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cadet blogs

Each Summer is Better Than the Last

(Choosing the Coast Guard Academy, The Cadet Experience, Class of 2015) Permanent link
Krakower Photo As I sit here on the mess deck of USCGC Seahawk, I look back on a summer that has allowed me to experience more than I ever thought I would ever be given when I first applied to the Coast Guard Academy over three years ago. When I applied, I really did not understand much about the Coast Guard, despite my best intentions to learn. When I applied, I was also much less knowledgeable of the world, my surroundings, and what occurs outside of our 50 states. This summer has given me the final push required to complete my four-year tenure at the Coast Guard Academy. Want to hear about it? Just keep on reading!

 

1/c Andrew Ratti and I have been through almost every Academy summer together. We were swabs together, we were cadre together, and this year, we were both given the opportunity to go to Sector Southeast New England…and Israel. Sector was an interesting few weeks, learning about what the Command Center entails, and how thorough and critical the prevention and response departments of a sector truly are. We knew, however, that the opportunity at sector was only filler for the remaining weeks of our first phase together – the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) program in Israel. Along with 1/c Gever, we joined 27 other service academy cadets on a three-week adventure to the Holy Land. It was eye opening, and words can’t express the wonders we saw. From the Ramon Crater to the Dead Sea, from the Golan Heights to the Jordan River, from the Sea of Galilee to Tel Aviv; it all was an adventure and incredible earning experience. Until you’ve been to Israel, you don’t understand what is happening over there. You can guess from media outlets that are biased, and you can make your own opinions, based upon the inaccuracy being reported. But until you visit the Middle East, there’s no room to judge, or understand, what is going on, and why certain agreements just will not work. That trip was amazing, and very much worth the time off from USCG operations.

 

Despite that, we came back to the United States, and I headed to the USCGC Seahawk, an 87-foot patrol boat in Panama City, Florida (I know, my summer was extremely difficult). Here, I’ve worked on getting Inport Officer of the Deck qualified, Crewmember of the Watch qualified, and getting the many, many signatures that come with the Academy personal qualification standard (PQS) packet. We’ve only been underway for five to six days since I’ve been here my five weeks, but next week is underway every day until I leave. The crew has been amazing, and I’ve learned a lot about what I want to do when I get out into the fleet. It also gave me my ideas as to what I want to put in for as my billet choices, which, somehow, is only seven months away.

 

So to put it short and sweet, this summer has been the best summer since I’ve been here. Each summer was better than the last, which I guess is the way it’s meant to be. I’m excited to take my leave, but I’ll be just as excited to head back to the CGA and finish this last year of school. That butter bar is getting closer and closer!

 

More about Sam.

 

Week 7: A Ton of AToN

(Overcoming Challenges, The Cadet Experience, Class of 2015) Permanent link
Sherman Photo “AToN” is short for aids to navigation; in the case of the cutter Sequoia, that means buoys! This week was my first experience with buoy operations, and, wow, was it tiring. Thankfully we had about 30 hours off in the middle of the week to relax and rest, not to mention that it was in a very neat location: Kwajalein Atoll. (Have you ever heard of it?)

 

But back to AToN. There are many moving pieces (literally and figuratively) to buoy operations. I spent the first day on the bridge (pilothouse of the cutter) observing from there. The bridge team not only supervises the on-deck activities but also monitors our position and ensures that the cutter is riding so as to provide the best platform for the workers. Administrative work also takes place on the bridge during buoy operations: recording information about the wear on the buoy and its chain, making notes about the evolution, etc. Being on the bridge requires patience and focus. The days working buoys are long, and for the personnel on the bridge, most of the day is spent standing and staring at a computer screen or out the window.

 

Work on the buoy deck is not at strenuous as I expected but still requires a great deal of focus and attention, as safety is one of the key concerns for everyone. The crew works methodically and smoothly, in a well-choreographed manner, each member knowing his responsibilities for each step of the process. The procedure is a bit involved but time moves quickly. Andy and I spent an afternoon working on deck, and the hardest part about it was surviving the heat!

 

We are only about 500 miles from the equator, so the sun is pretty hot and the days are long (not to mention that the longest day of the year was only about a week ago)! The crew still wears the dark blue operational dress uniforms (ODUs) or a dark blue coverall suit. These absorb the sunlight and trap in body heat. On top of that they wear life vests, adding another heat-trapping layer to the ensemble. Plastic hard hats keep head heat well confined, too. At the end of the day, I was covered in sweat, sunscreen, and grime from the buoys. Needless to say, my shower that night felt great. After a long afternoon and evening of hard work, it felt good to clean off and relax for a while before going up to watch on the bridge.

 

Now, of course, for the reflection on it all: the focus for this week has been personnel well-being and safety. It’s pretty intuitive for physical labor, but on Coast Guard cutters (and elsewhere, of course), it applies to everyone onsite. As I mentioned before, the bridge team must stay focused and alert; their well-being is as important as those on deck. If the bridge team loses focus, there could be serious consequences in the event of a casualty.

 

At the same time, however, the commanding officer and operations officer must also balance the completion of the mission with the crew’s well-being. It is hard for me to put myself in their shoes since I do not have any supervisors pressuring me to ensure that the job is done. As I see it, one form of mitigating this issue is to slow down the work schedule. Instead of three buoys each day, maybe we do two or even one. But that, of course, leads to another issue. The longer we stay out, the longer the crew has to stay away from home. Already this cutter has been away since the middle of April, and it has a long operational schedule. The crew is underway more often than not. I’ve got to give it to them—there are strong, resilient, and incredible people who work diligently and with determination despite the long work days and busy schedules.

 

Speaking of busy, I have other work to do, so I’ll sign off here. Until next week…when I’ll be writing from GUAM!

 

More about Justin.