Always Ready, Always Training

Damage control drill

BALTIMORE - Seaman Jorge Lopez, BM2 Michael Manalo and BM1Michael Maiocco, all boatcrew members from Station Washington, D.C., use rope, wedges and hammers to patch a hole on a damage control simulator during the Boat Crew Rodeo held in Washington, D.C., Oct. 13, 2010. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert Brazzell.

The Coast Guard’s motto, Semper Paratus, means Always Ready. To be always ready means to be always training. Not just with our noses in the books, but with our feet on the ground – executing drills, exercises and real scenarios to test our ability and readiness to respond to everything from a search and rescue case to a homeland security threat.

This past week, six units across Maryland and Washington, D.C., competed in Sector Baltimore’s Boat Crew Rodeo. Held at Station Washington, D.C., teams tested their professional knowledge, seamanship skills, physical readiness, speed and ability to manage pressure.

The Captain's Cup

BALTIMORE - The Captain's Cup for the Sector Baltimore Boat Crew Rodeo held in Washington, D.C., Oct. 13, 2010. Aids to Navigation Team Baltimore was awarded the cup after winning a tiebreaker between Coast Guard Station Curtis Bay and themselves. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Brandyn Hill.

ANT Baltimore, Station Annapolis, Station Curtis Bay, Station Oxford, Station St. Inigoes, and Station Washington, D.C., went head to head, putting their abilities to the test to see who would come out on top and earn the prized Captain’s Cup.

“The purpose of the event is to promote camaraderie, team building and boatcrew professionalism,” said LCDR Michael DaPonte, one of the facilitators for the event from Sector Baltimore. “Each exercise reinforces some practical aspect of boatcrew member duties.”

Teams competed in eight challenges including a “Jeopardy” style knowledge test; a 100-yard rescue swim; a 100-yard buoy chain pull competition; damage control of a simulated boat taking on water; a heaving line throw competition; knot typing test; a test of communication and navigation in a blind canoe race; and a first aid drill.

Despite stiff and relentless competition, Aids to Navigation Team (ANT) Baltimore’s team including EM1 Justin Blais, BM3 Alex Donahue, FN Derek Ross and FN Justin Shaw came out on top.

While each activity tested the member’s skills, speed and endurance, one event stood out as particularly memorable.

Blind Canoe Race

BALTIMORE - Fireman Justin Shaw guides BM3 Derek Ross, both boatcrew members at ANT Baltimore, during a blind canoe race held at the Sector Baltimore Boat Crew Rodeo in Washington, D.C., Oct. 13, 2010. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Brandyn Hill.

“I found the canoe race to be most comical, watching the boat zigzagging around,” said Blais. “Our boat actually ran into a break wall, knocking the blind paddler off his seat into the canoe. They straightened themselves up and finished the race, but it was rather amusing.”

“I was trying to listen to my navigator, but he was laughing and I was laughing,” said Ross when recalling the blind canoe race. “It felt like we were just doing a big ‘S’ in the water. I didn’t know which way I was going and the next thing I know I ran into the break wall.”

Blindly trying to steer and propel a canoe through a course is true test of communication and navigation between teammates, but for DaPonte, it wasn’t so much about making memories but about providing members with opportunities they may have never experienced before.

“More than any other event, the mass casualty first aid exercise was purposely designed to really challenge them and put them in a situation outside of their normal training and qualification processes,” said DaPonte.

During the triage drill, the four-man teams were confronted with five victims (played by volunteer Coast Guard Auxiliary members). The members had to talk to the patients and make quick decisions on who to treat first. Event evaluators were instructed to score the teams by how well they communicated and how smoothly they executed the drill.

“For many of the crewmembers, this was the first time they have ever had to play the role of rendering aid to a person,” said DaPonte. “That is something I want the crews to bring back to their units and use the experience to train others.”

Activities like the Boat Crew Rodeo are instrumental in the performance of Coast Guard missions. As a small service of only about 42,000 members, the Coast Guard has a big job with a lot of responsibility.

“The way we work together at the rodeo is how we will work together on the next search and rescue case,” said Chief Petty Officer Jeffrey Charlot, the Boat Crew Rodeo coordinator.

To watch a video of the units participating in the Boat Crew Rodeo, click here.

Chain pull competition

BALTIMORE – BM2 Michael Brindle and BM3 Brandon Berry, both boatcrew members from Station Annapolis, Md., pull a chain during a race at the Boat Crew Rodeo held in Washington, D.C., Oct. 13, 2010. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Brandyn Hill.

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