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Convocation - THURSDAY, August 22, 2013
Welcome Back

Good afternoon Cadets, Faculty, Staff and distinguished visitors. Welcome to the Coast Guard Academy’s 2013 Convocation!

It’s great to look out and see so many distinguished guests joining us here today: former Dean White; Commodore Melera from our Board of Trustees; CAPT Pulver, CO in EAGLE; CAPT Aresnault, CO of the R&D Center; CAPT Wee Smith from the Old Guard; Mr. Campbell of the Parent’s Association, Rear Admiral Peschel, the 2013 Link-in-the-Chain rep and the other VIPs and alumni who support our Academy and cadets in so many ways.

I’m honored to see our local education partners, Dr. Fischer, Superintendent of New London Schools and Dr. Spera, Principal of the Marine Science Magnet High School in Groton.

We expected Mayor Finizio to be here with us today; he attended our Commencement this past May and recently sailed aboard EAGLE. Unfortunately, he just called in sick, but I want to thank Mayor Finizio for his strong support

Convocation is a day to celebrate the beginning of the Academic year, and to celebrate the great traditions of intellectual curiosity, debate, learning and research. It’s inspiring to be gathered here today as we reunite to start another exciting Academic year.

Welcome aboard and welcome back from your summer assignments to our beloved Academy! In particular, I want to welcome the newest members of our corps, the incoming Class of 2017, who are just beginning their journey of self discovery. Let’s hear it for this new class that many of you have worked so hard to train this summer!

And let’s recognize our first class cadets – who have finished up their last summer and are heading down the final leg of their trackline – the graduating Class of 2014! How many days to go?

Finally, let’s give a corps of cadets-sized welcome for the new faculty and staff who have reported aboard over the course of the summer.

Although it seems like we just graduated the Class of 2013, unbelievably, the summer has passed and we are all returning refreshed from exciting professional development and leadership opportunities. So, I’m sure everyone is rejuvenated and very excited to get back into the routine of the school year! Are you ready?

Just over a week ago, we proudly celebrated the 223rd birthday of our Service…our rich history serves as a firm foundation and a powerful inspiration. It is very humbling for me to follow in the footsteps of amazing superintendents such as VADM Pine, who understood that the sea is the very best school for bringing out the qualities of leadership, RADM Hamlett, who penned the Mission of the Coast Guard Academy, and RADM Billard, who coined our motto, Scientiae Cedit Mare. These great men, and the women and men who followed them, have set the course for those of us who serve today.

Message to Cadets: Duty Demands Courage 

So, let’s take a look at the cadet corps our predecessors have shaped and we continue to mold. All summer, I’ve heard great stories about how cadets have performed during their summer programs. I heard about the crew of EGRET, one of our Leadership-44’s, conducting a Search and Rescue case near Hyannis – they assisted a distressed vessel and crew.

CAPT Pulver, Commanding Officer of EAGLE, bragged to me about how the Class of 2016 had an 88% completion rate for Damage Control PQS. 3/c Campbell, Henning, and Lobmeyer helped save four lives in a SAR case with Station Dauphin Island. 1/c Ward and Harbison aboard CGC BERTHOLF participated in disrupting 1,200 kilos of cocaine off the coast of Panama. And 1/c Cresswell was awarded the Commandant’s Letter of Commendation for his performance aboard the cutter ASSATEAGUE in Guam.

These are just a few of the great stories. Most of you had a chance to experience what being in the Coast Guard is all about…and it was fun and rewarding. The light at the end of the tunnel for all of you is that Commission you look forward to earning, and getting orders to your first assignment.

However, that will only happen if you succeed in your academics. This week is designed to shift your focus and get you back into the academic year routine. You should be getting to know your faculty advisor, professors and coaches. These professional relationships are among the most valuable investments you can make in your future, and some of the faculty and staff you trust most as cadets will remain mentors throughout your entire career.

The Coast Guard Academy exists to create a special kind of officer. We are here to make you, as our Mission states, well rounded, cultured, knowledgeable and professionally capable officers. You are continually challenged in engineering, the sciences, mathematics, management and the humanities. I expect you to explore all of these areas to become not just a good officer, but a great officer. A special officer…with the qualities one would expect of a graduate of a military academy. The people of the United States of America expect no less.

Look within yourselves and our Academy and look at the great graduates we have produced such as ADM Jim Loy, ADM Thad Allen, Dr. Stephen Flynn, CAPT Dan Burbank - who last year commanded the International Space Station – and model yourself after these Renaissance officers.

The 21st century world and Coast Guard in which you will operate demands that you be well grounded in the sciences and the humanities; well disciplined in the professional military domain, with sound bodies developed on the athletic fields, and in the rigging of EAGLE!

