Coast Guard is a family affair for Hancocks

Published 9:20 am Thursday, June 29, 2023

By Akilah Frye

Staff Writer

On June 20, Rich Hancock, a retired Coast Guard commander, had the pleasure of commissioning his daughter, Payton Hancock, into the Coast Guard during a ceremony at Gatling Pointe Yacht Club. 

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Payton, a graduate of Smithfield High School, always knew she wanted to help others as she was captain of the girls varsity soccer team during her time at SHS. After attending the Governor’s School for Science and Technology, she then went on to Virginia Tech, where she graduated in May from the Civilian Leadership Trach of the Corps of Cadets while earning her Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering with honors. 

“​​Ever since I was a little girl, I have always wanted to be a pilot,” she said. “Growing up with a dad in the military offered its challenges, but it meant that instead of driving for family road trips, we would fly. Whenever we would fly somewhere to visit family, he would always let me sit up in the cockpit with him and I knew that one day I would be able to fly on my own.” 

Hancock earned her pilot’s license with single-engine land privileges at the age of 17.

“During my training, I would routinely fly down to Air Station Elizabeth City,” she said. “One time while I was flying down there, an H-60 (helicopter) came into the pattern and a female’s voice came over the radio. At that moment, I envisioned myself sitting in the cockpit of a Coast Guard helicopter executing missions.”

The experience only intensified Hancock’s passion for flying.

For three years, she was a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary University Program at Virginia Tech, serving as unit leader as a senior. She was able to incorporate some of her other passions while working in this position. 

“Another part of being the unit leader is working with the Corps of Cadets Citizen Leader Track staff to plan morning physical training sessions,” she said. “I enjoy this a lot because I am passionate about physical fitness and I like helping people reach their fitness goals.”

Hancock said she’s determined to have a positive impact on the community around her. 

“I want to be a part of something bigger than myself. When I joined AUP my freshman year, there were only three people from the Corps, including myself, and two civilian students,” she said. “Due to recruiting efforts and working with Corps staff, I am proud to say that we now have over 40 members. My goal for this year is to write a more efficient and clear training program for new and existing members so that they can earn different qualifications, be active members in the Flotilla and be prepared for a future career in the Coast Guard.”

All of Hancock’s experiences and support system have helped instill more confidence in her as a leader.

“Over the past three years, I have been met with many difficult challenges, but I have had numerous positive role models, including my peers, retired officers and senior enlisted, which has expanded my perspective as a leader and strengthened my communication, organizational and mentoring skills,” she said. “I have learned many professional and personal lessons that have shaped me into the leader I am today and want to be in the future.”

As a graduate of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets, Hancock qualified for and was selected for a direct commission into the Coast Guard officer ranks, following her father’s career path as a Coast Guard helicopter pilot. 

“This past year I was pushed to my limits and learned more about myself than I ever thought possible,” she said. “As difficult as it was at times, I am grateful for the experience because I am a better leader and person because of it. I have refined my time management skills, learned how to be composed under pressure, and most importantly I have grown to openly show compassion for others.”

Her first assignment will be as a search and rescue coordinator in the Coast Guard’s Eighth District Command Center in New Orleans, with hopes for a follow-on tour to Navy Flight School in Pensacola, Florida.