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Wait, We’re Leaders Now?

(Overcoming Challenges, The Cadet Experience, Class of 2014) Permanent link   All Posts
Lukasik Photo It’s a bigger jump than you realize, going from 3/c year to 2/c year, much greater than the step up from 4/c year. The end of our freshman ordeal at CGA was liberating – the magnitude of the new privileges and freedoms we gained was much greater than that of the new responsibilities we took on. Or, at least, those responsibilities felt somewhat familiar; almost all of us had once been a role modeler for someone, after all – a younger sibling, another student, a junior member of our sports team. We knew, at least in concept, how to guide someone from the vantage point of a slightly senior peer. It wasn’t such a stretch of the imagination. But the jump from role-modeler to mentor, to leader? That’s a big one.

 

We’ve been preconditioned to think of 2/c summer simply as “cadre summer,” our first big leadership experience, yet to limit the description of the experience such would do it discredit. 2/c summer presents leadership opportunities in contexts you wouldn’t have previously imagine.

 

As cadre, you lead a full company of scared, stumbling, untrained swabs through training ordeals of every shape and kind. You yell, you IT them, you run remedials, you threaten and persuade and entice them to achieve the desired competencies and attitudes and behaviors, all while trying keep at the rules, safety measures, schedules, and your own outside obligations straight in your head. You see your classmates, your peers that you’ve lived with in company for over a year, transform into people you wouldn’t expect – some for better, some for worse. You see yourself display traits you didn’t know you possessed.

 

Outside the cadre experience, on T-boats, you practice “Conning” – taking full responsibility for a motorized vessel as you guide a crew of your peers, acting in roles typically filled by Coast Guard enlisted deck force members, through various training evolutions. You consider the environment, the characteristics of your vessels, the placement of your people on deck, as you practice giving commands to achieve the results you desire: a successful man overboard recovery, an anchoring, a mooring. You learn how just how challenging it can be to control a vessel in an entirely “hands-off” manner. You develop confidence in your decisions and precision in your judgments.

 

On the Coastal Sail Training Program, you learn to lead not a group of subordinates, but a small team of your peers as you navigate a (dauntingly expensive) 44-foot sailboat around ports throughout the Northeast. You find yourself having to direct tasks that you may or may not know how to do yourself; thus, you must learn to adapt, pick up skills on the fly, use your peers’ knowledge and experience as resource, and pick up, process, and synthesize information from your environment to ensure the safe transit of your vessel and your crew. You sometimes cover more than 50 nautical miles in a single day. You’re sometimes in command of your boat for 10 or more hours at a time, with only minimal input and guidance from your safety officer. And through that, you truly develop the “liking for the sea and its lore” that Coastguardsmen are supposed to hold.

 

No, 2/c summer is not simply “cadre summer” – it’s a multifaceted crash-course in leadership, a leadership “immersion program”. For as fun as it is, it highlights the often daunting challenges that leadership positions present. When you’re in charge, when you make decisions that affect anywhere from a half dozen to several dozen individuals, the stakes are much higher than when your primary responsibility is for yourself. And if you aren’t ready for that authority…well, you have to grow up and step up to the plate very, very quickly.

 

Now, with the school year well underway, I can say beyond any doubt: this summer, the Class of 2014 did its “growing up” very well. We’re ready to move up in the corps and start our journey as upper-class and as leaders.

 



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