You came to the Academy at the top of your high schools – now use your time here to commit yourself to improve your knowledge, stretch beyond your comfort zone to pursue new ideas and concepts. Use your time here, whether you have just one year left or four more to go, to devote yourself to becoming a great thinker. Again, the 21st century demands no less of you.

And I call on you to act and walk like you are one of America’s finest public servants, and behave accordingly. In addition to getting back in the swing of the academic year, you need to take stock of your core values.

We all know the Commandant’s Shipmates #19 message, Duty Demands Courage. I want you to exercise the Moral Courage to make good Choices and stand by your Core Values. Two nights ago ADM Loy, during his annual leadership address to the Corps, listed “Choices” as one of the precious few “Things that Matter.” He was right; you live with the choices you make, and they do define you.

But I challenge you that it is not just your own behavior for which you are responsible. You need to intervene early to prevent others from drifting off course. And you absolutely must hold yourself and others accountable for their actions or inaction. Service above Self means the greater good of the Coast Guard comes above any individual, be it yourself or your shipmate. You support each other, but you never cover for each other.

Never forget how fortunate you are to be here – to have earned a coveted place at the Coast Guard Academy. Don’t be foolish and risk all you have worked for. And don’t stand by and let your classmates get in trouble either. This requires moral courage.

I have very high expectations for each one of you sitting here today – there is nothing you can’t accomplish if you devote yourself to your goals. Make good choices, work hard and persevere…and remember – Duty Demands Courage.

Message to Faculty 

Convocation is a great opportunity to recognize our world-class faculty. Welcome back! I trust you have enjoyed inspiring and rewarding summers. And a very special welcome aboard to our 32 new faculty joining us this year…welcome to the Coast Guard Family!

We are truly blessed with a remarkable faculty – civilian, rotating military and PCTS - and I continue to be amazed at all you do. Dr. Zuzcek and CAPT Pavilonis have launched the new Coast Guard History Course; Dr. Frysinger and the Department of Science have launched their new research vessel; CAPT Sulmasy has appeared live on a number of national networks; Dr. Crilly visited a patrol boat this summer to study the feasibility of a more economical diesel engine warming system that will be the basis of a cadet “smart heater” design project; LCDR Steinhaus started a Math Teachers’ Circle here in New London. Locally relevant and nationally prominent! 

Although we take a hiatus from the academic year during the summer, our cadet leadership and professional development programs, along with our indoctrination and familiarization programs require heavy faculty and staff support. Thank you for all your efforts to support our cadet programs this summer.

Finally, I want to thank Dean Colella for his dedication and leadership, particularly in creating an inclusive learning environment. It’s a unique challenge to serve as Dean at a Federal Service Academy, charged with educating all cadets in a demanding, technically based core curriculum with the requirement to share time with the Commandant of Cadets and the Director of Athletics. Dean Colella excels in this delicate balance by earning the trust and respect of his peers. Thank you, Dean Colella.

I have just charged the cadets with looking to you, the Faulty, for advice and help – you can be their primary influencers and serve as exceptional role models. In the classroom or on the athletic field, you may be the first person a cadet turns to. I ask for your commitment in helping them reach their full potential as they develop into Leaders of Character.

Message to Staff 

Although Convocation is, by nature, an academic event, in addition to the students and faculty, I want to acknowledge our large and diverse staff. You provide the Mission Support that enables us to function, and we absolutely rely on you.

You provide for our medical needs, and this year we welcomed the clinic back as a direct report versus a tenant unit. You minister to us, and I want to welcome aboard our Command Chaplain, Chaplain Dickens, who sailed aboard EAGLE with the swabs this summer. You deliver legal, financial, Information Technology, public affairs and security services, and you maintain our facilities and grounds. We rely on your for admin and logistics support at every turn.

You help us cultivate an inclusive climate that values and respects everyone, and I’d like to recognize Mr. Antonio Farias, our Chief of Diversity Affairs, for his selection as winner of the 2013 League of United Latin American Citizens Excellence in Service Award.

State of the Academy 

I am so proud that we are all unified here in Leamy Hall today as members of a strong and resilient Coast Guard Academy team. As I reflect back on the past year, I see an Academy that is ever more “Locally Relevant and Nationally Prominent.” We have made remarkable progress in my five focus areas, which are:

  • Strategic communications outreach, or "telling the story" of all the great things we do here at the Academy.
  • Strengthening the Academy's value to the Coast Guard, DHS and beyond by establishing partnerships that leverage our unique capabilities.
  • Shaping and balancing the cadet learning experience through the Core Curriculum Review.
  • Aligning our structure with the modernized Coast Guard.
  • Diversifying our faculty, staff and cadet corps to shape an officer corps that reflects the enlisted corps we lead and the population we serve.

