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Lifelong FriendSHIPS Begin on Day One

(Choosing the Academy, Just for Fun, Class of 2019) Permanent link
Bruna Pavan

You don’t have to go through Swab Summer to understand that it is challenging. You can look up videos, newspaper articles, pictures (thanks Paul Duddy!) and interviews of all sorts that will describe how strenuous Swab Summer is, and a lot of blog posts are already written about individual experiences. Instead, I will tell you that the people you struggle and sweat with over those seven weeks become some of your closest friends. Not only do I have faith and trust in those in my Swab Summer company, but all of my classmates because we underwent the transformative experience that is Swab Summer and fourth class year together.

While I was driving my own car up from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to school (having a car here is a firstie-only privilege), I had plenty of time to reflect on how awesome the past three years were at the Academy and what amazing things are yet to come in the next eight months here. After eight hours of driving northbound, I made a stop in Charleston, South Carolina to visit one of my best friends and her family at their home. Hannah Waddell, a rugby-playing naval architecture and marine engineer, was one of my very first friends at the Academy as we were in the same Swab Summer company and have been my roommate for four of my six semesters here. Even though we kept in daily contact, it was great to finally see each other after eleven weeks apart.

Of course, I can’t mention Hannah without Kiera! Kiera Harrison is a Marine and Environmental Sciences major from Jackson, New Jersey. The three of us began our friendship on Day One of our 200-week long journey, and we have shared a tremendous amount of time together since between rugby, eating dinner together every night, spending every spring break at each other’s homes and long weekends exploring the East Coast. When my parents call, it’s always, “Hey, what are you up to?” followed by “How are Hannah and Kiera doing?”

The friendships you develop here make this place feel like home. Being surrounded by awesome people and being able to walk down the hall to see some of your best friends is one of my favorite aspects of this experience. They’ve seen me at my best, worst and everything in between and that is why this bond is so strong and true. Even though we study different things and are involved in a variety of activities, we can still depend on each other to work together just as we could over Swab Summer.

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CGAS Cadre Experience

(Choosing the Academy, Class of 2019) Permanent link
Pat Wheeler

After I completed the three-week long summer orientation for the Coast Guard Academy Scholars Program (CGAS) back in 2015, all I wanted to be was a CGAS cadre! My cadre were tough, but fair, and I looked up to them because of this. They drove us hard, pushing us to break through mental and physical barriers I never imagined I would be capable of overcoming. Each of them instilled discipline into us, which is vital for military service. Above all, they motivated us to feel pride in the U.S. Coast Guard, encouraging each cadet-candidate to be passionate about the missions and history of the “Long, Blue Line” of Coast Guardsmen that had gone before us. Upon completion of our “boot camp” experience, several of us made it our goal to one day become CGAS cadre. Now, three years later, we have accomplished that objective we set before ourselves.

The CGAS summer orientation experience is quite a bit different when you are on the other end of it (i.e., not the one getting yelled at, but the one doing the yelling). It’s absolutely a challenge shaping kids who have just graduated from high school into basically trained Coast Guardsmen and women. The training is also just as physically taxing on the cadre as it is on the trainees, the cadet-candidates. The biggest motivating factor that gives the cadre the extra energy they need each day is the genuine desire to prepare each of the trainees the best they can for prep school. We want the cadet-candidates to represent the Coast Guard in a professional manner at Marion Military Institute, Georgia Military College, and the Naval Academy Preparatory School. Each of the scholars is a direct reflection of the cadre who trained them, as well as the Coast Guard as a whole, so it is of the utmost importance to the cadre that each students has engrained into them the core values of honor, respect, and devotion to duty. The training they receive over CGAS summer orientation will help each of them succeed at their respective preparatory schools, giving them the foundation and tools necessary for them to make it back to the Academy a year later for Swab Summer and, eventually, aid them in their four-year experience in New London, all the way through until commissioning as an ensign.

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Summer in the Northwest

(Just for Fun, The Cadet Experience, Class of 2019) Permanent link
Derek Silliman

So after a long wait for our summer assignments, my class finally got an email with a spreadsheet giving us the full list of where we are going for the summer. I am assigned to a cutter named Terrapin. I had no idea where the cutter was located so I looked it up and I found out it was in Bellingham, Washington. Bellingham is a small city just south of the Canada border. Terrapin is an 87-foot patrol boat docked at Station Bellingham with only one other patrol boat alongside it. It’s been awesome for me to see a part of the country I never saw before.

