A young Austin Callwood once swam where to-day cruise ships dock in St. Thomas' Charlotte Amalie Harbor, taught sailing as an explorer scout, and wished he could be a conservation officer, protecting the Virgin Islands marine environment and the creatures that swam in it when he grew up. Today, that wish has come true, and Callwood brings to his position an incredible wealth of talent and professional experience.
Callwood has long held an affinity for the sea. This shaped his education and ultimately his professional life.
"I sailed sailboats out of Avery's Boat Yard in Frenchtown as part of my Sea Explorer's Troop," he says. "We had to wear life jackets and get the boats inspected. But, it was the chance to go out on the cutter, Point Whitehorn that was stationed here that sold me on applying to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy."
Callwood was honored by the U.S. Virgin Islands Legislature for being the first Virgin Islander to graduate from this prestigious and highly competitive institution where merit alone is what gains entry. Yet, it was no cakewalk to reach that podium back in the 1970s for an island boy.
"It was an awakening," he says. "Not just because of the snow and cold, but militarily, academically and especially culturally. There was this sense of urgency; that everything should have been done yesterday."
Callwood's hard work and perseverance paid off in a position as primary watch officer, in charge of antisubmarine warfare and combat information aboard a 378-foot Coast Guard cutter stationed in Hawaii, right out of the academy. From there, he served a tour of duty in Alaska as commanding officer of a Loran station in St. Paul Island, before returning to Hawaii where he worked in intelligence and law enforcement in the Pacific islands including Guam, Samoa, and the Northern Marianas.
"Being in the islands felt like home," says Callwood of his time in Hawaii. "Although understanding the culture didn't directly apply to my job, it helped in living there. For example, I knew I could go raid a mango tree if I needed an afternoon snack."
Callwood's career trajectory in the Coast Guard landed him increasingly weighty command opportunities. For example, he served as operations officer on a 378-foot cutter out of California that was the first response vessel after the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster. Then, he was stationed in Washington, D.C. at central command, where he simultaneously earned an MBA from George Washington University. Then, he was tapped as executive agent for the U.S. Southern Command directing exercise 'Tradewinds' annually in the Caribbean. In this position he liaised with Coast Guards throughout the islands on topics such as search and rescue as well as drug interdiction and illegal migration. His final position before retiring in 2003 was that of Coast Guard Atlantic Area International Operations Section Chief, based out of Portsmouth, Virginia, where he was responsible for international engagement in Europe, Africa, the Americas and the Caribbean.
"The beauty of the military," says Callwood, "is that you're never in the same position for longer than two years, yet you have the stability of working for the same employer."
Callwood continued to live and work in Virginia with his wife and four children until he received a call from one of his childhood mentors about an opening for the position of Director of the Division of Environmental Enforcement for the Department of Planning and Natural Resources. He interviewed and took the position in September 2009.
"It's great to be back home and soaking up the culture and family again," says Callwood.
One of many aspects he enjoys about his position is working with the local fishermen.
"They are energetic, opinionated and know their craft," he says.
To young people who would like to follow in Callwood footsteps, he recommends, "You need to have a vision of where you want to go. Not a big one, but some idea of what you want to do. It's not about ideas of money or glory, but it's the day to day interactions with mentors, family and friends that can help to clarify and solidify that vision of the future."
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.