Our many accomplishments include successful implementation of an acclaimed History course, which instills in cadets our service Identity and Ethos.

We established the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Officer Training program here at the Academy, making us the sole geographic accession source for all USCG and NOAA officers. Several of our cadets spent their summer professional development program onboard NOAA ships, and Professor Wainright sailed aboard the NOAA research vessel OSCAR DYSON in Alaska. What a prospering partnership!

We matured our new towboat rider program partnership with American Waterways Operators, deepening the Coast Guard’s relationship with the industry we regulate. We developed and implemented an important MOU with the Coast Guard’s Chief Financial Officer to institutionalize the value of the Academy in preparing future financial managers. We stood up a highly rated Mid-Grade Officer Transition Course at the LDC and next week we will designate the LDC as a separate command under Forces Command, bringing the Coast Guard’s training system into alignment.

In addition, we are slated to receive CGC CHINOOK, the 87-foot patrol boat currently moored at Station New London, as a result of decisions made after the Station’s pier was damaged during Superstorm Sandy.

This summer we put all eight new Leadership 44’s into service – at a brand new pier - giving every 2/c cadet a coastal sail training experience.

We were recognized in 2013 as the #1 Public School in the Regional Colleges North category per U.S. News and World Report. Let’s celebrate this! Last year our very own Dr. Gonzalez completed a Fulbright scholarship in Spain. Celebrate this.

Look at our sports teams – last year Soccer won the Conference Championship, Baseball had its best season in history; Lacrosse, Rugby and Boxing went to Nationals and we produced several All-American athletes including Adam Scalesse in the hurdles.

Our Sustainability Club earned the Academy national recognition by winning the 2012 Green Gov award in the “Green Dream Team” category for curbing waste and saving taxpayer dollars. The Academy is nationally recognized and you are all a part of that.

Locally, you dedicated yourselves to building a Habitat for Humanity home here in New London – thank you to the Alumni Association for strongly supporting that amazing effort. This year we welcomed two New London high school graduates into the Class of 2017. And we are celebrating the prospects of a National Coast Guard Museum coming to New London. Our links to the community are vital; local relevance is foundational to national prominence.

We enjoyed successful media relations, with a half-dozen positive front-page articles in “The Day,” and hosting “CG Florida” featuring several 3/c cadets. In addition, we welcomed ESPN’s Mike & Mike in honor of Veterans Day.

Our CGA Museum was voted the “Best Military Museum in New England” by Yankee magazine, and our curator, Ms. Jen Gaudio, is being recognized with a special Foundation for Coast Guard History award.

Our Band continued to delight audiences. I’d like to welcome our new Bandmaster, LCDR Williamson, who relieves CAPT Megan as he retires next week. And, I’d like to congratulate Musician Chief Sesma, who was recently recognized with a prestigious Latina Style Meritorious Service award.

Our cadets marched in the Presidential Inauguration, and we hosted Vice President Biden as our Commencement speaker, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a host of other dignitaries. Everywhere I look, I see pride in our commitment to our local community and our passion for national prominence. We should celebrate this!

Strategic Plan 

Despite having a lot to celebrate, the reality of our external environment is that we are living in tough, challenging and austere times. After over a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan we are drawing down our armed forces, and the overall military reduction impacts the Coast Guard, too. Since January we have been operating under Sequestration, which has significantly limited our travel, overtime and other expenditures.

I will be fighting to protect our beloved institution; while you are teaching, studying, researching and presenting, I will be fighting to not only keep the Academy the great place it is, but to continue improving it and moving forward.

To guide us through the challenging times ahead, I am pleased to announce our newly published 2013-2018 Strategic Plan. The opening message of the Strategic Plan is the Academy’s Value Proposition to the people of the United States of America.

There are three main components of our value - what distinguishes us from other institutions of higher education. First and foremost, we specialize in leadership and character development – we graduate leaders of character who will selflessly serve our nation. Above all else, this is why America supports us. Second, we provide each cadet a firm foundation in professional development and military training through our robust summer programs, and academic programs such as nautical science. Finally, we are a STEM school from which each cadet earns a Bachelor of Science degree, supplying crucial analytic capability to meet the Coast Guard’s mission needs.

