I just returned from my six-week summer training aboard Coast Guard Cutter (CGC) Thunder Bay and I had an amazing time! As I reflect on my time there, it’s incredible how quickly my six weeks went, but I also feel as if I had been there for a longer time than that. I had become integrated into the crew, the work schedule, and the cutter lifestyle. Academy life and the people there seem really distant. There is quite a difference between Academy Coast Guard and actual-fleet Coast Guard. It’s hard to explain how exactly, other than it’s difficult to reconcile the two different Coast Guards in my head. Sure, we have the same uniforms and we know the same indoc, but that seems to be the only thing that links us with the rest of the Coast Guard (and I even had a former Academy instructor as the commanding officer of my cutter!) I have to remember, however, that the Academy is an educational and training facility, not an operational/working location, so that can account for the sharp contrast.
Whatever the case, I thoroughly enjoyed my time aboard Thunder Bay (“the T-Bay”). The cutter is stationed in Rockland, Maine, and it is beautiful there. It was exceptionally special to me because the cutter’s area of responsibility (AOR) was the same coast of Maine off of which I had sailed a few years prior on an Outward Bound sailing expedition! As I mentioned, I felt like a regular member of the crew. I learned so much information about this specific cutter and about cutters in general. My catch phrase for my time there was, “It feels great to be operational.” I was assisting with and completing Coast Guard operations, which felt extremely rewarding.
Our cutter completed some very exciting and interesting evolutions and trainings while I was there, and these enriched my experience considerably. What enhanced my time there the most, however, was working toward getting qualifications. I left with an in-port watchstander (security) qualification letter and a helm and lookout qualification letter. These two “quals” mean that I would be allowed to stand duty while the cutter was in port and that I am able to man the helm (the wheel) of the cutter.
Getting these qualifications requires a significant amount of time training—called “breaking-in”—and learning the proper procedures for both normal and emergency situations. Training concludes with a board, a session of questioning to determine if I am knowledgeable to be considered qualified and to be trusted to stand watch or “mind the helm.” It’s quite humbling to think that at just age 19 I am qualified to stand security watch for a huge and expensive piece of property or that I can steer the cutter and am responsible for keeping her from running into any danger. I can’t find the proper word to describe how I feel with these qualifications. Scared and stressed are not right, but those are close to the feeling. I guess I could say I feel the added weight of responsibility. Nevertheless, it is really exciting at the same time that I have proven myself capable to hold these qualifications! I can’t wait to go home and tell everyone how I steered a Coast Guard cutter!
Briefly, a few other highlights from my time aboard the T-Bay. We acted as an escort for a Navy aircraft carrier (those things are HUGE!) while, apparently, both former Bush presidents were on board the carrier. I participated in a mounted firearms training with the crew—we were shooting at foam fenders dropped in the ocean for us. I observed a boarding operation as a small boat crew member and even had the chance to coxswain (steer) the boat while we practiced drills for coming alongside a moving vessel!
Now I am headed to CGC Eagle for five weeks of additional cutter training. Expect a blog on my stories and reflections from that!
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