When I first flew into Seattle, I was immediately awestruck as the plane passed by the summit pyramid of Mount Rainier, and the reality hit me; I was not on the East Coast anymore. Following a recommendation from Anthony Bourdain, I sat down at Anthony’s Fish Bar at Seattle-Tacoma Airport as I waited for my final short flight to Bellingham. I had the best salmon fish tacos ever and enjoyed a beautiful view of the Cascade Mountains rising over the tarmac. I had two goals: the first was to learn about the duties and responsibilities of the crew on the patrol boat. The second was to immerse myself in the culture of the area, to eat the food, learn about the people, and get outside. Something I leaned watching Anthony Bourdain was that whether you travel to another part of the country, or the world, seek to live fully and immerse yourself wherever you are.

Bellingham is a great little city characterized by being a college town and home to a number of small breweries and a beautiful mountain lake. The way the hills just rise from the coastline here has allowed me to hike a number of small mountains with stunning views of Puget Sound, and there are a number of great coffee shops, one right on the water that I walked by along the trail that runs along Bellingham Bay.

I also took a few short trips to Seattle when my family came to visit. We toured the Museum of Pop Culture and a National Park Service Museum that offered a tour about the history of Seattle as the last point people would come to before sailing on to Alaska. West Seattle has a great beach with a view of the skyline downtown and a nice little ice cream parlor. To get away from the city, my dad and I toured the Boeing’s wide-body jet factory.

One really neat thing I did was take a trip into British Columbia. I spent a day in Vancouver, touring the Museum of Vancouver and the Maritime Museum, where I leaned about the history of the area, in dealing with immigrants and natives, and an expedition by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police through the Northwest Passage. The coolest thing in Vancouver was biking through Stanley Park, looking out onto the bay. Victoria had a beautiful set of buildings that looked like this little piece of Europe had been planted right on the West Coast. I toured the British Columbian Parliament and learned more about the history of the area through a visit to the Royal B.C. Museum. Beacon Hill Park offered a beautiful view of the Olympics, looking straight across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, back into Washington.

I have had the interesting privilege this summer of being the northernmost cadet in the lower 48 states, but it can be somewhat of a lonely existence where I have had to make my own fun. I did get two opportunities to catch up with classmates, first over dinner in Seattle, and later going hiking with classmates in the Olympics after meeting them in Port Angeles.

Being on the boat, we had an awesome patrol down in Oregon, where I saw the fullness of the pacific coastline and ran along the beaches to the outward point of Yaquina Head.

On the boat, I had a great time working with the deck department, but my big accomplishment for the summer was getting my in-port officer of the day qualification. It was something I learned a lot from, but never want to have to do that again because it took me three attempts to get that qualification. I got as much knowledge from the crew as I could and realized the importance of reviewing manuals and documents to verify the information I had was correct. I learned a lot from the captain as well; from his experience at his first unit, how he went about leading the crew, and his challenges to motivate them. It got me excited to get out into the fleet in a permanent capacity next year, but it reminded me that I cannot anticipate every challenge. We had a lot of conversations about various leadership principles and how to apply them as a young officer.

Overall, I almost feel as if I could call Bellingham home, maybe one day I will, or another city in the Northwest. A piece of me really does not want to depart Bellingham, but I know my few weeks of leave will give me some much needed time to relax before returning for the fall semester.

Derek. Silliman@uscga.edu.

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First Phase of Firstie Summer

(The Cadet Experience, Class of 2019) Permanent link
Jill Friedman

During firstie summer, cadets are expected to act as junior officers; it is considered our ‘job interview’ and last chance to figure out where we want to go when we graduate in one short academic year. I was able to spend the first half of my summer training on the USCGC Ida Lewis, a 175’ buoy tender. This was a different experience than most of my classmates because there is no wardroom on a 175’ with the only officer being a warrant officer as the CO. While this is not what I was expecting to get for my firstie summer, I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything. I worked for the Operations Petty Officer and the Executive Petty Officer. At the Academy, we are surrounded by officers so being able to work with senior enlisted gave me a different perspective and a lot of past Coast Guard wisdom to learn from.

