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Coast Guard career tops for Ringgold High grad

| Saturday, April 21, 2012

Andrew Turko has served with the U.S. Coast Guard for the past 14 years. But it is his current role that he savors and keeps him close to his family.

A Finleyville native, Turko graduated from Ringgold High School in 1994.

A year after graduation, he enrolled at Gateway Tech to study heating, air conditioning and refrigeration. He received an associate degree from the school, which became Dean Tech.

He worked in the industry in 1997 and 1998, joined the Coast Guard and completed boot camp in Cape May, N.J.

Turko spent a year assigned to the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Spencer, stationed in Alameda, Calif.

"I figured out what I wanted to do while there," Turko said. "They sent me to Yorktown, Va., for damage control school."

A damage controlman engages in several trades, including welding and carpentry.

"They say 'If it's broke, give it to the DCs' — jack of all trades, master of none," Turko said.

In 2000, Turko was assigned to the Cutter Escanaba, out of Boston. The cutter operated from Nova Scotia to New York on fishery patrol and into the Caribbean for drug interdiction. The cutter was assigned for seven months to waters off Alaska — on fishery patrol in the Bering Sea.

After nearly four years aboard the Escanaba, Turko was transferred to Long Island. Along the way, Turko was promoted to class petty officer second class and, ultimately, petty officer first class.

Turko was assigned to Coast Guard Sector Field Office Moriches, located on the south shore of Long Island, approximately 60 miles east of New York City. There he oversaw various Coast Guard housing units.

"I found out how bad the houses are and how the lowest bidder wins, so I was fixing houses left and right," said Turko, who was stationed in Long Island from 2004 to 2008.

Turko served on the Cutter Spencer from 2008 to 2011, taking on the role of fire marshal and petty officer first class, "which gave me more responsibility for the crew."

"You have to be everywhere as fire marshal," Turko said. "You're the eyes and ears of the engineer officer. You're going through all of the spaces every day, looking for fire hazards, any dangers that would put the ship in harm's way."

The cutter conducted small fishery patrols, primarily from the Caribbean to the Bahamas and as far south as Columbia.

"Not too bad of a lifestyle, but you're away from your family," Turko said.

While in Boston, Turko met his wife, Stacey. She was in her third year of law school. Today, she is a securities attorney for NASDAQ.

While Turko was reassigned to Long Island in 2004, they maintained a long-distance relationship.

In 2006, the couple was married in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands.

He commuted every weekend from Long Island to Boston. The couple's daughter, Stella, was born in November 2007. They are expecting a second child.

In 2008, he was reassigned to Boston. Turko was again working in the same city as his wife, but he alternated stays at home for a few weeks with voyages.

For the past year, though, Turko has remained grounded in Boston, working with Commercial Fish and Safety. In this role, he oversees safety for fishery vessels, checking safety equipment.

"Fishing vessels don't have to be inspected," Turko said. "Some of these guys are running boats from the 1960s and 1970s. It's a tough industry for the guys. They hardly make any money.

"This has turned into one of the best jobs I've had with the Coast Guard. I talk to civilians every day and am getting to know them and help them out. You get a good feeling about it."

In his off time, Turko enjoys spending time with his daughter, traveling to Cape Cod to see his in-laws and visit the beaches.

The family also enjoys visiting much of what Boston has to offer, from the library to the aquarium to the museum of science

"I enjoy working out and going to the gym and going to a Red Sox game and everything this city has to offer," Turko said. "I make the best of it."

The Turkos most recently visited the Valley at Easter. They try to get back to Finleyville, where his parents Frank and Kay Turko reside, at least twice a year.

Turko enjoys life.

"It's really weird because I've been on the road or at sea for so many years," Turko said. "Now I have an awesome job. I'm much happier."

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