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A Taste of Life at Sea

Pulling on a rope

Written by Petty Officer 3rd Class Cory J. Mendenhall.

Coast Guard Cutter Eagle is no stranger to schooling men and women in seamanship, leadership and the nautical sciences. Since joining the Coast Guard fleet in 1946, thousands of aspiring mariners have set foot on her teak decks to be endowed with an education only the sea and a set of sails can provide.

Traditionally, Eagle serves as a training platform for future officers of the Coast Guard. However, on a recent sail Eagle received a group unique to this training environment: forty-eight enlisted students training to become boatswain’s mates.

Boatswain’s mates training for their rate – also known as A-school – normally does not include any time underway on a Coast Guard cutter. However, this spring 48 A-school students set sail from Charleston, S.C., alongside officer candidates from both Coast Guard Officer Candidate School and National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Basic Officer Training.

“To our recollection, this is the first time we have combined BM A-school with OCS training on Eagle,” said Capt. Wes Pulver, Eagle’s commanding officer. “The officer candidates were able to learn the ropes during their first week, and then apply their knowledge and lead the BM A-school students through week two. With this blending of two unique groups of trainees, we have given the officer candidates the opportunity to exercise hands-on leadership while exposing the A-school students to a taste of life at sea which fit in superbly with their A-school curriculum. These are the future officer and enlisted leaders of the Coast Guard, and it’s been EAGLE’s absolute pleasure to have participated in their development.”

Although the two trainings programs have different objectives and goals, they were able to complement each other aboard Eagle. Grouping the A-school students into divisions led by officer candidates permitted the future officers to serve as mentors and leaders while providing a venue at sea where the A-school students could put their hands on a line under tension and apply some of what they have been learning in the classroom.

For example, during the second week, officer candidates stood watch on the bridge as conning officers, shipping officers and quartermasters of the watch while the A-school students stood helm and lookout and worked towards their qualifications.

“After two months of instruction at OCS, I found it really rewarding to offer some of my instruction to the BM A-school students,” said officer candidate Brian Williams. “It’s a good reminder of why I seek an officer’s commission.”

Some of the BM A-school students had already been out in the fleet assigned to various cutters as non-rates, but for others, this was their first taste of life at sea. Even for those who had been on cutters before, Eagle was a unique experience; from the deck seamanship and damage control classes, to the experience of handling hundreds of lines and harnessing the wind with Eagle’s 23 sails. The enlisted students wasted no time and dove right in. More than half of the boatswain’s mate trainees had earned their helm and lookout qualifications at the conclusion of their week aboard.

“On the first day, BM A-school students were so eager to be on the ship, they volunteered to help haul lines even though they weren’t in our watch section,” said NOAA officer candidate Laura Dwyer.

No one was entirely sure how these two groups would manage training together, but from day one they blended seamlessly. “The OCs have been very receptive,” said Seaman Richard Gerard, a BM A-school student. “They’ve been very humble. This is a place where those two worlds – officer and enlisted – can be merged together. We’re all just people training together.”

After mooring at Eagle’s homeport of New London, Conn., each student, A-school trainee and officer candidate alike, parted ways to finish out their training programs. Once graduated, they will continue on to cutters, stations and sectors across the nation. They spent a relatively short time aboard Eagle, but the experience and the education will last a life time.

If there is one lesson to be learned from Eagle, it is that it takes true teamwork and leadership to raise a sail and move a tall ship forward. Like most noble endeavors in life, no one person can succeed alone. Whether officer or enlisted, everyone disembarks this ship with that same principle firmly anchored in their minds.