Joseph B. Aviles, Sr., who became the first Hispanic American chief petty officer (CPO) in the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), was born near the town of Naranjito in central Puerto Rico in 1896. (Puerto Rico was a Spanish colony at the time, and became a territory of the United States a couple of years later.) Aviles joined the U.S. Navy in 1915 and eventually attained the rank of chief gunner’s mate. He served for nearly eight years in this maritime branch of the U.S. military.
In 1925, Aviles enlisted in the USCG with the rank of chief gunner’s mate. He was eventually advanced to CPO. At that time, CPO was the highest enlisted rank in the USCG. The position has long been described as that military branch’s backbone. In carrying out the duties of CPO, Aviles provided training and technical expertise for fellow “coasties” who served in his command.
During World War II, Aviles made history again when he received a wartime promotion to chief warrant officer. This made him the first Hispanic American to achieve that rank in the USCG. The role of chief warrant officer customarily involves being in command of the larger USCG stations and patrol vessels as well as serving as a specialist in various technical areas. Aviles spent most of the war working with recruits at the USCG training station in St. Augustine, Florida.
Aviles retired from the USCG in 1946 and worked at a hospital in Baltimore as a security guard until 1962. He died in 1990 at the age of 94. In 2015, the USCG’s new fast response cutter and engineering support building in San Juan was officially named after Aviles. “Today we honor one of our finest, a native son of Naranjito, Puerto Rico, who was a great man and distinguished guardsman,” said USCG Captain Robert W. Warren during the dedication ceremony. “As we name our newest building, it takes on even further significance, not only for representing the unfolding next chapter in our Service’s promising future but also for representing the greatness and legacy of its past.”
For more information on Joseph B. Aviles, Sr., please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_B._Aviles_Sr.
Additional information on Hispanics in the U.S. Coast Guard is available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hispanics_in_the_United_States_Coast_Guard.