Hypothermic sea turtles, multiple rescues in one day, and an unexpected drug bust leading to the seizure of 4,000 kilos of narcotics — these are just some of the stories shared by a panel of six Coast Guard junior officers to the corps of cadets and officer candidates at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, on March 3, 2021. For the members of the Class of 2021 and Officer Candidate School (OCS) 2-21 in attendance, these stories offered a glimpse of their exciting future employment come May.
The inherently dangerous and adventurous missions the panelists presented captivated the live audience of seniors and officer candidates as well as a virtual audience of freshmen, sophomore, and junior cadets eager to join the field lead similar Coast Guard operations.
Panel moderator, Adm. Karl L. Schultz, the 26th Commandant of the Coast Guard, framed the discussion to capture the myriad opportunities offered to junior officers, clearly excited for the Coast Guard to welcome the audience of future officers into the fleet. His panelists each represented different operational specialties and time in service. In addition to sharing their most exciting Coast Guard experiences thus far, they also spoke about what they think necessary for an individual and a team to succeed.
Lt. Taylor Tennyson, a member of Deployable Specialized Forces currently serving as the academy superintendent's aide, described how trust in one’s team is absolutely critical during a boarding at sea. Lt. Gabriella Deza, a helicopter pilot stationed in Borinquen, Puerto Rico, shared how important it is, as a pilot, to listen to the multiple inputs, or perspectives, of the aircrew. Lt. j.g. Justin Jezuit, the prospective commanding officer of the 87-ft patrol boat Cutter Stingray, described how his own deliberate and positive engagement with Cutter Legare’s first class petty officer cohort and Chief’s Mess helped guide him to success. All panelists spoke to how Coast Guard operations exposed them to unexpected situations which they hadn't encountered in training, but because of their Academy and OCS training, they still felt prepared to lead.
Lt. Lydia Roets, commanding officer of the Cutter Sanibel, offered a story about how she and her previous crew on the Cutter Cushing once responded to hundreds of cold-shocked turtles wandering disoriented on the beaches in North Carolina. After an all-hands brief, she made the call to conduct a land operation to collect the turtles and return them via Cushing to the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream.
“One thing that I did not think through was that the turtles would start fighting with each other,” said Roets, “We had loggerhead wars going on, so we had to actually divide the turtles and set up a ‘turtle watch,’ but we saved those turtles!”
A story to which her audience cheered.
While heartwarming, there was an undertone of responsibility and tough decision making woven into Roets’ story. The crew thoughtfully created a plan, used their available resources, and took precautions to get the protected species back to safety.
The panelists also spoke about more serious moments of challenge and, sometimes, failure. They reflected that those moments of discomfort offered them significant opportunities to learn and grow. Perseverance, challenging oneself to learn something new, building each other up, and trust in oneself and one’s teammates were common themes presented.
Schultz asked panelists to share a valuable lesson learned while at the Academy. Lt. j.g. Nick Woolfolk, a pilot-in-training at Naval Air Station Pensacola, convinced his audience that the recipe for success is to, “learn how to learn, then learn how to manage yourself, because once you learn how to best retain knowledge and manage your time to best operate, you will be unstoppable.”
Schultz asked panelists about how they’ve seen inclusion in action at their units. Lt. Claire Pham, a Marine Inspector at Sector Los Angeles/Long Beach, California, and a former boatswain mate on the Cutter Morgenthau, spoke of how, during her very first flight operations on deck, the “salty warrant boatswain officer” noticed her looking longingly at the helicopter tie-down crew from her assignment on the boat-deck. The warrant officer asked her if that was what she wanted to do, to be on the tie-down team. Pham relayed his message to the on-looking group of cadets.
“Pham, you can do whatever you want. If you want to do helo-tie down, let’s do it. If you want to drive the boat, drive the boat. Whatever you want to do, it’s available to you.”
Pham, who heads to graduate school to earn her Master’s in Business Administration this summer as her next Coast Guard assignment, offered one final piece of advice to the live and virtual audience. She said, “opportunities are out there if you want them. You just have to take advantage of them. Say yes more than you say no, then volunteer for things that make you uncomfortable because that’s how you grow.”
Please visit this link to view the event.