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Summer Assignments Let Cadets Thrive

(The Cadet Experience, Class of 2020, Eagle) Permanent link   All Posts
Pat Wheeler

Although the Coast Guard Academy is full of plenty of excitement and opportunities for growth, the absolute best part of the cadet experience are the summer assignments. Each summer, cadets have the chance to get away from the daily grind of academics and see what it’s like in the fleet for three months. Everyone begins with their first summer at the Academy as incoming 4/c cadets (freshman), known as Swab Summer. This seven-week-long indoctrination period acts as the cadets’ version of boot camp. There is plenty of information and other articles out there about Swab Summer, so I won’t spend too much time discussing it, just know that each summer afterwards gets progressively better!

During my 3/c (sophomore) summer, I spent five weeks aboard the Coast Guard’s tall ship, Eagle, and six weeks aboard the USCGC Sherman. While aboard Eagle, we sailed from New London, Connecticut to Bermuda. Along the way we had swim calls in the Bermuda Triangle, navigated on the open ocean by the stars, and experienced what it’s like to be a sailor in the truest form of the word. We spent a week in port in Bermuda where we enjoyed pink sand beaches and crystal-clear water. It was honestly the prettiest tropical destination I have ever been to, hands down. From there we sailed to Port Canaveral, Florida where we were able to see a rocket take off from the NASA space center and go to Disney World in Orlando, all within the span of a couple days. We finished off our tour on Eagle by pulling into Norfolk, Virginia and swapping-out crews with other cadets. From Norfolk, I flew across the country to Hawaii to report in to the Sherman. Fun fact, I was able to meet Bill Nye the Science Guy and take a picture with him as he was on my flight! Once in Hawaii, four other cadets and I had a week to enjoy the island of Honolulu before we would get underway on the cutter. While in Hawaii, I was able to reconnect with some old friends from my days at prep school (Marion Military Institute) and spend long days on the beaches with them, bodyboarding and basking in the sun. Some of us even visited the Pearl Harbor Memorial while we were there. I was also able to meet Dog the Bounty Hunter on a beach at one point (another photo opportunity)! As members of the Sherman’s crew, we performed an ALPAT (Alaska patrol), heading straight from Hawaii to the island of Kodiak. From Kodiak we visited other ports along the state, including Dutch Harbor, Nome, and Barrow. We performed several search and rescue missions during our six weeks, many of which involved fisherman stranded in the freezing waters of the Bering Sea. On several occasions we performed joint operations with the Air Force, bringing aboard several Pararescue specialists (PJs) to assist us in recovering lost sailors. We passed by glaciers and even saw some of the coast of Russia in our patrol. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

For my 2/c (junior) summer, I was a Coast Guard Academy Scholars (CGAS) cadre, meaning I was responsible for training the cadet candidates we send to prep school for a year before they report in to the Academy as a swab. Having been a graduate of the scholars program, I was very passionate about ensuring the 60-something candidates I was charged with training were adequately prepared for the academic and physical rigors of prep school. The vast majority of scholars completed the three-week indoctrination period, many passing this boot camp with flying colors. They were then divided amongst three separate prep schools: Marion Military Institute (my alma mater), Georgia Military College, and Naval Academy Prep School. I still keep in touch with many of my scholars to this day and look forward to seeing them report to the Academy for Swab Summer this coming June. The rest of my summer was spent participating in several other programs, including a week of range time where we learned firearms marksmanship, Coastal Sail which was a two-week evolution where we took 44-foot coastal sailing yachts up and down and all over New England learning traditional sailing skills and leadership, and a week-long internship I did with the Coast Guard’s Maritime Security Response Team (MSRT) which is our elite counter-terrorism unit that is a part of the Deployable Specialized Forces (DSF) community. During this week with the MSRT, I was able to learn all about the mission-set of our DSF operators, when they would deploy to combat a pirate or terrorist threat, and was shown many of their weapons systems including fully automatic MK18 rifles and several sniper variants that their precision marksmen use.

I am currently putting in my dream sheet for my next summer assignment as a 1/c (senior). At the top of my list is an 11-week deployment to Bahrain. The Coast Guard has several assets in the Middle East used in support of the Navy’s 5th Fleet. This command is known as Patrol Forces South-West Asia (PATFORSWA). I am greatly interested in this summer assignment as I have a great passion for the law enforcement and defense-readiness missions of the Coast Guard. If I do end up getting accepted for this assignment, I will leave the Academy a week early and attend the three-week-long Pre-Deployment Training before shipping-off to the Middle East. If I don’t get accepted for this program, I hope to be assigned to a large white-hull cutter, either a National Security Cutter or a Medium Endurance Cutter or some sort. While aboard, I would seek to use my Boarding Team Member qualification to perform boardings in search of illegal narcotics and migrants.

As I mentioned before, the summers here at the Coast Guard Academy are what make it all worth it in the end. They allow cadets to gain a little perspective and refocus on why they joined the service in the first place. The Academy is an excellent place for cadets to learn and grow, but the fleet and the summer adventures is where students can truly thrive.