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My Third Class Summer Experience Aboard USCGC Mellon

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Ryan Taylor

Ask any cadet – the best part of the Coast Guard Academy are the summers. Maybe not the first, when the incoming class goes through ‘Swab Summer,’ but the following three are highlights for everyone. During third class summer, rising sophomores spend 11 weeks in the operational Coast Guard, experiencing what life is like in the fleet. The following summer, rising second class cadets act as cadre, training the incoming class of swabs. Then, prior to first class year, cadets again spend their summer training period in the fleet learning how to be an effective junior officer in an operational setting.

As a rising third class, I spent this past summer in the fleet, learning about actual Coast Guard mission execution. My 11 weeks were slightly different than most, in that I did not sail aboard USCGC Eagle. Typically, 3/c cadets spend five or six weeks aboard Eagle and the other weeks at an operational unit such as a shore station or cutter. A handful of third-class, though, spend all 11 weeks of the summer aboard a Coast Guard cutter, integrating with the crew and learning about their various jobs and responsibilities.

So, in early May, three classmates and I flew to Seattle, Washington. Seattle is the homeport of USCGC Mellon, a 378-foot high-endurance cutter (HRC). Mellon was commissioned in 1968, and is one of three remaining operational HRCs.

Mellon wouldn’t begin her next patrol until mid-June, so for the first five weeks of our time onboard we lived on the ship. We slept in crew berthing, ate meals on the mess deck, and worked alongside the crew during the workday. Because I am interested in being an engineering officer upon graduation, I spent most of my time in the engine room, working alongside the machinery technicians repairing various pieces of equipment in preparation for the upcoming deployment. After the workday and on the weekends, we were free to explore Seattle and enjoy the city, making for a very enjoyable time in port. One of the highlights of my time in port in Seattle was getting to witness a change of command ceremony, in which a new captain relieved Mellon’s existing commanding officer. It was a formal ceremony on the ship’s flight deck, with the crew’s family and friends present on a beautiful day.

Upon departing Seattle in mid-June, Mellon sailed through the Gulf of Alaska to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, where we refueled and took on supplies. While Dutch Harbor has a reputation for being one of the worst port calls due to a lack of things to do on the tiny island, it has fantastic scenery and great hike overlooking the town. From Dutch Harbor, we proceeded across the Pacific Ocean, engaged in the north Pacific fisheries enforcement mission that Mellon was instructed to carry out. Over the course of the five weeks that I was onboard while Mellon was underway, we conducted 15 boardings of fishing vessels, checking for compliance with regulations laid out by the North, Western, and Central Pacific Fisheries Commissions.

Our next port call was Yokosuka, Japan, where Mellon spent three days. The crew was given liberty to visit the area, which we took full advantage of. We explored Tokyo and its surroundings, saw the great Buddha in Kamakura, and ate lots of delicious food. After departing, Mellon was underway for about three weeks, during which we conducted more boardings, checking for fisheries compliance. I was then given an opportunity to fly in the HH-65 Dolphin helicopter that was onboard for the patrol. It is stored in the hangar and rolled onto the flight deck for flight operations. It was one of the most amazing and un-nerving moments of my life, as the helicopter took off from Mellon’s flight deck and the ship grew smaller and smaller beneath us, hundreds of miles from the nearest land. On another day, I was lucky enough to get aboard one of Mellon’s small boats, an over-the-horizon type rigid hull inflatable measuring 24 feet in length. The deck crew lowered the small boat, loaded with four cadets, the coxswain, and the boat engineer, over the side to deploy and retrieve a large orange buoy for a man-overboard practice drill. It was a crazy feeling to be in the middle of the Pacific in a 24-foot inflatable boat, and some eight-foot swells made it even more interesting.

After we completed the third underway leg of the patrol, Mellon had another three-day port call in Japan. We explored Tokyo some more and participated in a crew hike up Mount Fuji. It was an extremely challenging hike, but the views at the top were amazing. Unfortunately, our 11 weeks had come to an end, and in late July we flew from Japan to Seattle, and then back home for three weeks of leave before returning to New London for our 3/c year at the Academy.

My third-class summer experience made me incredibly excited to join the fleet after graduation in three short years and carry out the missions for which the Coast Guard exists. Mid-semester at the Academy, it is easy to lose sight of the big picture and forget why you are here in the first place. This school year, though, you can be sure that I will be thinking of Mellon and every Coast Guard crew underway, looking forward to the day when I can join them in the fleet.

Thank you for reading; I hope that everyone has a fantastic last month of summer!