Steven Day: Challenge Accepted

By Jeanne Nagle | November 11, 2019 | Profiles

As military personnel around the world will attest, receiving a flag officer’s challenge coin is a distinct honor. Once used as a form of identification, the coins, which bear core-value watchwords and emblems of a particular unit or branch of the armed services, are now largely given as tokens of esteem.

In October of 2015, ROTC cadets at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point were given a specially made challenge coin by Coast Guard Rear Admiral Steven Day (M ’82) that packed an extra punch, as it had Pointer roots. Beneath the Coast Guard Reserve shield and insignias was a quote: “No problems in life, just numerous leadership and learning opportunities.” Day attributes the quote, in spirit if not actual spoken word, to former UWSP education Professor Tom McCaig.

“As Dr. McCaig said, everyone needs a moment for mental health, but don’t let it last more than 24 hours, because it happened and it needs to be over,” says Day. He calls these “Chardonnay moments” because they allow for a short period of “whining.”

Raised in Michigan, Day enlisted in the Coast Guard straight out of high school in 1967.

After his four-year enlisted stint ended, Day joined the Coast Guard Reserves. His plan was to put in enough years to retire as a chief. When his new bride, Sharon, expressed concerns about his getting recalled for active duty, he recalls telling her not to worry because the Coast Guard Reserve would be the last to be recalled.

“I was quite a bit off on my statements related to rank, time [in the Reserve] and recalls,” he admits now. Day’s military career has spanned 47 years, and he rose to a rank much higher than planned. He was named director of Reserve and military personnel in 2012, essentially making him the highest-ranking flag officer in the Coast Guard Reserve.

Over the course of his military career, Day took part in several missions, including deployments in the Middle East during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Closer to home, he led Reserve efforts toward rebuilding Haiti after a devastating earthquake, as well as clean-up efforts in the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon disaster—both missions occurring in 2010.

Day took advantage of military benefits to receive associate and bachelor’s degrees in industrial arts education. He wound up teaching the subject in the Port Edwards School District and at Mid-State Technical College in Wisconsin Rapids. Later, after using his G.I benefits again to obtain a master’s in professional development and education from UWSP, he worked in safety, training and labor relations with Domtar’s Nekoosa Paper Mill.

Day retired from the Coast Guard Reserves in 2014 and serves as a training and leadership consultant for Wisconsin paper mills. He and Sharon are “Western snowbirds,” living October through April in a 55-and-older community south of Phoenix, Ariz. The remainder of the year they can be found in Wrightstown, Wisc., where ardent-Packer fan Sharon says, “We are 20 minutes south of Lambeau Field.” Day remains active in the U.S. Defense Department’s Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve program and is a member of the local VFW and Vietnam Veterans Association. He also enjoys playing golf with his son, Brian, who lives nearby—daughter Meghan and her family live elsewhere—and spending time with his grandchildren.


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