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Sunday, July 14, 2024

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Leading by Example: Coast Guard Center’s Commander Shows the Way to Recruits

Capt. Warren Judge oversees some 3,800 new Coast Guard recruits annually as commanding officer at the U.S. Coast Guard Training Center Cape May.

By Karen Knight

CAPE MAY – Capt. Warren Judge is no stranger to hard work and to motivating those around him, and he is sometimes not willing to accept “no” for an answer.

As commanding officer of U.S. Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, he prides himself on being seen running on base in the morning, joining the recruits for their Sunday run through the City of Cape May, or attending church services on the base. He likes to motivate recruits with chants of “I got this!” to instill belief in themselves in meeting the challenges of boot camp.

“It’s important to me that the recruits see me putting in the same work and effort that they do, and see that I am not asking them to do anything more than what I do,” said the 37-year Guardsman, who is originally from Tampa, Florida.

As commanding officer of the training center, he oversees the basic training of about 3,800 new Coast Guard men and women annually.

Although Judge’s career counts many accomplishments, which earned him recognition recently at the annual Concerned Citizens of Whitesboro Inc. reunion, he is also quick to point out that “people need to see me as human, with some good points and some bad. There was no way that I could have told you when I joined the Coast Guard that this is where I would end up,” he said.

Capt. Warren Judge enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard in 1986 and returned to Training Center Cape May in July 2022 as its commanding officer. Photo Credit: Chief Warrant Officer 2 Timothy Tamargo

“The Coast Guard gave me the opportunity and prepared me, and I had good mentors along the way who saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself at the time,” he continued. “I had commanding officers who trusted me, but also told me when I did something right or wrong along the way. I had to be receptive to learn from it all.”

After graduating from high school, Judge attended the University of Florida, which he said was the “number one party school. I felt it was my right to keep it as number one, and then in the spring of 1986, I got a letter that I should take some time off.”

His older brother had joined the Coast Guard, so he decided to do the same. However, he didn’t tell his mother that he had joined until the Sunday before he was leaving on Tuesday.

“I thought that if I waited until she was leaving church, she would be filled with the gospel and things would go smoother for me,” he recalled. “But she was quite upset, she cried, wondering who was going to take care of me, feed me and be responsible for me.

“I was the youngest in the family of four children. I told her that it was my responsibility to take care of me. When I got on the plane to fly from Tampa to Philadelphia, it was my first plane ride.”

He was 20 years old. He graduated from the training center in the regular eight-week schedule, although he recalls spending his day of off-base liberty (the first in seven weeks) eating pancakes at a restaurant in Wildwood Crest.

“My friends were enjoying burgers, while I had just had my four wisdom teeth pulled, so all I could eat was pancakes,” Judge said.

He also admits that he was so frightened about the surgery to remove his wisdom teeth they had to call his mother to calm him down.

“Things were a little bit different back then,” he said, chuckling.

Upon graduation, he was on a cutter based in Cape Canaveral, Florida, where he was a mess cook, cleaned up the officers’ toilets, washed dishes and peeled potatoes, among other tasks.

But his career started to grow. He attended radio communications school to learn Morse Code so he could communicate with other ocean vessels. His communication skills continued to develop in various posts over the next several years, and he realized he wanted to go back to college and become an officer.

He attended classes during lunch or after work, earning his bachelor’s degree in computer science at Elizabeth State University, North Carolina, in 1997. He pledged a fraternity and joined the school’s student government as well. He also attended officer candidates school, joining the engineering unit to build software for ships.

“The Coast Guard defined my opportunities,” Judge said as he recalled becoming the assistant operations officer and a law officer in Mobile, Alabama, where he looked for illegal substances and boardings.

“When 9/11 happened, I was at an Air Force base in Columbus, Mississippi, when we got called back to Mobile to secure the base,” he said. “We had a police escort every step of the way because of the uncertainty of what was happening at the time.”

Capt. Warren Judge with his wife, Angela, during Coast Guard Day celebrations at Training Center Cape May, Aug. 4, 2023. The occasion marked the 233rd birthday of the U.S. Coast Guard. Judge has two children and four grandchildren. Photo Credit: Petty Officer 2nd Class Gregory Schell

By that point, Judge wanted to go to graduate school, but was told he was “too junior” and to hold off on applying.

