Thursday, July 16, 2015

Midshipman Train On Board Coast Guard Tall Ship

PA1 Pam Boehland, U.S. Coast Guard

In a sea of solid blue Coast Guard operational uniforms, the 13 Navy midshipmen in their digital camouflage and eight-pointed covers stand out. The midshipmen are going into their second or youngster year at the U.S. Naval Academy and are sailing aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Barque Eagle, a tall ship that has been training future officers since 1946.

Every summer, Eagle and its crew of about 50 officers and enlisted members set sail to train cadets from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. This year, more than 240 rising sophomores and seniors experienced hands-on training in damage control and engineering and were taught celestial navigation, line handling and seamanship.

Photo courtesy of Coast Guard Barque Eagle

Additionally, the hard work and physical power it takes to operate the tall ship builds camaraderie and develops leaders. Despite the different uniforms and different academies, the Navy midshipmen are learning all the same skills as their Coast Guard counterparts while they train to be sea-going officers for the United States military.

This is the fifth summer that midshipmen have sailed with Eagle, and the Navy plans to do so again next year.

“I love it,” said Midshipman 3rd Class Joseph Brugger, a 19-year-old Pittsburgh native, who seized on the opportunity to sail on Eagle as part of his summer professional development. He says he has always dreamed of going to the Naval Academy but has enjoyed his time on Eagle.

“I love being on the water, being out to sea, setting sails, and the heaving and hoeing to get the sails in place,” he said.

He is gaining sea stories along with experience. He recalled a time when the alarm for emergency sail stations rang out early one Sunday morning. The entire crew was roused from their racks, and Brugger climbed the rigging to help furl the sails before the 30-knot winds could rip them to pieces.

Photo courtesy of Coast Guard Barque Eagle

“With all of the elements rolling in, it was pretty awesome,” he said. “The boat was heeled over, and I looked over my shoulder thinking, ‘Wow, if I wasn’t strapped in, I would fall right into the water.’”

For most cadets, sailing aboard Eagle is very mentally and physically demanding. The cadets have to balance their time and obtain qualifications to prepare them for the fleet. They spend hours training, standing lookout watch on the forecastle and navigating on the exposed bridge. They act as helmsmen on the three-wheeled large wooden helms, manage cleanup duties, and serve in the galley as mess cooks, cleaning and prepping meals for the more than 200 people.

Photo courtesy of Coast Guard Barque Eagle

“I don’t want to be on my hands and knees scrubbing the mess deck floor. I will be very happy if I never have to do that again,” said Brugger of mess cooking.

However, he recognizes that it is all a part of the training and hopes it makes him a better officer.

“I have learned so much so fast,” said Midshipman 3rd Class Theresa Erbach, from Huntsville, Ala. She said she did not know much about the Coast Guard or sailing before she came to Eagle. However, for her, this experience is about building lifelong friendships as well as training.

“It’s been really great,” she said. “My whole berthing area had a bonding experience last night when we were sharing stories about our childhood.”

This partnership between the Navy and Coast Guard is a small example of a greater relationship that exists between these two naval services. During times of war, the Navy can incorporate the Coast Guard, and during peace, the two services often work together to carry out shared missions. The firefighting and flooding training the midshipmen received will transfer over to their Navy careers, and the networking opportunities will expand their horizons.

“Any Coast Guard officer who has gone through the academy, if I ever meet them and I didn’t know them, we could talk about the Eagle,” said Brugger. “It is something that is going to stick with me for the rest of my life.”

Reciprocally, Coast Guard cadets participate in Navy training programs.

“We see the same exchange of training in USNA's summer Yard Patrol Craft program, where this year we had one USCGA cadet participating. As long as there is the ability to do so, we want to take the opportunity to foster this relationship in our future leaders,” said Lt. Timothy Bonner, training officer at the USNA.

The Eagle is a training ship dedicated to turning aspiring officers into strong leaders. The physical and mental demands of the tall ship forge strong bonds between the sailors, creating lifelong shipmates, no matter the service.

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