missions. One tour I was a cargo officer moving ordnance throughout the U.S. 7th Fleet theater, or moving fuel/ordnance at sea for months for George Washington carrier strike group. Next tour, I am chief mate picking up dead coral off the shipping channel in Saipan. By having the opportunity to experience each platform I became a key asset to the command by being an all-around officer. This helps you out tremendously against the other candidates during a promotion board.   

2). What challenges have you encountered and overcome in your career?

As an unlicensed mariner, becoming an officer is an achievement so high that if you have not gone to a maritime academy is almost impossible to achieve. This of course enticed me to pursue it even more. Throughout the years as an officer I have always taken the time to educate the unlicensed folks, letting them know that it’s not impossible to get your license. I guide them to what steps they need to take to purse their goals. Transitioning from unlicensed to a licensed officer was a culture shock – one minute I’m chipping and painting away on deck and in a flash I am responsible for the navigation of a fully loaded ammunition ship. It was a pretty awesome experience.

3). What advice would you give to new unlicensed and licensed maritime professionals?

For the unlicensed: It takes commitment, time and money. You have to put all your effort into this and it’s a challenge to say the least. You will need to manage your finances for a month window while attending the schools and sitting for your license. I moved my entire family to Ft. Lauderdale and we lived off noodles and the dollar menu at McDonalds! Overall, once you have your license in hand MSC offers every opportunity to move up through the ranks. The ball is now in your court. 

For the officers: You need to take the initiative to learn new things. Try to bounce around to various platforms. Sometimes you may get pigeon-holed since you may have the endorsement or experience that many don’t have, but keep asking your detailer to move around, or the captain can set you up for your next assignment. Don’t be afraid to ask. If you lack training (TPIC, MEDPIC, etc.) and MSC can’t offer it during your time off, just take it on your own. There are plenty of schools with various schedules, and this will avoid years of loss time trying to get the training you need. The downside is you’re going have to cough up the money and give up some of your time off to attend, but it’s worth it in the long run.


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