I sometimes feel when I write these entries that I’m beating a dead horse. I write about topics that are so familiar to me that anything I write becomes mundane in my eyes. What I often fail to realize, as was pointed out to me today, is how strange and different the world I’m living in may appear to those who are outside the system. So I write today in the hopes that this topic, while mundane and repetitive to me, might prove to be more entertaining, and perhaps even enlightening, to you.
Duty is an important concept in the military, and while it definitely has some applicable parallels to the civilian world, it plays an even greater importance here. Although I could speak for ages about duty in the military, let’s narrow down the scope a bit to something a bit closer to home: Duty in the Coast Guard.
After graduation, watch standing will become a majority of your job. You’ll be standing watch on your cutter as it traverses the ocean, you’ll be standing watch at a sector, monitoring the airwaves and incoming and outgoing vessel traffic, or you’ll be standing watch at an air station ready to spring into action and be the first aircraft on scene to any incident that occurs in your AOR. Sounds exciting doesn’t it?
It’s usually not. It’s okay though, that’s a fact that you’ll have to learn to deal with. Odds are, that drug interdiction case isn’t going to happen your first time on the bridge, and even if it does, it won’t happen on your watch for quite a while. Those accidents and collisions that sector is waiting to respond to, they’re not an everyday occurrence, and thankfully our aircraft aren’t needed to aid in a Search and Rescue case during every watch standing period.
So why do we stand duty then? It comes from our motto “Semper Paratus;” always ready. We stand duty so that in those moments when a split second decision is needed, or when the five minute delay it takes to get someone to make the decision may mean the difference between life and death, that we’ll be prepared. We stand duty to protect those we serve, and also, to a bigger extent to protect ourselves. While you’re on the bridge of a ship making a decision, the entire crew sleeping below decks has placed their trust in you; that you’ll stand a taut watch, and protect them while they rest. They trust that you have their backs.
Why then do I find myself on a Saturday night of a long weekend sitting in the barracks standing duty? Surely there are no drug runners to bust in the middle of Chase Hall, nobody’s going to drown (except perhaps in a pile of homework) while I man my post, so why then do I stand this duty? The answer is really simple, it comes down to two things.
Semper Paratus means always ready. Ready to respond, ready to report and ready to take action. Standing duty here means that we’re ready to respond if something happens; granted our incidents may be smaller, more menial than those in the fleet but the idea is applicable universally.
The second reason is that the Academy’s purpose is to train us to be officers. We are literally the United States Coast Guard’s Ensign Factory (USCGEF for short) and we would be remiss if the Academy didn’t teach us the seriousness and necessity for watch standing.
So that is why you find me sitting here today writing this letter to you all, this is why you find me sitting at this desk in an empty company wing area. It may seem pointless to some, but when you understand the reasons behind it, it becomes plain to see that the most important thing a Coast Guardsman can do is, as ADM Papp says it, “Stand a taut watch”.
Please feel free to email me with any questions or concerns you may have. I can be reached via Stephen.T.Nolan@uscga.edu.
2/c Stephen Nolan
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