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Planning for Summer Assignments

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

As we embark upon a second semester of the school year, cadets often become starry-eyed, looking ahead toward their future summer assignments (and three week leave period before, in the middle of the two assignments or after). We are able to discuss our preferences for assignments over the summer with the training officers, and we are sent the accompanying packing list. When the summer assignments are finalized, we are encouraged to reach out to members of the crew on the cutter or at the station we are assigned to in order to be sure that there are no additional uniforms we may need. For example, if a cutter is undergoing a change of watch ceremony over the period of time that cadets will be aboard, they may need to bring a more formal uniform than what the original packing list calls for. It is also important to try to pack as light as possible, because most cadets will be on the move for the majority of their summer assignment, and it is always easier to travel with less. Each summer for cadets serves a specialized, important training purpose.

The first summer at USCGA is labeled Swab Summer. This is marked by pouring your blood, sweat, and tears into a training program to transform the newly reported swab from a civilian to a military-ready person, which is a large task to complete in only eight weeks. I remember only having a week after my high school graduation to get ready to report to the USCGA, and almost everything after the start of Swab Summer was a complete blur. The cadre (2/c in charge of the Swab Summer training program) kept us busy every second of every day, from doing workouts to meals to sports to more workouts, and everything in between. Swabs also sail for one week aboard the USCGC Eagle toward the end of their summer. Most people survive Swab Summer by looking forward to the little things: having mail from home (since swabs do not have their cell phones for the entirety of the summer), inter-company sports (which continue into the school year for those who want to compete in this type of sport instead of a varsity sport), and vespers (optional, non-denominational ceremonies held on Wednesday evenings). Although it is often the toughest summer of a cadet’s life, it is also stereotypically considered the most rewarding. Over the course of the summer, many bonds are formed among swabs in the same company, because surviving such an ordeal often brings a strong sense of teamwork that carries into the school year.

The second summer for cadets is called 3/c summer. This summer consists of 11 weeks, and is often split into two phases, one of which typically involves being aboard USCGC Eagle. While underway, 3/c cadets are considered part of the enlisted workforce, and thus complete tasks such as mess cooking, navigation, and helmsman/lookout. This allows us to better relate to those that we will one day be leading out in the fleet. For the first phase of my 3/c summer, I was attached to the USCGC Cypress, a 225’ buoy tender stationed out of Pensacola, Florida for six weeks. The ship was in port and undergoing maintenance evolutions for the first four weeks, so I was able to break in as in-port Officer of the Day, and learn the importance of a ship’s ashore maintenance time. For the last two weeks of this first phase, we got underway with the crew and were able to patrol the Gulf of Mexico, tending buoys and searching for drug runners. I ended this phase in Galveston, and had a blast getting to know the crew during our time together. For the second phase of 3/c Summer, I was blessed enough to sail the USCGC Eagle from London, England to Madeira, Portugal to Hamilton, Bermuda to Norfolk, Virginia. Doing a transatlantic trip on a massive sailboat was one of the coolest experiences of my life. There truly is nothing like climbing out onto a yardarm to furl sail – we felt like pirates! We were even able to have a swim call in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and learned celestial navigation under the most beautiful, open night sky I have ever seen.

The third summer is called cadre summer, which marks the transformation from an underclassman to an upperclassman. With this change comes an acceptance of higher accountability and duties among the Corps of Cadets. As cadre, we are trusted with the training of incoming swabs – a huge responsibility. Over the course of the 11 weeks of cadre summer, cadets go through a variety of one or two week training sessions, including T-boats at the Academy, Cadet Aviation Training Program (CATP) in Mobile, Alabama or Elizabeth City, North Carolina, range training at the Academy, and Coastal Sail – my personal favorite. Coastal Sail is a two-week training program in which we are assigned in groups of seven or eight other cadets along with a safety officer (a CG officer that works at Academy and has been trained in sailing), and are stationed on an L-44 sailboat. This group of people work and live within a 44 feet space while sailing around Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. Another once-in-a-lifetime experience. Of course, cadre summer would not be complete without the cadre experience. 2/c cadets have the opportunity to put in for their preference of what type of cadre they would like to be; including Phase I (Chase Hall cadre for the first part of the summer), Phase II (Chase Hall cadre for the second part of the summer), waterfront (Chase Hall cadre that also train swabs in sailing down at the CGA’s beautiful Jacob’s Rock sailing facility – this allows swabs a break from their tough daily training routine), or Eagle cadre (sailing with swabs during their one week phases). Personally, I was Eagle cadre and the main mast captain, and sailed with the swabs all over Canada. I oversaw all of the divisions who worked on the largest, central mast aboard Eagle, and led the swabs and fellow 2/c cadets in evolutions that required the main mast. Yet again, a fantastic leadership experience that the Academy provided me with, albeit very difficult at times.

The last summer for cadets is called 1/c summer, during which cadets are considered to be part of the wardroom because they will be graduating and becoming junior officers in just a few short months. Again, this 11-week span of time is often broken into two phases, but cadets may also stay in one place for their whole summer. Cadets have the opportunity to be summer staff to help the cadre train swabs; be attached to a Coast Guard cutter, sector, or air station; or complete an internship. I was unfortunately injured and unable to go underway for my firstie summer, so I was attached to CG Sector New York on Staten Island for all 11 weeks. I worked in both prevention and response, and had the ability to spend a week in each of the different shops and divisions at the sector. I learned all about what the Coast Guard’s ashore units do, including managing pollution, conducting vessel inspections (for both domestic and internationally flagged vessels), and also spent time in the Command Center (which coordinates Coast Guard assets to best assist the public). This summer experience opened my eyes to all the different job opportunities for those who prefer to be ashore instead of in the afloat community. It allowed me to realize that our ashore units are very important, but I prefer being afloat.

All of these summer experiences are necessary to complete the 200-week journey that cadets embark upon when they report for Swab Summer. By continuing the training at the Coast Guard Academy, cadets become increasingly ready to enter the fleet upon graduating and commissioning because they have experienced a variety of the different missions that our branch of the military completes on a daily basis. I have been so blessed by each of my summer experiences, and genuinely feel that they developed me into a better future officer, and human being. I look forward to my next summer assignment, which will be my first tour as a commissioned officer in the world’s greatest Coast Guard!