On Ida Lewis, I was able to break in Deck Watch Officer (DWO) and take on collaterals. As a DWO, your job on the bridge is to conn. Conning is giving commands to the helmsman to steer the ship. The DWO also provides directions to navigate the ship during complex evolutions. As break-in DWO, I was able to anchor the cutter, drive onto buoys during aids to navigation (ATON) details, conn through Newport in low visibility, and moor (dock) the cutter. Each of these evolutions uses a different method of steering and has different rules that need to be obeyed. It was a lot to adapt to but I was fortunate to be able to learn from seasoned crew members. Beyond the bridge, I was able to make route plans which determine the cutter’s time underway and what buoys are worked on during the patrol. This is a job typically done by the Operations Department Head so it was good exposure to a position I may have in the future. I also spent a few days working on the buoy deck, experiencing what life is like on the deck-plate level.

I learned a lot during first phase of firstie summer, and spending half my summer in Newport, Rhode Island wasn’t bad. For the second half of my summer I have an academic internship and I’m excited to see what that experience has in store for me. If you have any questions feel free to email me at Jill.M.Friedman@uscga.edu.

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Firstie Summer 2018

(The Cadet Experience, Class of 2019) Permanent link
Kirsten Sharp

Well, I am officially halfway through my firstie summer ‒ and that is quite surreal to say.

Unfortunately, due to my recent ACL reconstruction surgery and medical complications, I was told early on that I would be unable to be fit for sea this summer. Having been Eagle cadre, I have thankfully been able to complete all of my underway time already, but I was hoping to travel far away for my last summer at the Academy, as I joined the Coast Guard to get away from my small Pennsylvania hometown…but I was sent to Sector New York. On Staten Island. Two hours away from home.

Needless to say, I became less excited about my summer as it got closer.

I arrived to Sector New York with absolutely zero expectations. I knew that two of my classmates would be joining me for the first half, and I knew that we would be on land, but that was it. We met our POC, who graduated two years ago, got settled in, and it became quickly apparent that there was not much to do on Staten Island. And that the barracks had no Wi-Fi.

As time went by, and we were all moved into different departments every week (for example, containers, facilities, pollution, command center, vessel traffic and inspections), I became thankful for the new system of not needing to get qualified over the summer. Instead, I have been able to focus on being a sponge and keeping a detailed journal of the things I was learning about and all of the different roles and responsibilities that a sector has to offer the fleet. I formed real connections with my coworkers, instead of pestering them for signatures. And, most of all, I have been able to rule out being a prevention officer from my intended career path.

Not to mention, there are silver linings ‒ other than getting weekends off and occasional half days. I have been able to see my family a lot more than I have been able to in the last three years combined. I was even able to take my siblings to see “Wicked!” on Broadway. The people at Sector New York are also some of the nicest people I have ever met. From the first day I arrived, multiple people offered to have us over for dinner, or offered us directions for how to go on adventures and get off the island. And, I have been able to continue my physical therapy.

I think what I have learned most this summer is that your attitude is the only thing that you can control, and that attitudes are contagious. For that reason, it is much more productive for everyone if you have a positive attitude. After all, things that may seem disappointing at first can turn into amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities!

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AIM is a Taste of Swab Summer

(Choosing the Academy, Class of 2019) Permanent link
Kirsten Sharp

When I was a junior in high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I mean, I was taught from a young age that I should aspire to go to college, but I had no idea what size or where in the country or what majors should be offered or anything about what I wanted that college to be like. I had a few family members in the military, though, and, although they were all in different branches, they always raved about the Coast Guard – a service that I had never even heard of at the time. Naturally, I started looking into it and realized there was an Academy program that summer, so I applied just to give it a shot and see if all the good things everyone was telling me about were true.