“I wasn’t going to take no for an answer, though,” he said, “so I applied and got in at Howard University, where I got a master’s degree in computer science. Sometimes things pan out for you when you won’t take no for an answer, but sometimes not.”

A year after earning his graduate degree, he was stationed as an operations officer with the Electronic Systems Support Unit in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit. He and his troops rebuilt the service’s lower Gulf Coast command and control unit infrastructure so helicopters searching the area could communicate with the command center.

Another mentor, who now heads the Coast Guard Academy and whom Judge considers a friend, “gave me the leeway to do what needed to be done, and taught me so much. I remember one day he asked to see me and told me to close the door. I wondered, what did I do now? He told me I needed to keep my commanding officer informed of what I was doing. I try to keep that in mind even today.”

A second master’s degree, this one in systems quality management from National Graduate School in 2007, led to further career advancement for Judge. He joined the Office of Personnel Management, where he mentored more than 8,000 officers and helped manage their careers.

Then came the opportunity of a lifetime.

“I had a mentor who was picking the Top 10, which became the Top 4, to be presented to the White House for its communications agency for the president,” Judge said. “I was selected as the one to be part of the agency for President Obama.”

He was the only Coast Guardsman in the agency.

He recalled his first job was getting on a plane with a thick book to read so when they landed about 19 hours later in Moscow, they could set up a communications command center in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s home and at the airport.

“For the first 18 months, I led a team that would build the command center wherever the president was, so he could talk to anyone, anytime, from anywhere,” he said.

During the second 18 months on the job, he was one of five selected to be with the president at all times. He also had his own seat on Air Force One.

“I learned so much under President Obama,” Judge said. “I was in the room when all the important decisions were made and learned how to operate to get a win-win for the U.S. I learned more about compromising so we would get a good conclusion for the betterment of the country. My mom got a chance to meet the president. She grew up during the Jim Crow laws, and she and my aunts and uncles all got a chance to meet the first Black president. My mom cried then, too.”

Before asking for a command and coming to Cape May in July 2022, Judge served as the engineering services division chief in Portsmouth, Virginia, for the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber and Intelligence Service Center, leading 226 military personnel and civilians and 500 contractors in engineering and standard processes utilizing the Systems Engineering Lifecycle.

He said his leadership style is to be “visible and present.”

He prides himself on following his three leadership principles: “Taking pride in everything we do, and pride equals professional results and dedicated efforts; earning an EE degree, meaning executing excellence, and providing presidential customer service to everyone crossing the threshold to the base.”

“Now, that customer service may look different to the recruits, but everyone is treated fairly, equal and equitable at all times,” he said.

Capt. Warren Judge, Aug. 16, 2023, signs the graduation certificates of recruits scheduled to graduate. He assumed command of the training center, the Coast Guard’s sole accession point for the enlisted workforce, in July 2022. Photo Credit: Petty Officer 2nd Class Gregory Schell

Having just celebrated the 75th anniversary of Training Center Cape May, Judge said the center recently graduated its first naturalized citizen, Sept. 15, from the Republic of Congo.

“We are making a difference with our recruiting and in someone’s life, and those changes are positive,” he said. “Like all the services, we are facing a tough time with recruiting. To mitigate it, we are recruiting differently.”

Two other naturalized citizens graduated from the center Sept. 22, and Judge said there are 13 others poised for graduation in the near future.

Judge is also hoping to help the Coast Guard update its facilities. The center received $55 million to build a new barracks on base that should break ground “in the next couple of years,” and is seeking $130 million to build a new multipurpose training facility. It is also seeking $72 million for a second new barracks.

“Forty-three percent of our time, we are unable to train outdoors because of the heat, rain or cold,” Judge said. “So we train inside. When we are doing our laps around the gym, we need to do 26 laps around: That’s 104 left turns. If we could do it all inside a multipurpose facility, we’d be able to train and be more comparable with the other services’ training centers.”

With two-thirds of his assignment ahead of him, Judge said his future in the Coast Guard “is whatever way the Lord decides to bless me. I still have more motivation and service to give to the next generation and to the Guard.”

Contact the author, Karen Knight, at kknight@cmcherald.com.

Reporter

Karen Knight is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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