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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.

 

2/c Summer – Best Summer at the Academy Yet

(Overcoming Challenges, The Cadet Experience, Class of 2016) Permanent link
Engelhardt Photo Wow! A lot has happened since my last blog post in early March. I finished my fourth academic semester at the Academy, found out that I will be going on exchange to the Naval Academy for a semester of study in the fall, and have completed the first half of my 2/c summer training at the Academy. Time does fly! Before beginning the “summer term,” I was told by several upper-classmen that 2/c summer was the best summer by far at the Academy, and am happy to report that they were most defiantly right!

 

Because the rising 2/c cadets (equivalent of a junior at a civilian college) are the only students on campus for the first half of the summer, we had to move rooms while the rest of the corps moves out of the barracks for their summer tour in the fleet. It was strange moving out of my normal home in Hotel Company back to my old stomping grounds in Delta (where I did my 4/c year) for the summer, but it was definitely nice to catch up with friends in that wing area that I don’t see as often during the school year.

 

After the rest of the corps had left the Academy we began our first week of summer training: 100th week. Marking the midpoint of a cadet’s career at the Academy, during the week Cape May Company Commanders (think Marine drill instructor but Coast Guard style) come to the Academy to train the soon to be 2/c in becoming effective cadre that will train the swabs (incoming cadets). The week resembles a brief return to Swab Summer (our version of boot camp), but during the period we also learned a lot about effective leadership and became much closer as a class. At the end of the week, we had our formal promotion from 3/c to 2/c cadets, retook our oath to uphold and defend the Constitution, and received the privilege of civilian clothes and weekend shorts (meaning you can leave the Academy on Saturday and not return until Sunday). Although a slightly stressful week, I definitely took away from the week some quality lessons on leadership and self-discipline.

 

Following 100th week was range week, where my classmates and I were able to qualify as pistol marksmen. This marked the first time I had shot a pistol and it was cool to learn tricks and pointers on shooting from the range personnel. Also during this week the Class of 2014 graduated from the Academy. It was a neat experience for me to be part of the graduation ceremonies, and it gave me a moment to observe what I will be experiencing in just two short years.

 

"2/c Summer - Best Summer at the Academy Yet (Continued) PDF 

 

 


More about James.

 

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.

 

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 Jessica.D.Lukasik@uscga.edu.

 

 


More about Jessie.

 

Week 5: Halfway Gone

(Overcoming Challenges, The Cadet Experience, Class of 2015) Permanent link
Sherman Photo I might have waited too long to write this. We are now underway from Hawaii to the Marshall Islands. We haven’t crossed the date line yet, but we’re getting close…just a few more days.

 

Anyway, my fifth week out here has come and gone, and I can hardly remember what I did that is worth writing about—“worth,” as in, haven’t written about it before. The week went quickly, and Andy and I both worked hard to get our qualification packets signed off (one has to demonstrate knowledge of the various aspects of whatever qualification being worked on). We’re doing well, but we have quite a bit left to learn and memorize before we’ll be ready to be watchstanders ourselves. It keeps us busy and takes a lot of time. We have to balance getting qualified with getting our other assignments (collateral duties) complete. It’s part of learning to be a junior officer (ensign, lieutenant junior grade, lieutenant). And just when we thought we had it with regard to being in port, we got underway. And that is a whole new ballgame (but I’ll write about that next week!).

 

I think I’ll keep this one short since my others have been fairly lengthy. But I have to put something of substance in here before signing off for a few more days. Let me think. Leadership lesson…ah, here we go, although, I suppose this is more about being a manager, but that’s something that leaders have to learn how to do and how to balance.

 

A leader, acting as a manager, not only should have the big picture (vision), but should communicate that to his/her people (that’s the leadership side of things). As a manager, it is important to set clear deadlines and give clear tasks. One supervisor said, “I want at least one project done this week.” To me, that’s not very clear. I think I understand what this leader was trying to do. From what I’ve heard and seen, the followers are sometimes hard to motivate and person probably doesn’t want to come across as overbearing and unnecessarily authoritative. By saying, “I want something done,” the leader is giving the workers leeway and autonomy with their work. The problem, however, is that in this case, when the workers are easily distracted away from crucial projects to do work on other necessary, but not-so-crucial projects and tasks, the result is that nothing gets accomplished.

 

I know now that when I’m in a management position, I will give clear direction as to what needs to be completed and by when. Checkpoint deadlines are good, too, and helps keep the workers accountable. As far as the autonomy piece, I will try (easier said than done, of course) to get input from the workers. I can ask questions such as, “What’s a reasonable timeline?” “Which projects should have priority?” And most importantly: “How can I best assist you in getting this done?” To me, this last question exemplifies a principle of leadership that I strongly adhere to. I want to be involved with the work that my team is doing. Yes, I may not have the technical know-how or the skill to be a huge help, but being there for some part of the process, doing what I can, shows that I care about the project, too, and that I haven’t just given my people something to do that I don’t want to do or don’t care to do. It also, I think/hope, communicates to my people that they can bring up concerns. When I’m there working on the project with them, they can say, “See, this is taking much longer than I expected.” From there we can reassess our goals. Now, I know that some people say that a good leader should be able to “disappear” and leave the team to complete the project or task on its own. Yes, I think that is good for a team—it’s empowering, for sure—but, I don’t think that means that the leader is completely out of the loop and inaccessible. I want to see leaders who are present and observing, even lending a hand if possible.

 

Wow, that got long rather quickly. Well, I shall cut it off for now. When I write again I’ll be at the beginning of the date instead of at the end of it (we’ll have crossed the international date line)! Cheers!

 



More about Justin.