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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.

 

Phase I of Firstie Summer!

(Just for Fun, The Cadet Experience, Class of 2015) Permanent link
Wu Photo I cannot believe I am already a first class cadet at the Academy and the Class of 2018 is reporting in. Similar to third class summer, firstie summer is spent out in the operational Coast Guard. For my first phase, I got the chance to be on CGC Venturous, a 210’ cutter out of St. Petersburg, Florida. A female classmate of mine and I met the cutter mid-patrol in Corpus Christi, Texas and from there we went underway to Cozumel, Mexico and then back to home port in Florida. I enjoyed the experience on Venturous and found it very beneficial. Before my first phase, I had almost no exposure to the operational fleet since I was on Eagle for part of my third class summer and then at the Naval Academy on their Yard Patrol boats. I remember one of the first things our Executive Officer told my classmate and I when we first reported to Venturous was the importance of being a “sponge.” I kept that in mind throughout the phase and got a lot of hands-on experience being on a 210’. As a firstie, the main difference this summer from third class summer is that as a third class you are treated as a Junior Enlisted so you do a lot of manual labor and saw the physical tasks involved in running a boat. As a first class, my classmate and I were given a stateroom to stay in and treated as a Junior Officer. We shadowed the officers, ate in the wardroom and oversaw all the decision making that maintains a functioning boat and crew. It was a lot of hard work and long hours on watch as we got qualified as Navigation Petty Officers of the Watch (NPOW) and Basic Damage Control Practical Qualification Standards (DCPQS). We were also given the opportunity to conn the 210’ (give orders on how to maneuver the cutter) in man overboard drills. It was interesting to see and experience everything we learned in the classroom. During the drill, for example we saw how the surface area of the cutter played a factor in helping recover the man overboard dummy faster.

 

Our time in Cozumel was a great break from being underway. My classmate and I got to go dune-buggying as well as scuba diving. It was an amazing port call and it refreshed the crew for the last leg back to home port. It was inspirational to see a Commanding Officer work for his crew. He was always taking the crew’s best interest to heart, looking for good port calls and when the crew needed a break, the CO had a very well-timed swim call as well as a couple of low key days that allowed crewmembers to catch up on sleep. Once we got back to home port, we got a week of stand down (which means, unless you have assigned duty, you do not need to be on the boat). It gave the crew time to spend with their families and be at home. During that time, I got to explore the beautiful St. Petersburg. The other cadets and I also got to a little trip to Disney World for a few days. We definitely made the most out of our five-week phase; learning as much as we could from the crew while having fun along the way.

 

 


More about Ellie.

 

So Many Different Experiences…All at Once!

(The Cadet Experience, Class of 2015) Permanent link
Driscoll Photo This summer has been amazing. I spent the first half in Washington, D.C., and the second half in Newport, Rhode Island (life could be a lot worse, but I’m just happy that I haven’t been assigned to the middle of nowhere in Texas or Alaska!)

 

Yesterday marked the end of my second week aboard CGC Juniper, a 225-foot oceangoing buoy tender home-ported in Newport. I reported aboard in the middle of June on a Saturday, had two days to hang out with friends and get used to living on a boat, and then Monday hit.

 

That first Monday morning, we got underway at 0800 for a full week of buoy-tending. I was so overwhelmed at first: I didn’t know where anything was, or how anything worked! I definitely felt like a fish out of water. I slowly got my feet underneath me and figured out shipboard life, which was good, because I didn’t have much time for anything else after standing watch on the bridge for 12 hours a day! I love being on the bridge though. You can see so much, and I really like how the junior officers get a lot of practice steering the ship. One of my classmates and I got the opportunity to practice our ship-handling skills during man overboard (MOB) drills; it was cool to take something we’ve practiced on the Thames River in Nautical Science lab classes and apply it to “the real Coast Guard.” MOB drills are much easier when you have thrusters in your bow and stern that can move the ship sideways! (I’m really happy though that my classmate Justin Davis and I didn’t “disqualify” in the MOB contest, unlike some of the others!)

 

My first week came to an interesting close when we almost hit a submarine outside of New London, and then saved a sea turtle! We had a really close call with a submarine on the surface as it was transiting toward New London, and Juniper was returning to Newport. The bridge team hadn’t realized until the last minute that the small black dot near the water was actually a submarine: our commanding officer ordered emergency backing bell (emergency astern) to avoid a collision at sea. That was scary but really cool! Just two hours later, we saw a leatherback sea turtle tangled in fishing line. We deployed our small boat and helped untangle the sea turtle. The feeling of helping a helpless sea turtle is unparalleled!

 

My second week aboard Juniper was just as busy as my first. I spent the week working on the deck, with the non-rates who maintain the buoys that Juniper services. Buoy tending is dirty work, but I enjoy it. I had the opportunity to “shoot the tube:” crawl inside a hallow whistle buoy to scrape the marine life out of it, but I panicked when I got inside the tube. I hope we have another whistle buoy to service before I leave, so I can conquer my fear! I have a newfound respect for all the work and dirty stuff the “deckies” (the non-rates in the deck department) do. I look forward to seeing what the next week brings!

 

I will write more about what I learn in a later entry. Until then, as always, contact me at Peter.M.Driscoll@uscga.edu if you have any questions or comments. Finally, having celebrated my three-year anniversary of R-Day last Friday, I want to wish the incoming Class of 2018 the best of luck! I hope to see all of you in the fall!

 

 


More about Peter.

 

Week 6: When Rubber Meets the Road

(Overcoming Challenges, The Cadet Experience, Class of 2015) Permanent link
Sherman Photo Or maybe this week’s reflection blog should be called “When Rudder Meets the Ocean.” (It’s a poor pun, but oh well; maybe I’ll have better luck next time.)

 

Now, on to this week’s report and reflection. Whew was this a hard one! First week underway, and it was technically a short week because, due to crossing the International Date Line, we lost a day (we skipped forward—aren’t time zones crazy!?).

 

Where to start? This week was definitely a lot more hectic than last week. For the first few days it was non-stop for me and Andy. On top of standing watch—now as break-ins for junior officer of the deck (which I’ll explain in a bit)—we trained in drills, attended damage control (DC) classes, and added more collateral responsibilities to our work lists. For the first few days, as I got adjusted to the schedule, I had very little free time. I’ll walk you through the schedule and explain each thing as I go.

 

A day might start at by waking up at 0300 to get ready for watch on the bridge. On the bridge, I was working on my junior officer of the deck (JOOD) qualification. This means that I was the officer of the deck’s (OOD’s) assistant. The OOD is in charge of directing the ship’s movement (steering, navigation, etc.) and overseeing everything going on aboard the ship. The JOOD’s job is to assist with that oversight and to help take care of the admin associated with it. As JOOD, I recorded the weather, tracked our position, announced events on the cutter’s plan of the day (POD), monitored navigation equipment, and served as an extra set of eyes for lookout. It was a lot to do, but that helped the four-hour watch go by quickly. Of course, I was also working on demonstrating various proficiencies, such as how to take initial action upon report of an emergency, as I progress in the qualification process. And as always, it was enjoyable talking with the crewmembers on watch with me—it’s always exciting to hear about their past experiences, their goals, and their knowledge of the Sequoia. There are even some other members of the crew who were breaking-in JOOD with us. It was nice to have a partner or two to help learn and study the material—thank you Andy and BM3 Hall!

 

When the Rubber Meets the Road (Continued) PDF 


 


More about Justin.