Greetings! It is hard to believe that the operational part of my 1/c summer is coming to a close and that, in less than a month, I will be reporting back to the Coast Guard Academy early to assume the duties of Regimental Communications Officer. As I have stated in my earlier blogs, the Academy summers are what I feel make it stand out from civilian colleges. During the summer, you gain practical and technical knowledge that you can capitalize on in your future career as a Coast Guard officer. The summer also gives cadets a chance to utilize the theoretical knowledge they have learned in their courses and test it out in the fleet.
My summer started when another 1/c cadet, four 3/c cadets, and I reported aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Valiant, a 210-foot medium endurance cutter. Although the Valiant was home-ported out of Naval Base Mayport, Florida, I was never north of the Florida Straits during my time on her. We picked up Valiant south of Key West on a law enforcement patrol in the Florida Straits. Underway would be the operative word describing my time aboard the cutter, as 37 of the 42 days I was attached to Valiant were spent out at sea; first on patrols in the Florida Straits and later in the northern Caribbean, primarily in the Windward Passage between Cuba and Haiti. Although the copious amounts of sea time did mean a lack of reliable communication with family and friends, it did give me a plethora of operational experience that I feel some of my other classmates might have missed out on—and I still got some amazing port calls in Key West, Guantanamo Bay, and Grand Turk.
In the Coast Guard they say that District Seven (the southeastern U.S., where I was serving aboard Valiant) is the “tip of the spear” operationally, and that was unquestionably true for my time on Valiant. I certainly have to tip my hat to members of that crew, who were chiefly responsible for the interdiction and repatriation of almost 300 illegal Cuban and Haitian migrants during my month and a half on board. The hard work that went into performing at that high level certainly gave me a greater appreciation for all that the big white-hull cutters do. I was especially appreciative of the opportunities to participate in gun exercises, flight operations with a Dolphin helicopter from Air Station Borinquen, and migrant operations. I also got valuable experience breaking in as both Conning Officer and Deck Officer (the person responsible for the driving and operations on board a cutter), which gave me a chance to utilize what I had learned in my Nautical Science courses at the Academy.
As much as I enjoyed the first half of my summer aboard Valiant, I got a chance to experience a totally different side of the Coast Guard during the second half at Air Station Clearwater (Florida). As a cadet who hopes to go directly to flight school from the Academy (keeping my fingers crossed!), it was an amazing opportunity to spend five weeks with aviators and flight crews, learning how the air station operationally supports search and rescue and law enforcement operations in District Seven. I was able to not only learn more about flying and the aircraft, but also all the logistical and mechanical services that keep Coast Guard aircraft flying. I was especially grateful to all the members of the air station who were kind enough to give me experience both working on the aircraft and participating in operations with rescue swimmers and load masters.
My biggest takeaway from this summer is that no matter how much you think you know about Coast Guard operations, there is always more to learn. Participating in migrant interdictions on board Valiant and on aircraft out of Clearwater gave me a greater understanding of a Coast Guard mission that I previously had little exposure to. Additionally, my operational summer gave me a greater appreciation for the hardworking personnel across the Coast Guard. The willingness of the crews on the cutter and at the air station to include me in their day-to-day tasks only confirms what I already knew—that members of the Coast Guard l are truly top-caliber employees and people.
Well, that pretty much sums it up. The next blog I write will most likely be when I am back on the beautiful grounds of the Coast Guard Academy campus. If you have any questions for me about the Academy or Coast Guard Operations, I invite you to email me at James.D.Engelhardt@uscga.edu. Until next time, fair winds and following seas!
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