Hello, everyone, I’m sorry that I haven’t written anything for so long. Last semester I was a Company Commander and Women’s Cross Country Captain, so things were busy, to say the least, and I never got a chance to write about my incredible 1/c summer training. I spent twenty-five days in Alaska with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and six weeks in San Francisco with CGC Dorado and CGC Tern – both amazing experiences.
Four classmates and I were lucky enough to be selected for the joint Coast Guard and Naval Academy NOLS sea-kayaking program. We met up with six midshipmen from the Naval Academy and our three NOLS instructors in Palmer, Alaska, and travelled to Whittier to begin our expedition in the Prince William Sound. NOLS was the single most challenging and rewarding month of my life. We kayaked nearly every day, learned self and assisted-rescues in the frigid Alaskan water, practiced wilderness first aid, and gained real-world leadership and decision-making skills. Each day we switched our leader of the day (LOD), so everyone got at least one chance to be in charge. We paddled along pristine rocky coasts on days so calm the water looked like glass. We fought through 25 knot winds and three foot choppy seas in a dead sprint to reach shelter on a day that we were exposed in the open Gulf of Alaska. We dodged icebergs paddling up Nassau Fjord to see the Chenega Glacier up close and personal. We feel asleep to the thunderous sounds of ice caving into the sea. My tent group one day woke up to the frantic yells of our friends alerting us that there was a bear less than 25 feet away from us. (That was an exciting morning. Never before have I exited my sleeping bag so quickly.) Due to a mix up with the whole wheat flour, we ate more spice cake than any human should consume in a lifetime. But I digress.
There is no way that I can put into words the magnificent feeling that I had when we woke up to a warm sunny day with nothing to do but paddle and explore the Alaskan coastline or the proud sense of accomplishment that I had when we completed a difficult crossing in bad weather, working together as a team and encouraging each other. Our three instructors and the ten cadets and midshipmen in our group are some of the finest people I have ever known, and I learned so much from them. When you are safe, warm, well fed, and well rested, making decisions and leading is easy. When you and the people you’re leading are exposed, cold, hungry, and tired, it’s much more challenging. I learned so much about peer leadership and how I personally react to stressful situations. I came back from Alaska as more confident leader, a better listener, and a tougher and more positive person. As an added bonus, I also got to experience one of the most beautiful places on earth and made some great friends.
Straight from Alaska I went to San Francisco, where I spent several weeks with the CGC Dorado, an 87’ cutter. I had a great time and learned so much from the crew. The very first day that I got there we were called out on a search and rescue (SAR) case 180 nautical miles offshore for an overturned vessel. Although we found the radio beacon that a Coast Guard C-130 had dropped, we never found the overturned vessel, which we believe was probably debris from the tsunami in Japan the year before. While I was there we escorted many high interest vessels up the San Joaquin River, provided security for several barges lighting off 4th of July fireworks, provided support for a Coast Guard helicopter conducting hoist drills on a nearby island, tested out the ship’s Gumby suits, conducted numerous fire and man overboard drills, and much more. The crew was incredibly hard working and a lot of fun.
After spending a couple weeks with the Dorado, I moved down the pier to the CGC Tern. On the Tern, I participated in a damage control (DC) course with the crew where we got to practice patching pipes and plugging holes on a specially designed practice boat and ran numerous drills. I learned about law enforcement and observed several practice boardings, planned a burial at sea for a former member of the Coast Guard, learned basic initial responses for casualties, and earned my In-Port Officer of the Deck (OOD) qualification. Again, the crew of the Tern was terrific, taking the time to teach me and include me on a lot of cool opportunities. Overall, I had a fantastic summer. I gained leadership experience and Coast Guard knowledge that I’m confident will help me when I (knock on wood) become and Ensign in eighty-days (but who’s counting?)
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