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Former Cadet Blogger – A Return on Investment

(Life as a Junior Officer) Permanent link
Wowtschuk Photo Howdy, shipmates! The relationship I have with my editor can be compared with some of the great duos throughout history. She has been the grill to my Foreman, the Nike to my Lemieux, the steroids to my Armstrong, and now, by pressuring me out of retirement for one last “Blog of the Century,” she has become the Pacquiao to my Mayweather. And, like “Money,” I hope to, once again, become TBBE (The Best Blogger Ever) through solid fundamentals, impeccable style, and timely hugs.


Let me start by bringing everyone up to speed on what I have accomplished so far as a commissioned officer in the United States Coast Guard (this will be brief). In a nutshell, I moved to the PNW, went to the Arctic Ocean three consecutive summers, moved to Texas, grew a beard, and am currently maximizing the U.S. Government’s return on investment in my education. In the hopes of imparting some valuable insights about life after the Coast Guard University, I am going to share my experience during each of these chapters of my life.


I begin my journey in the PNW, or Pacific Northwest for all you out-of-touch, non-organic eating, macro-beer drinking, mainstream entertainment enjoying, melanin sufficient southeasterners. Moving to Seattle? The first thing I recommend doing is reject the corporate mainstream fashion value of the lames, and start cultivating your own individual style. This involves wearing a working class hat, having thick rimmed glasses (bonus if you actually need them to see), growing facial hair popular in the 19th century, sporting a t-shirt with some sort of anti-establishment message, and rocking multi-colored socks. As a general rule of thumb, wear clothing only popular prior to 1992, because you don’t want to stand out. Once you have learned to march to the beat of your own drum, and fully embraced hipster “counter culture,” you can begin to appreciate all the PNW has to offer.


The Arctic Ocean is an incredibly fragile ecosystem, virtually untouched by civilization, and contains some of the most endangered animals known to man. Fortunately, the polar bear does not fall into this last category. Polar bears are some of the most incredible animals alive but they are not endangered (seriously, look it up). They were so common, that when sighted I would invariably think “oh cool, ANOTHER polar bear...let me know when it turns into a narwhal”.


Texas is the opposite of Seattle in just about every way imaginable. Upon entering the state, I was issued a hand gun, a Texas state flag, and a copy of George Strait’s Greatest Hits. I did not realize people actually wore cowboy outfits as a serious fashion decision. As a native New Yorker, it has been a slow, and at times, painful adjustment to the Texas culture. If you remember nothing else, remember to shape your cowboy hat. It will save you an embarrassing night at the local dance club.


Finally, as a Coast Guard representative at a top engineering research institution, I hold myself to the highest of standards. I understand my role as a graduate student, and embrace the notion that my job is to work hard and learn as much as possible. The Coast Guard is investing in me and I must return the investment in full. This involves avoiding the many distractions present at a major university, or pitfalls as I like to call them. Here are a list of pitfalls that I am regularly challenged with: waking up whenever I want, discounted menu options until 11 p.m. at local dining establishments, SEC Division I college football games, interacting with young women who are more interested in the social aspects of college than the educational ones, traveling, and, of course, the most dangerous pitfall of all, not adhering to the Coast Guard uniform and grooming standards.


I think this “Blog of the Century,” lived up to its hype, much like the “Fight of the Century,” did. I will leave you with these wise words from the greatest boxer of our generation, Floyd “Money” Mayweather: "I am the best. There is nobody better than me.”


Fun Fact: I am allergic to apples.


More about Bo.


2/c Summer Part 1: 100th Week

(Overcoming Challenges, Life as a Junior Officer, Class of 2017) Permanent link
Ritchie Photo When most college students finish their finals, it is a relief. The end of finals week means either going home to see family and friends or going on vacation. Not for us. 2/c summer begins with 100th Week, which marks the halfway point in our time at the Academy (200 weeks). There are some great videos on YouTube that explain it but basically the Company Commanders (CCs) from Cape May, New Jersey, where enlisted Coast Guard members go through basic training, visit the Academy to train the 3/c for the cadre role that they will fulfill later in the summer.