When I arrived in Connecticut to participate in AIM, I had no idea what to expect. Luckily, I was given next to zero time to think about this, as the cadre immediately took charge and told us exactly what to do, what to wear, when to eat, etc. See, AIM is a taste of Swab Summer, the seven-week program you embark on to begin your USCGA experience upon admission… sort of like boot camp. In the week-long AIM program, the first few days were very physically intense: we ran everywhere, did push-ups, learned indoc (random facts about the Coast Guard), and tried to absorb as much information as possible. It truly was a culture shock. The last couple of days are more relaxed, as the focus is switched to more engineering-focused events, such as building a floating boat out of nominal materials.

Overall, the AIM experience was eye-opening. Looking back on it as a current 2/c cadet (junior), I can honestly say that I learned a lot, and getting that first taste of the Academy was very rewarding to me. It helped me decide that the Coast Guard is what I want to do with my life – not because of all of the push-ups and running around, and not even because of the friends I made from my AIM company that I still remain in contact with today, but because of the ability to experience the infectious culture of people helping people that our service is committed to.

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Summer Ocean Racing and Washington Adventures

(Just for Fun, The Cadet Experience, Class of 2019) Permanent link
Amy Chamberlin

Offshore sailors have the option to apply for a seven-week intense summer ocean racing (SOR) program during Phase I of the summer. I chose to apply after learning about all the leadership opportunities that are associated with the program. My onboard collateral duty was commissary! The big events that we participated in were SUNY Maritime Safety at Sea Seminar; a trip to Annapolis; the Maryland to Newport race, and Block Island Race Week. In the beginning of the program, everyone wasn’t very close, but when the program ended, no one wanted to leave. This is similar to the fleet because the Coast Guard is a family and is looking out for you.

After SOR, I went to United States Coast Guard Station Cape Disappointment for four weeks to work alongside the enlisted in Ilwaco, Washington. I had never been to the Pacific Northwest before going this summer. Not only was the station well set up and responsive to many cases, but the environment surrounding Cape D was incredible. Another cadet was at the station with me, and we went hiking (in the Ape Caves of Mount St. Helens!), shopping, and exploring around the neighboring towns. Sector Columbia River hosted multiple cadets in the area and offered us a tour of the sector, USCGC Fur and USCGC Alert. We also got to fly in a helicopter one of the last days we were at the station. One of my most memorable experiences, but not my favorite, was getting pepper sprayed. I never want to go through that pain again…

After my time at Station Cape Disappointment, I went on three weeks of leave, which included spending time with my family and high school friends, flying back out to the west coast to visit my uncles, and going to Boston!

All in all, this summer was the best summer I have ever had. The academic year at the Coast Guard Academy is very intense and stressful, but the summer training programs make everything worth it!

If you have any questions about the summer, or Academy life, please feel free to email me at Amy.M.Chamberlin@uscga.edu. Have a great day!

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The Journey of Boards

(Overcoming Challenges, The Cadet Experience, Class of 2019) Permanent link
Kirsten Sharp

Biggest news to date: I passed boards during the week of February 17th! Now, if you understand what this statement means, then feel free to stop reading here. For those that do not understand, let us venture on a little journey together.

It all started on R-Day; the day my life changed forever. My shipmates of the Class of 2019 reported to the Academy on June 29, 2015 and immediately got screamed at. We ran around sweating for a few hours, saw our parents for five minutes, and then returned to the grind for the rest of the summer. (Side note: I never fully understood why they let us see our parents after a few hours of running around on that first date. It’s like dangling a piece of bacon in front of a newly “discovered” vegetarian. The only plausible reason it would serve is to weed out the people who want to go home right then and there… but still.) Anyway, one of the best parts of R-Day, and even Swab Summer as a whole, is a little something the cadre call “indoc.” Sounds fun, right? WRONG. For the life of me, I cannot do indoc. What the heck is this demon, you ask? Well, my friends, it is short for “indoctrination,” which is a big, fancy word for random facts about the Coast Guard that some higher-up person thought we should all know. Some of these things are downright insane – like the 250-word response that is proper to answer the question “what time is it?” or the one that talks about a “cow.” Needless to say, I found no point in learning indoc. I would literally rather push deck (do push-ups) for hours on end instead of knowing the length, beam, draft, and displacement of Healy.

