ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. -- Coast Guard Airman Gregory Jacquet got his start in aviation in Louisiana at the age of 6.
He told his father he wanted a large toy helicopter he'd seen at a store. It cost $60. His father told him he would have to work and save up the money first.
Jacquet helped around the yard and house for weeks before earning enough. His father let him keep the money and bought the toy for his son.
The experience was the first of many lessons from his parents that taught Jacquet the value of hard work and good character, he said.
"I owe a lot to my parents," he said.
Those lessons apparently stuck. Jacquet, 21, will be honored in May in Washington as the Coast Guard's active-duty enlisted person of the year. He was chosen from among 32,000 enlisted members.
Lisa Novak, a Coast Guard spokeswoman in Washington, confirmed that Jacquet, an E-3 seaman, was the first to receive this award while still in his first school.
Jacquet attends avionics school at the Coast Guard base in Elizabeth City, where he's scheduled to graduate in July. But his nomination comes from his tour last year on the Florida-based cutter Valiant.
Jacquet worked on the deck of the 210-foot ship. He swabbed those decks, dropped and hoisted anchors and secured the ship with ropes when it docked. None of those tasks is as mundane as they sound, he said. The job required alertness and leadership or bad things could happen.
Jacquet's supervisors praised his work ethic.
"He demonstrated remarkable initiative by qualifying in positions normally reserved for experienced petty officers, while directly overseeing the training of 20 helmsmen, lookouts and boatswain's mates of the watch," reads a Coast Guard notice of the award.
He was part of a crew that caught eight drug-smuggling vessels carrying 4,300 kilograms of cocaine and helped save 221 migrants in makeshift vessels.
He also served on the ship's leadership and diversity council, volunteered at Jacksonville, Fla., food banks and read to school-aged children, according to the service.
"I always wanted to join a branch of the military where I could directly help people," he said.
The Coast Guard's search-and-rescue mission appealed to him; he had worked as an emergency medical responder before enlisting. After avionics school he plans eventually to apply for officer candidate school to become a pilot.
A helicopter pilot.
"I love aviation," he said. "I mostly love helicopters."