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James' 1/c Summer

(Choosing the Coast Guard Academy, The Cadet Experience, Class of 2016) Permanent link
Engelhardt Photo Greetings! It is hard to believe that the operational part of my 1/c summer is coming to a close and that, in less than a month, I will be reporting back to the Coast Guard Academy early to assume the duties of Regimental Communications Officer. As I have stated in my earlier blogs, the Academy summers are what I feel make it stand out from civilian colleges. During the summer, you gain practical and technical knowledge that you can capitalize on in your future career as a Coast Guard officer. The summer also gives cadets a chance to utilize the theoretical knowledge they have learned in their courses and test it out in the fleet.

 

My summer started when another 1/c cadet, four 3/c cadets, and I reported aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Valiant, a 210-foot medium endurance cutter. Although the Valiant was home-ported out of Naval Base Mayport, Florida, I was never north of the Florida Straits during my time on her. We picked up Valiant south of Key West on a law enforcement patrol in the Florida Straits. Underway would be the operative word describing my time aboard the cutter, as 37 of the 42 days I was attached to Valiant were spent out at sea; first on patrols in the Florida Straits and later in the northern Caribbean, primarily in the Windward Passage between Cuba and Haiti. Although the copious amounts of sea time did mean a lack of reliable communication with family and friends, it did give me a plethora of operational experience that I feel some of my other classmates might have missed out on—and I still got some amazing port calls in Key West, Guantanamo Bay, and Grand Turk.

 

In the Coast Guard they say that District Seven (the southeastern U.S., where I was serving aboard Valiant) is the “tip of the spear” operationally, and that was unquestionably true for my time on Valiant. I certainly have to tip my hat to members of that crew, who were chiefly responsible for the interdiction and repatriation of almost 300 illegal Cuban and Haitian migrants during my month and a half on board. The hard work that went into performing at that high level certainly gave me a greater appreciation for all that the big white-hull cutters do. I was especially appreciative of the opportunities to participate in gun exercises, flight operations with a Dolphin helicopter from Air Station Borinquen, and migrant operations. I also got valuable experience breaking in as both Conning Officer and Deck Officer (the person responsible for the driving and operations on board a cutter), which gave me a chance to utilize what I had learned in my Nautical Science courses at the Academy.

 

As much as I enjoyed the first half of my summer aboard Valiant, I got a chance to experience a totally different side of the Coast Guard during the second half at Air Station Clearwater (Florida). As a cadet who hopes to go directly to flight school from the Academy (keeping my fingers crossed!), it was an amazing opportunity to spend five weeks with aviators and flight crews, learning how the air station operationally supports search and rescue and law enforcement operations in District Seven. I was able to not only learn more about flying and the aircraft, but also all the logistical and mechanical services that keep Coast Guard aircraft flying. I was especially grateful to all the members of the air station who were kind enough to give me experience both working on the aircraft and participating in operations with rescue swimmers and load masters.

 

My biggest takeaway from this summer is that no matter how much you think you know about Coast Guard operations, there is always more to learn. Participating in migrant interdictions on board Valiant and on aircraft out of Clearwater gave me a greater understanding of a Coast Guard mission that I previously had little exposure to. Additionally, my operational summer gave me a greater appreciation for the hardworking personnel across the Coast Guard. The willingness of the crews on the cutter and at the air station to include me in their day-to-day tasks only confirms what I already knew—that members of the Coast Guard l are truly top-caliber employees and people.

 

Well, that pretty much sums it up. The next blog I write will most likely be when I am back on the beautiful grounds of the Coast Guard Academy campus. If you have any questions for me about the Academy or Coast Guard Operations, I invite you to email me at James.D.Engelhardt@uscga.edu. Until next time, fair winds and following seas!

 

More about James.