This mentality worked over Swab Summer because we pushed deck all the time anyway. But, then the school year rolled around, midterms came, the second semester started, and there I was. Little 4/c Sharp in complete denial of all things indoc. Still. It hit me the day before my first board that this was, like, an actual thing. You see, in order to advance a rank (to go from 4/c to 3/c) everyone must pass boards. When our whole class passes boards, we can get social media back, so the stakes are fairly high. I really did not want to be the last one in my class to pass because I hate holding back my shipmates. But, there was only so much indoc I could cram into my head within a 24-hour period. So I studied. Hard. And, with the help of a few people, I somehow managed to get a 6/10. You need at least an 8, however. After that first board, I accepted the fact that I would probably pass last in my class. But I was not about to give up.

Over the course of the next week, I again did not study that much. I focused on my schoolwork until two days before my next exam – just to be clear, you can take one board per week until you end up passing, and the stakes get higher each week you do not pass. By the third time you do not pass, you get placed on restriction and have to take the board with your company’s guidon (2/c who is in charge of the 4/c of an individual company). I was getting nervous and really wanted to pass this time to avoid the stress of being possibly placed on restriction. Again, I learned the course of USCG history in about two hours thanks to a shipmate who quizzed me the night of my board.

Then, that fateful night came about. I was signed up to go in the last timeslot, so I was sitting around and waiting in my SDB uniform for an hour before I got to take my board. Over that hour, I remember psyching myself out. Completely. For some reason, in my head, I told myself “Okay, Kirsten. This isn’t so big of a deal. What’s the worst that could happen? You don’t pass this board tonight, okay. You don’t pass board the next week, alright. Your class is waiting for you to pass boards so that they can get social media. You never end up passing boards, so your class has to square meals even as 3/c. All through 3/c year you take boards and never pass. You make it up to graduation, still squaring away everything, and everyone underneath you has to square too because nobody is there to give them direction because you didn’t pass boards. You are standing up there on graduation day accepting your diploma while still squaring. You will be squaring as an ensign, and they will have no choice but to kick you out of the Guard because who can run a ship while squaring. Nobody will be able to take you seriously. This is the beginning of the end. Right here, right now.”

Then they come for me. The person down in the watch office pipes: “The 4/c board indoctrination exam is secured” but that doesn’t stop anything. The ruthless freight train that is indoc is coming for me. Fast. And no matter how much I try to deny the sound of that whistle, the rumbling of the very ground under my feet, the train keeps on rollin’. I put my cover (uniform hat) on top of my head and try to cover my eyes because I don’t even know what to look at anymore. I go in there, say the mission while being inspected, and then the firstie starts asking me questions. I know the first few, somehow, someway. Then he asks me about a cutter. I went into the exam knowing that I did not know anything about ships or aircrafts, which is pretty much half of the Coast Guard. I ask to skip the question and come back later. Well, it becomes later, we circle back to the question, and he asks me the class of a High Endurance Cutter. I say “W…” (which is the beginning of the identification of the call sign), the firstie feels bad for me and informs me of this. My mind is blank. I am sweating like I just finished a marathon. I have nothing left in my brain. I stand there like an idiot. He is generous and gives me another hint: “His name is on a building on campus.” Again, dumb as can be, I respond “Yeaton.” Bear in mind that this makes absolutely no sense. It’s like being in France and someone asks you what you want to buy (in French of course), and you use the limited amount of knowledge you have of French language and respond whatever the French translation is of “unicorns poop special rainbows on the BBQ.” I had no idea what I was talking about. He takes mercy on me once more; “HE IS ON THE $10 BILL!” I yell back “LEAMY, ALRIGHT? LET’S MOVE ON!” I realize what I have done and finish “please, sir.”

That’s how my board ended. That was it. I thought there was no way on Earth that I passed. I mentally prepared myself to take the board again next week. And the next week. And until I become an ensign. Later that night, my guidon finds me and tells me that I passed with an 8, right on the nose. I literally fell onto the floor and screamed, at which point an upperclassman walked by me, shook her head, and said under her breath “typical Sharp on a Tuesday night.” I didn’t blame her, and just kept thinking “second time’s the charm.” No matter what rumors you hear about boards, everyone WILL pass them eventually. And it will not take you until you become an ensign to pass.

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