At the end of his November graduation from Cape May, Seaman Jackson Midgett leaned over to a classmate and whispered, “Can you believe we made it?”
Midgett’s acknowledgement that he might have failed would likely have surprised many in the audience. Looking proud and fit in his blue dress uniform, he was as much a Coast Guardsman as anyone in his company.
But Master Chief Petty Officer Aaron Turbett, who sat clapping in a row near the front, understood. Mostly because he’d stepped in to help the young seaman. He did it as part of a new recruiting program the Coast Guard introduced this past July. One of 135 recruiting liaisons around the country, Turbett was supposed to coordinate with his unit to assist in area recruiting.
How he did this – by personally training Midgett to pass the running fitness standard – and how such actions might be replicated around the country, is what has recruiters like Chief Petty Officer Walter Morey excited.
“This is a prime example of how using liaisons can help with caretaking of current recruits and keeping members engaged,” said Morey who started working with Midgett a year ago. “It doesn’t have to be some big, complicated thing. I think we’ll see more of this and it’s going to come back two-fold.”
Here’s the story of how a determined recruit and a seasoned member of the service worked together to build the Coast Guard of the future.
A new recruit?
Morey first met Jackson Midgett when the young man was a high school senior in Camden, North Carolina. A varsity football player, Midgett had already decided college wasn’t for him. Like a lot of people from his hometown, he figured he’d either get a civilian job across the river at Coast Guard base or try his luck at the Naval Shipyard an hour away in Portsmouth, Virginia.
Morey felt the service might be a better option for Midgett and the two worked together to see if he qualified. He did, but after graduation, Midgett opted to take a contracting job with the Coast Guard instead.
Midgett was soon assembling wire sets for H-65 helicopters. At $24 an hour, the money wasn’t bad, and he liked his coworkers. Though he did worry about job security when the contract ended. And as the months passed, he says, “more ‘blue suiters’ started asking me when I was going to go all the way and enlist.” Listening to their stories, he admits, had him thinking about it.
“Then one day it just clicked,” Midgett said. “I woke up and thought, I want to join the Coast Guard. It seems exciting, and the kind of work I’d rather do. So, I got in touch with the recruiter.”
Morey got him a reservation for boot camp in August 2022 and guaranteed electrician’s mate (EM) A-school. Now Midgett just needed to see how close he was to the fitness requirements: running a mile and a half in 12:51 minutes, doing 29 push-ups and 38 sit-ups (each in 60 seconds). As a former football player, Midgett felt confident about the strength work, but knew “running was going to be a problem.” He began working out on his own after work. But when he drove up to Portsmouth for his midsummer physical fitness (PT) tests, he didn’t come close to the running time he needed.
A new plan
Morey cancelled the boot camp reservation. “There was no point,” he said. “If Jackson couldn’t get that time down, he’d be kicked out of boot camp after two weeks. I didn’t want to risk it.”
Midgett was also disappointed, but he understood. “I knew Chief Morey was looking out for my best interests,” he said.
Morey told him boot camp could be rescheduled. He suggested Midgett attend workout sessions held twice a week up at Portsmouth. These helped past recruits get in shape. But this turned out to be a non-starter for Midgett, who worked from 6:45 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. each day in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. He couldn’t be in two places at once and heading there after work would add on an hour to an hour and a half drive each way. “I said respectfully, I want to be there,” Midgett said. “But I have a job and I need to support myself.”
Morey was reluctant to lose a good recruit who was otherwise qualified. So, he reached out to Turbett, a liaison at the Elizabeth City station, to see if he had any ideas.
Turbett has 22 years as an avionics electrical technician under his belt, including stints on the commandant’s flight crew. When Morey contacted him, he was midway through flight lessons and looking towards retirement. But he knew that physical fitness was a big issue today for recruits. He also hates traffic. So, he offered to train Midgett at the Elizabeth City base after the recruit got off work.
A team effort
When Midgett showed up in the yard at Elizabeth City for his first work out, he quickly learned Turbett wasn’t messing around. “This cat brought me on a three-mile run,” Midgett said. “I thought my feet were going to fall off.”
They ran four days a week together for the next two months. Turbett says he tried to mix things up between running and working out on base and in the neighborhood. “We’d be running, and I’d say, ‘okay, stop and do 10 pushups,” Turbett said. “I was trying to show Jackson what boot camp would be like.”
Midgett remembers Turbett yelling at him to keep up. While he tried to keep pace, the master chief would order him to recite the phonetic alphabet or his chain of command. One time, Turbett brought in a diver and after a mile and a half run had them pull a sleigh.
Turbett kept running Midgett through the fitness test. His running times were getting better. In the final weeks, they got to a point where Midgett was consistently hitting 12 minutes. This wasn’t just good enough to start bootcamp, it exceeded the standard to pass. Turbett told him to take a few days off, and he’d see him at graduation.
Midgett got through boot camp, but almost didn't recognize his former training partner when Turbett showed up at Cape May Nov. 18. “I just saw this giant walking towards me decked out in a uniform,” Midgett said. “My first thought was that I was in trouble.”
Then Turbett congratulated him and started joking.
“He told me I should come back to the base,” Midgett said. “He said he needed to run with me again so he could get back in shape.”
That may have to wait. Midgett is currently stationed at a small boat station in St. Clair Shores, Michigan with one of his pals from boot camp. He’ll be there until he gets into A-school where he hopes to follow in Turbett’s footsteps and become an avionics electrician technician.
For more information on the Recruiting Liaison program or to discuss how you might help as a liaison, contact Petty Officer 2nd Class Cornell Richards in the Recruiting IMT at Cornell.C.Richards@uscg.mil or (919)886-1924.
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