Author’s note: The Coast Guard Recruiting Command’s podcast, Fair Winds and Following Seas, covers stories, career paths, and programs available to current and future Coast Guard members, both active duty and Reserve. The podcast is hosted by Petty Officer 1st Class Nathaniel Romeo, a recruiter from Cleveland. Below is just a (shortened) excerpt of his interview with Cmdr. Faith Schultz of Port Security Unit 309.
Welcome to the Fair Winds and Following Seas Podcast. I’m your host, Petty Officer 1st Class Nathaniel Romeo. This podcast is for all those interested in having a larger appreciation of the Coast Guard or those that may have an interest in joining. We will be sharing stories, Coast Guard programs and career paths.
Today I have Cmdr. Faith Schultz on, who is currently the executive officer of Coast Guard Port Security Unit 309 located in Port Clinton, Ohio.
I have her here today to speak about her career, what the PSU's purpose and mission is and what it's like to be assigned to one in the Coast Guard.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your current position and your Coast Guard career?
I joined the Coast Guard in 2005. I was a couple of years out of college, looking for something different to do. I found out that the Coast Guard has a huge presence here in Cleveland, Ohio, which is where I live.
I put in a package to be an officer. The first round I was selected as an alternate, and they resubmitted my package and I got picked up. I went through Reserve Officer Candidate Indoctrination. It’s a whirlwind of Coast Guard training where they tell you everything about the Coast Guard, the military, and how to be an officer. For the first few years, and even still today, it’s been a real learning experience.
They assigned me to Marine Safety Unit Cleveland, and I was there for five years. They do all marine safety, pollution, facilities inspections, investigations—I learned a lot about the marine safety side. I went over to the Sector Detroit for a short time, doing many of the same things. I took some active duty [orders] at the Ninth District in Cleveland as an operations planner, then I went over to Base Cleveland as the senior reserve officer. Then, I took another active duty [assignment] as the admin branch chief of the Ninth District, where I learned a lot about the admin side of the Coast Guard.
I heard a lot about the Port Security Units, but I didn’t know a lot about it. Everyone just said, ‘If you go there, you’re gonna deploy.’ I thought, ‘That’s not so bad,’ but I didn’t know what I didn’t know… so I did. I went to Port Security Unit 309 in Port Clinton.
I spent the first nine months just learning about the unit, getting my PSU qualifications signed off and just learning as an officer, doing all-around kind of jobs. Then I got assigned as an engineering officer where you manage the engineering division and the weapons division.
I loved it. I realize I loved the expeditionary community.
Then I got assigned to a Navy Coastal Riverine Squadron, now called the Marine Expeditionary Security Squadron, in Jacksonville, Fla. I was a Coast Guard person embedded in a Navy unit. I was there for two years, and they deployed me with the Navy to Djibouti, Africa, which was a great experience—I learned a lot about the Navy culture.
Fast forward one year, I got reassigned back to PSU 309 as the executive officer, and I was very excited about that. I love the unit, I love the people, I love the mission, and here I am today, 16 years later.
Can you tell us a little bit about what the port security unit’s purpose is in the Coast Guard and how they are different from a typical Reserve unit?
I think most people who join the Coast Guard think of the people who wear the blue [uniforms] and do law enforcement on the water, and [work in] pollution [response], and deploy in hurricanes, and that’s a great part of the Coast Guard. I love it; I still work as a full-time civilian on that side of the house.
As a reservist at PSU, it’s an expeditionary unit, they’re expected to be able to deploy within 96 hours—take the whole crew, take all their assets, their resources, and be able to leave and go wherever you’re called. The special part is you’re very busy; you’re always learning, you’re always training. Your drill weekends are very full. When they do deploy, they deploy as a team, so the camaraderie is very high. A lot of people come in there and they never leave. They stay their entire career, or as long as they can.
People really get excited on drill weekends [when] they’re together again. They’re best friends, they’ve pretty much grown up with each other.
Each unit has six boats, 32-foot [transportable port security boats], we have giant trucks, we have lots of guns, we’ve got all the fun stuff people join the military for. As most people know, the Coast Guard has 11 missions, but our one mission we assist in is the defense readiness mission, so we’re the ones that would go; if someone was going to deploy overseas, it would be us.
We also do some humanitarian assistance; we’ve gone to places like Haiti and other hurricane disasters to assist. We can get called for things like the [Republican National Convention]. We’re very diverse, but our main mission is to deploy.
So you guys typically aren’t going to be doing search and rescue or law enforcement or drug interdiction, at least at your home unit, correct?
We don’t, but actually, last drill weekend we were out doing training on the water on Lake Erie, and we did two search and rescue assists with the local station, so there’s still opportunities to participate in that.
So, one weekend a month, two weeks a year—that’s a typical reservist’s schedule. What does a typical drill weekend look like at a PSU?
It’s a lot different than the rest of the reserve, but it’s great. We have a packed-full schedule. There’s usually people at the range shooting; there’s boats underway [with people] training, working on their qualifications; there’s shoreside security members doing drills and maneuvers; the engineers are fixing things and working on their own qualifications.
The schedule is packed. We don’t just have to do the stuff that every Coast Guard member has to do [like mandated training and medical readiness]—we have to do all the stuff we need to do to get out the door and potentially be overseas in 96 hours. We’re constantly training.
But you leave drill weekend with a sense of satisfaction that you didn’t just sit around all day, you were working all day and you have the qualifications to show for it. Every single day is rewarding.
What time do members show up and leave?
We usually start at 7:30. Every division will have a muster and discuss the plan for the day. Depending on operations, if we need to get some night boat hours, they may start little later because they’re going to end at midnight. A typical day is 7:30 a.m. to maybe 5 p.m.
Fridays, some people may do a full day, or they may do a half day and come in at noon. The weekends are usually full days, but we’re flexible because we have a lot more things to cram in.
Everyone goes to an A-school, but other than that, what other training do PSU members get when they arrive at the unit?
As soon you get here, we’ll already know your career path—you’ll either be assigned to the shoreside division or the waterside division, to engineering, to weapons, to admin or supply—wherever you were selected to go. You’ll already start training in that career path.
You’ll get leadership training from your chiefs, you’ll do the general mandated training that we have to do as Coasties, and you’ll start getting expeditionary training right away. Coast Guard port security unit people wear a pin—the port security unit insignia. As soon as you get to a PSU, you’ll get to get signed off. Once that’s complete, you finally get to wear that pin. Only 1% of the Coast Guard has ever worn it. So getting that pin and starting to learn those competencies that are associated with it right away, it’s a cool thing that not a lot of people get to do.
How many PSUs are there throughout the country?
There are currently eight. There’s [301 in Cape Cod, Mass.]; 305 out of Fort Eustis, Va.; there’s 307 out of Clearwater, Fla; there’s PSU 308 out of Kiln, Miss; there’s 309 [out of Port Clinton, Ohio]; there’s PSU 311 out of Long Beach, Calif.; there’s PSU 312 out of San Francisco, and there’s PSU 313 out of Everett, Wash.
Cmdr. Schultz addresses more questions about life as a PSU member, including:
What do I do when I deploy with a PSU
How long is a typical deployment?
What does a typical day look like for a PSU member in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba?
What would you tell people who may want to join a Coast Guard PSU?
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