On the Monday morning after finals, I was woken up at 0500 to yelling and strangers banging on my door. The voices screamed, “Get out on this bulkhead right now!” My roommate and I ran into the hallway and braced up into the position of attention against the nearest wall. Girls were yelled at for hair and earrings that were not within regulations and guys were yelled at for not shaving. It was like Swab Summer for the rest of the morning; we were given objectives and punished with exercises when we didn’t meet them. It was a lot better than Swab Summer for me though because things were explained to us. We didn’t do anything without a reason. They yelled at us to remind us how it feels. They were harsh with uniform inspections to remind us to respect the uniform and get us out of just going through the motions.


Throughout the rest of the week, it became more of a learning environment. The CCs would pull a few people aside to run inspections or incentive training sessions. This gave us the opportunity to practice being cadre and develop a command presence. It was a very valuable experience for future Swab Summer cadre.


We also spent time in the classroom working through team-building activities and developing leadership philosophies. I met with the other Eagle cadre, who I will be working with this summer, to come up with a description of how we want to lead and train the Class of 2019.


The week ended with a group run, a leadership reaction course and a surface rescue mission. The leadership reaction course provided each of us with the opportunity to lead a small group of people to find a solution to a problem. For the surface rescue mission, we broke into groups and used maps to locate life-size 100-pound dummies and carry them miles to reach a base area. Each task was challenging and brought my classmates together in ways we hadn’t experienced since Swab Summer.


Friday afternoon, we renewed the pledge we took on R-Day and earned our 2/c shoulder boards and the privilege to wear civvies (normal clothes).


More about Sarah.


Phase II, Headquarters’ Perspective

(The Cadet Experience, Life as a Junior Officer, Class of 2015) Permanent link
Wu Photo After my first phase on a 210’ cutter out of St. Petersburg, I got the opportunity to go to Washington D.C. for an internship at Coast Guard headquarters. I did not know what to expect from the experience, but my six weeks in D.C. was eye-opening. A fellow classmate and I were the two cadets accepted for an internship with the finance office at headquarters. I really enjoyed the experience because it was very different from my time on a cutter. Not only was the lifestyle different since I went from having watches on the CGC Venturous to having a set work schedule, going into the office at 8 a.m. and getting off work at around 4 p.m., but we were given projects to analyze as interns and our recommendations were actually taken seriously and implemented. It was awesome seeing how we were able to contribute to the Coast Guard. More importantly, interning at headquarters was an amazing opportunity to meet other types of officers.


The Academy puts a huge emphasis on going on a cutter and they advertise a cutterman life more than any other career. It was interesting to learn about other career paths besides being on a boat. There were officers that came from grad school, officers that were social aids, and officers that were liaisons to other countries. It was also a privilege to help with multiple retirement ceremonies at headquarters since we got to hear about a whole career of a Coast Guard officer. All and all, the internship definitely gave me a different perspective on the Coast Guard. It was like a backstage pass to see the people providing all the support for the operational units.


My first phase gave me a good insight on how my ensign life will be since I will be putting in for cutters for my first tour. However, the second phase of my summer gave me a better idea of the possibilities for my future in the Coast Guard and how it does not necessarily have to be a cutterman’s life.


More about Ellie.


The Next Adventure

(Overcoming Challenges, Life as a Junior Officer, Class of 2014) Permanent link
Lukasik Photo Post-graduation, I’ve found myself in a strange period of limbo. While most of my classmates have reported in to their new ensign billets and started work out in the fleets, my orders are still pending. I know where I’m going and what I’ll be doing; I’m just anxiously waiting official clearance to go. In the meantime, here I am, back at the Academy for a somewhat-awkward two-something-week period, waiting for my next adventure to start.