 

Understanding the Long Blue Line

(Choosing the Coast Guard Academy, Class of 2017) Permanent link
Culp Photo Chase Hall bears a striking resemblance to a ghost town during the summer months. Sitting here in the Cadet Watch Office on Sunday duty, I haven’t had much action come my way. The only thing that happened was having someone stop in for a quick visit. He was a Class of 2009 graduate who wanted to look at the Memorial Wall that is located on the quarterdeck. This wall contains the names and images of Academy graduates who died in the line of duty, along with a brief description of their service and whatever event called for their sacrifice. When he returned, I asked him if he had any special connection to someone on the wall. “Yes”, he told me. One of his classmates from 2009 had died in the 2012 helicopter training crash in Mobile and his picture now hung on the wall. On a rainy, quiet New London day, one of this man’s classmates had taken a few minutes out of his undoubtedly busy trip through the area just to see his deceased classmate’s picture.

 

From the minute we enter Swab Summer, all of us cadets are told about something called the Long Blue Line. It’s a metaphor for the connection among every Coast Guardsman, past, present, and future. Honesty is revered here, and if I am to follow that virtue, I have to tell you I never really gave much thought to the concept of the Long Blue Line. Yes, it’s pretty cool to remember that generations of inspiring and strong Coasties have come before me, and that generations will follow but that was usually the extent of my reflection. That visit from a past graduate made me better understand the Long Blue Line.

 

This man wasn’t in the Coast Guard anymore and I couldn’t tell you if he had even set foot on base since his commencement. Yet, he is probably a paradigm of a member of the Long Blue Line for that very reason. Being a part of the Long Blue Line is not just saying you’re a temporary part of some rich history, and you had a job where you got to ride a boat or a helicopter, and went to some old school in Connecticut. It is knowing people, seeing how they impact your life, and how they’ve impacted the lives of everyone else in the fleet. It’s acknowledging that you’ll never meet anyone quite like the people you met while you sailed and flew and saved. It’s taking a few minutes to detour out of your crazy life to your alma mater and say “hello” to the memory of your classmate, even after you’ve said “goodbye” to the service itself.

 

There’s a reason people are quick to tell me and other cadets about the people they knew in the Coast Guard, whether they themselves were ever directly involved or if they had family and friends who joined. The thing about the Long Blue Line is you don’t ever lose your place. You could make it your career, or a first job; either way, you’ll touch someone in both known and unknown ways. Because you hold that place, you might very well find yourself in front of the Memorial Wall years after graduation and, because you hold that place, a quiet cadet watch-stander may be contemplating the meaning behind your seemingly simple actions.

 

More about Abby.

 

Five Lessons for the Class of 2019

(Choosing the Coast Guard Academy, The Cadet Experience, Class of 2016) Permanent link
Engelhardt Photo Wow! This semester has really flown by! My sincere apologies in not blogging earlier – between lacrosse, schoolwork and extracurricular activities, blogging had been put on my proverbial back burner. To the Class of 2019 arriving here for R-Day, I was hoping to impart five lessons I learned at the Academy that might prepare you for what you can expect in your undergraduate experience. Hope you enjoy – here we go:

 

5. New England is cold: For those readers hailing from southern states – New England is cold! And it’s just not cold during those typical winter months, it honestly doesn’t get what I would consider warm (consistent mid-60s) until May. That being said, all the snow can be fun; we missed a total of three days of classes (two back-to-back) and had a few late base openings and early closings due to the inclement weather that descended on New London this winter. Just be prepared to bundle up in the wintertime!

 

4. The CGA grounds are hilly: The bluffs that the Academy are situated on offer spectacular, scenic views of the Thames River. However, these views do come at a price so be prepared to feel like you’re always walking uphill when on campus. On the bright side, the hills do work miracles for your calf muscles (as do the staircases in Chase Hall – don’t even think about using an elevator).

 

3. The Academy is kinda like Hogwarts: Silly as it may sound, CGA and the fictional wizardry school do have a lot of similarities. When you arrive you are sorted into different companies (i.e., “Houses”) where you dine, live and make the majority of your friends. Although there is no Slytherin Company here, there are rivalries that come out in inter-company sports (Quidditch, however, isn’t offered).

 

2. The summers are awesome: Back on a serious track, a lot of cadets will tell you that the CGA summers really make this place stand out as special and different than civilian schools. Gaining practical knowledge in real Coast Guard units or learning leadership with your classmates are rewarding experiences that would be tough to mimic elsewhere. Not to mention, all the new and exciting places your training will take you (I’ve gotten to go to Bermuda, France, Canada, Maine, Boston, and Key West to name a few).

