‘What does the Coast Guard mean to you?’

Cadets and crew gather together with local volunteers for a picture after painting the exterior walls of an elementary school in Aruba. U. S. Coast Guard photo.

Cadets and crew gather together with local volunteers for a picture after painting the exterior walls of an elementary school in Aruba. U. S. Coast Guard photo.

Written by Cadet 1st Class Austin Fullmer

Aboard the Barque Eagle, life is not easy for anyone – crew or cadet. Life aboard makes you tired, wet, hot (or cold) and often very sweaty. For Coast Guard Academy Cadet 1st Class Austin Fullmer, this summer has also been one of the greatest learning experiences of his life.

Every summer, Eagle embarks both first and third class cadets for a period of five weeks at a time. In those short five weeks, there is almost too much to be done: dozens of watches to stand; hundreds of sign-offs to complete; thousands of questions to answer from visiting tourists. Many cadets get normal questions, such as “What is that brown fuzzy stuff up in the rigging?” – referring to the baggy wrinkle up on the lines that protects the sails from chafing.

But this summer, Fullmer got a much more intriguing question: “What does the Coast Guard mean to you?”

“That is a deep question,” said Fullmer. “There are about as many answers to [this question] as there are members in our service; however, I honestly think there is a lot of common ground in every one of the answers.”

Cadets Lindsay Taylor (front) and Monica Luebke (back) weed the garden at the boy’s home in San Juan, Puerto Rico. U. S. Coast Guard photo.

Cadets Lindsay Taylor (front) and Monica Luebke (back) weed the garden at the boy’s home in San Juan, Puerto Rico. U. S. Coast Guard photo.

Fullmer saw this common ground on Eagle. He found that when Eagle moored in a new port, not everyone departed on liberty. Often, 30 to 40 cadets and crewmembers took a bus to a local community service project and served as ambassadors of the Coast Guard. As Coast Guard men and women, many love to serve.

“This is the reason why I joined our seagoing service,” said Fullmer. “Service to others is the value that unites all members of the Coast Guard. It is a force for good that every member of the Coast Guard embodies. It is the humanitarian mission that attracts the long waiting lists of future Coasties applying for selection to basic training at Cape May and the Academy. It is part of who we are. As cadets, we’re no different. When you serve, you’re helping others, but in the end the person who truly grows in character is you.”

The cadets and crew saw this first hand when they pulled into San Juan, Puerto Rico, in late May. The very next day, a team of 35 people from Eagle were volunteering at the Casa de Niños Manuel Fernández Juncos – an orphanage that takes in young men and boys who have no home.

Volunteers from the visiting sailing ship painted, power washed and weeded the grounds of the home.

“I wanted to help out everywhere we could so that the boys and young men could focus on growing up and being successful,” said Cadet 1st Class Lindsay Taylor.

That’s exactly the attitude that Eagle and the academy are trying to inspire within the Corps of Cadets.

Taylor and the other senior cadets are trying to do more than just teach their divisions of six or seven junior cadets how to plot star fixes and haul on lines. They are trying to inspire those they support and lead.

“For cadets, it is very easy to feel homesick and miss your family, both at the academy and on Eagle,” said Cadet 3rd Class Clara Dahill-Baue. “I was really missing my family so I decided to help children who don’t have a family so that I could be grateful for even having a family in the first place.”

Eagle got underway after just 72 hours in Puerto Rico, but the effect that the cadets and crewmembers had on that boy’s home and the young men that they met will last well into the future.

Petty Officer First Class Randal Torske (front) and Cadet Sara Herrera paint over the dark blue of the St. Michael’s School walls in Aruba. U. S. Coast Guard photo.

Petty Officer First Class Randal Torske (front) and Cadet Sara Herrera paint over the dark blue of the St. Michael’s School walls in Aruba. U. S. Coast Guard photo.

Four days later, Eagle pulled into Aruba and the attitude was no different. Cadets and crew members boarded two buses heading the opposite direction from the hotels, resorts and beaches, and instead ended up at the St. Michael School – a small elementary school.Armed with gallons of paint and brushes, the team repainted the entire school in the pastel colors traditional of the Caribbean: pinks, blues, purples and yellows. The painting was finished by midafternoon – a task that would have taken the small faculty more than a week.

“It was inspiring to see over 30 people from all over the United States work together for the future of a country with little or no personal gain for themselves – just because it makes the world a better place,” said Cadet 1st Class James White.

And he’s right. Members of the Coast Guard work to make the world a better place.
Regardless of where the winds and seas take the Barque Eagle, the attitudes of service on board bring credit to the Coast Guard and America. In the last foreign port call of this five-week phase, the cadets and crew were at it again.

This time, the setting was a primary school in Cozumel, Mexico. Cadets were divided into three groups, led by members of the crew, and took turns between painting the outer and inner walls of the building and playing soccer and basketball with the school children.

One of these team leaders, Petty Officer 1st Class Randal Torske, contemplated his years on Eagle.

“While serving on America’s Tall Ship for my last summer, it has been my privilege to represent a great service alongside our future leaders,” he said. “The chance to build positive international relationships is the part that I will miss the most when I depart at the end of this summer.”

And soon, Torske will move on to his new unit. Like his shipmates, he will continue to make a difference in his community. Whether it’s saving those who are adrift at sea, protecting our marine resources or sailing aboard Eagle, the Coast Guard is there to serve.

“So you see, the answer is actually a lot less complicated than you might think,” said Fullmer. “For me, and for many others, the Coast Guard means service.”

Cadets Austin Fullmer, Mary Hazen, Sara Herrera and Katherine Clark played soccer and basketball with the school children during their recess period. U. S. Coast Guard photo.

Cadets Austin Fullmer, Mary Hazen, Sara Herrera and Katherine Clark played soccer and basketball with the school children during their recess period. U. S. Coast Guard photo.

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