At the end of April, I received an email from the U.S. Fulbright Commission saying that I had been selected to receive a 2014 U.S. Student Award to study in Mauritius. Since that time, life has been an absolute whirlwind of paperwork and preparation and anticipation. Reply to the Fulbright Commission; fill out their paperwork; notify my Coast Guard chain of command; fill out their paperwork; get screened for an OCONUS billet; attend the Fulbright Orientation; meet at Coast Guard Headquarters; and, in the meantime, arrange for an apartment, university enrollment, a car, a bank account, a cell phone, and all other things necessary for life in a tiny island country in the middle of the Indian Ocean. My post-grad leave period has not been restful, but it’s been as exciting as it has been baffling. At the Academy, our instructors and mentors always implied that being an ensign is in large part an exercise in figuring out how to do tasks that you’ve never learned how to do with very little help or instruction. If that’s true, then I’ve dived right into ensign life headfirst!


This isn’t to say, however, that I’ve been entirely without help. There are two real ways to get through a task you have no idea what you’re doing: stumble through with trial-and-error, or, make a connection with someone who does know what they’re doing. In the past couple of months, I’ve been fortunate enough to connect with people who were not only able to help me but were generously willing to take time out of their day to help me with this mind-boggling moving-abroad process. I owe a special thanks to LT Stephen Elliott and his family. LT Elliott, coincidentally, was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to Mauritius back in 2005 (I wish I’d known that when I was applying!) and his wife’s family lives on the island. They’ve been enormously helpful in guiding me through the ins and outs of moving to an remote island far off the sub-Saharan African mainland and giving me some idea of what to expect when I arrive. I can’t say that the prospect of moving to a dot of an island on the other side of the world isn’t daunting still, but with the help of LT Elliott and family, it’s become a little less scary.


I’m supposed to receive my official orders this week, as my original orders to Sector New York were finally cancelled this past week so that the new ones could be processed. As soon as I have those in hand, I’ll be booking the soonest possible flight to take me away from the U.S. for the next two years and off to my new home in Mauritius.


The Fulbright Scholarship will cover the first nine months of my studies, but the Coast Guard has authorized me to stay in Mauritius for two years so that I can complete a Master’s degree, for the duration of which I’ll be relying on my ensign salary to cover tuition and living (thankfully both are relatively low overseas!). I’ll spend two years pursuing a part-time M.A. in Economics from the University of Mauritius and also working part-time as an intern at the Maurice Ile Durable Commission, a government-sponsored sustainability initiative for the island. In the meantime, partially in conjunction with my Master’s thesis but somewhat in extension of it, I will be researching the marine and coastal space use conflicts of the artisanal fishing industry and the growing tourist industry in Mauritius in hopes of helping these competing sectors achieve a more sustainable system of resource usage in the future. This will, interestingly enough, bring me into contact with our service’s parallel on the other side of the world – the Mauritian Coast Guard. Our services have had very little interaction in the past, but I’m excited to see how they operate and if there’s any potential for greater exchange in the future.


Of course, the Fulbright experience isn’t all about work; it’s designed to promote both academic and cultural exchange, and Fulbright students and scholars are expected to get involved in the local community as much as possible. This is the part that makes the experience exciting, and I’ve already looked into a number of great outlets to get to know the island and its people better. Mauritius is considered a tropical paradise, and outdoor recreation is huge. From an active mountain biking and cycling community, to scuba diving groups, to hiking tours, there seems to be no lack of collections of people getting together to explore all of the natural wonders Mauritius has to offer. I hope to keep up my triathlon training as well, and if there’s not a team present on the island, I’ll start one!


I’ll do my best to maintain this blog while abroad. I know as a cadet applying for scholarships that I would have liked to have had the chance to hear about the experiences of Coasties going off on experiences such as Fulbright, so I’ll be here as a resource for any others following the same path. Anyone in the Honors Program or others who have questions about Fulbright or study abroad opportunities, never hesitate to email me at



More about Jessie.