 

1. The friendships you make run deep: To end on an important note, because of all the rough military training you will go through with your classmates, you will develop bonds that run deeper than any friendships that you had in high school. It is no wonder that so many cadets marry each other or are the best man or maid of honor at a classmate’s wedding. The connections I have made with people at the Academy are something that I honestly treasure the most.

 

Thanks for reading! As always, if you have any questions for me about the Coast Guard Academy, Coast Guard, or military life, feel free to shoot me an email at: James.D.Engelhardt@uscga.edu. If you are a Class of 2019er, I look forward to meeting you in the fall. Go Bears!

 

More about James.

 

The Skier

(Choosing the Coast Guard Academy, The Cadet Experience, Class of 2016) Permanent link
Culp Photo As I shuffled my way back up to the rope tow that would drag me to the top of the hill at the base of the beautiful Alps, two words resounded in my head: this stinks. I had a pair of skis strapped to my feet for the first time during the Glee Club trip to Germany and could not for the life of me figure out why this sport is so popular here at the Academy. I was getting increasingly frustrated as the lesson went on and I was unable to successfully stop or turn on my left leg (yes, only my left). Then, eventually, everything began falling into place, and while I was far from being accomplished, I could at least make it down the hill without plowing over any children or the instructor in the process. That’s when it occurred to me – going through the Academy follows the same pattern as my ski lesson that morning. When you first sign up, it’s such an exciting opportunity! You get your gear and make plans for when you’ll report to the slopes, eagerly awaiting your training. Then, you finally meet up with your instructor and suddenly all that confidence you had goes away. Your skis feel awkward on your feet, you are tired from dragging yourself up that silly hill over and over and you fall. Constantly. And sometimes, you have to rely on someone to help you stand back up. Even after you’ve been taught the basics, you continue to have issues with actually executing the skills and keeping up with the people around you. You feel like you are falling farther and farther behind; then, things start to come together. You start figuring out where you are going wrong, and with patience, you fix those areas. Before you know it, you are zipping down that hill like you’ve been on those skis forever, and by golly, you might even be able to teach someone else the skills you’ve learned.

 

That’s pretty much the journey from Swab Summer to the school year in a nutshell. And frankly, a lot of it is tough. Chances are you’ll fall down MANY times, no matter how confident you are at the beginning, particularly during a grueling Swab Summer. It is then that your shipmates will pull you back up and that you will in turn lend them your hand when they fall. Then together, you will move on to the more advanced slopes, with even more turns and steeper hills, and even more chances to fall. The good thing about that is the increased number of opportunities to recover and learn.

 

As a rising 2/c, I am thrilled to be in the part of the ski story when I get to put those blasted mechanisms of gravity-related mockery on someone else’s feet and guide them down the slope. I only hope they don’t fall quite as often as I did over the summer! To the future cadets of the Academy, and especially to my swabs, the Class of 2019, I wish you the best of luck as you start gathering your gear for a long day in the snow.

 

More about Abby.

 

Aaand… We’re Back

(Choosing the Coast Guard Academy, The Cadet Experience, Class of 2018) Permanent link
Chang Photo Unfortunately, I could not stay in Orlando forever. Universal Studios, the beach and Disney World had become my home away from home from my home away from home. (Try to figure that one out). And while I dearly miss the Florida sun, palm trees and Mickey and Minnie, the time to come back North had come. I guess all good things must come to an end but there are good things to come here, too.

 

We found out our 3/c summer assignments and I was lucky enough to be put on the first phase of Eagle, where we’ll make our way down to the Bahamas and end in Staten Island, New York. And it’ll only get better from there. Along with six other 4/c and two 2/c, I’ll be on the Coast Guard Cutter Mellon, coming from Japan and making its way back to its home port, Seattle, Washington. Out of the nine of us going, four are bilingual. We have two Korean-speakers, a Japanese speaker and myself, speaking Mandarin. Being able to sail on completely different coasts and go overseas is something I never would have thought I’d be able to do so early on in my Coast Guard career. It’s going to be a good summer.

 

More about Olivia.