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My Summer Roller Coaster

(Overcoming Challenges, Class of 2013) Permanent link   All Posts
 Jessica Ward This summer has been such a roller coaster that which topic to cover has been hard to settle on. So this rather long blog will cover a variety of things.

First, I’m sure you all wonder what exactly this summer consisted of for me. I went on Eagle for the first five weeks. We visited Puerto Rico, Columbia, Curacao, and Mexico. Then I flew to Alameda, California (near San Francisco) and was stationed on CGC Boutwell for six weeks. Then I went on leave for three weeks and spent two of them in Europe. A lot of traveling, let me tell you.

Eagle was an adventure. And a challenge. It was hard to balance the wonder of being on a sailing boat that seems like it could be right out of Master and Commander and the amazing port calls with racks that are three high (triple bunk beds), food that gets boring, sleep that is irregular, and the ever-changing morale. It is a unique experience, but the 10 straight days of 130 classmates, between Puerto Rico and Columbia, with no port calls was a bit redundant and exhausting. And yet, looking back, what we did was incredible. We sailed all over the Caribbean, met people from 11 tall ships from all over the world in Columbia, got to know our classmates better, and learned about the relationship between officers and enlisted (both positive and negative).

The real learning experience, for me at least, came when I was stationed on the CGC Boutwell out of Alameda. On the first Monday, the ship did a shake down (they go out and run drills). Midway through, an engine broke and the cutter returned to port early. The next few weeks were deadlines constantly extended as the crew worked to figure out what had happened. The decision to go out on three engines was made and about a month later we left port. We barely made it into San Francisco Harbor when another engine sprung a major oil leak and other engine problems arose so we dropped anchor. After a few days and a lot of debate, the ship turned around and returned to Alameda. It was quite experience considering showers were not allowed and there were water issues.

For me the whole thing was a lesson in leadership. Often, examples of leadership come from the hero who, in tough times, brought out the best in others and lead them to success. In this case, there was nothing those in command could have done to change what happened. But they were still good leaders. The crew was frustrated about the uncertainty of what was going on, the cutter that seemed endlessly broken, and that all their arrangements were in vain, yet the officers handled it well. Rather than shuffling it off on someone else, or ignoring it all together, the CO set out to inform the crew what exactly was going on and what they could and could not expect. It was not great news, the cutter was still broken, the future dates were still uncertain, and the effects on its patrol were unknown, but the leadership stated the facts and did not ignore the problems. They didn’t magically fix the boat or know exactly what the consequences would be, yet they made sure everyone understood what was going on and that, as frustrating as it was, we were all in it together. Leadership is often defined as bringing people out of the tough times, but leadership is also important during the tough times. It keeps people going and making sure they know that they are necessary even if they dislike what is happening and have no control.

I learned a lot this summer, and I believe it will make me into a better leader and officer when I graduate. If nothing else, it has reinforced my opinion of roller coasters.

As always, I love answering your questions/hearing your concerns. Keep emailing me at Jessica.T.Ward@uscga.edu.

More about Jessica.