Some of the challenges we plan to address through our Strategic Plan are the effects of incoming class sizes that will be smaller than they were in the post-9-11 growth years. Our cadet corps size stands at just about 900 going into the new Academic year, and it could drop as low as 850 until we are able to rebalance the officer corps. This will impact our diversity and varsity sports recruiting, but we are focusing on diversity recruiting under a bold new plan just submitted to the Vice Commandant, and we are excited to be bringing the men’s and women’s club lacrosse up to a varsity sport in 2015.

My primary concern for the Academy is the safety and security of our personnel, particularly the security of our cadet barracks. We are working to install a keyed entry system for the barracks to enhance security for our cadets. And this Fall we intend to execute a full-scale Active Shooter drill to strengthen our preparedness and resilience.

I am also deeply committed to fostering a climate here at the Academy that values everyone and personifies our core values. Every cadet, faculty and staff member should have received a link to an anonymous Defense Equal Opportunity Climate Survey. I strongly encourage everyone to take the survey so we can all benefit from a transparent assessment of where our climate stands. In early October a team from Headquarters will come up to help us conduct focus groups to discuss the survey results. We owe it to each other and the American people to ensure our Academy remains a place where all may learn and work in a respectful environment.

Looking Forward 

On a positive note, if we open our minds, there is great opportunity to be discovered through adversity, and I challenge all of you to look for new ways to reach and move our Academy forward. The future is bright! Think back to our Value Proposition; we have a corps of cadets who are among the brightest students in the Nation.

We are developing them as leaders of character prepared to meet the challenges of a changing world. I have just charged them with following in the footsteps of great Coast Guard leaders who have gone before us. We are a service that thrives in times of adversity; without bad weather, disasters or threats we wouldn’t need the Coast Guard. This is our operating environment! Let’s make it our mission to thrive intellectually here at the Academy.

As a result of the superstorm Sandy supplemental we are spending about $20M to repair our waterfront, replace fencing and replace slate roofs. Yes, there will be ongoing construction for the next year, but we are investing in our future.

We are establishing a grant office to enable our faculty to apply for research funding, and that could open up a wealth of opportunities.

Our Institute for Leadership is growing with the support of generous donors and under the direction of Dr. Jonathan Jefferson, providing us a leadership framework and assessment tools that could open new doors. We are reaching and stretching to take advantage of strengths and competencies that have lain dormant during the past decade of plenty.

Today I challenge every one of you: Commit yourselves to making our Academy a better place; find a new way to innovate or create an efficiency in your area of responsibility that will allow us to meet the goals in our Strategic Plan. We are a Federal Service Academy with amazing intellectual talent and resources.

Let’s harness all that potential! Every day when you wake up, think of your Coast Guard, your Academy and your people first. Be proud. Focus on the future. Think positive and think BIG! 

I look forward to recognizing those of you who do think big and bring forward an innovation or efficiency. People like our very own Ashley Cordi, who has just been selected as a finalist for Secretary Napolitano’s 2013 ThinkEfficiency Campaign.

Energize/Unify 

As we gather here this afternoon, I feel so fortunate and proud to be part of such enthusiasm and energy. It really is contagious! I look forward to interacting with you in the classrooms, cheering with you on the athletic fields, and supporting you within the multitude of professional military training venues that shape all of us as one Academy team – pulling together to develop the leaders and provide the leadership the Coast Guard needs to execute its noble missions.

As we start the 2013 academic year, the Coast Guard Academy is well positioned to navigate in, as the Commandant describes it, “uncertain and stormy seas.” We have a good ship and crew, and we are guided by our motto, “Scientiae Cedit Mare - The Sea Yields to Knowledge.” And I’d like to offer that the sea also yields knowledge…the sea teaches, the sea guides, the sea is what makes our education here at the Coast Guard Academy distinct from other colleges.

You cadets have just come back from your summer experiences, and the knowledge you gained, both intellectual and practical, provides the foundation for all other learning. It is that common knowledge – that shared experience with the sea – that we are harnessing with the Institute for Leadership as we develop you into leaders of character.

We will accomplish this using the framework of the LEAD strategy for our Guide to Officer and Leader Development: Learn from Theory, Experience through Practice, Analyze using Reflection and Deepen through Mentoring. We have put this strategy into practice for our Coastal Sail Training Program – learning leadership at Sea.

The sea is what gives you cadets sound bodies, stout hearts and alert minds – it is what prepares you to walk across that stage and receive your commission as an officer in the Armed Forces of the United States of America.

That is a noble calling. That is why we are all here – cadets along with the faculty and staff who develop, educate and support them. I am proud, and I hope you all share my pride. Pride in America, Pride in the U. S. Coast Guard and Pride in our beloved Academy.

Semper Paratus.

God bless America and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy!

Go Books! and Go Bears! 

Beat King’s Point!