Two services spending first week of training together to help build a partnership
New London — In the hallways of the Coast Guard Academy barracks Thursday, future leaders of the Coast Guard and NOAA yelled "teamwork" every time they did a push-up.
This week marked the first time that officer candidates from both the Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration worked together to make it through the first week of training at the academy — the physically, mentally and emotionally stressful indoctrination week, which is meant to bond them as a team.
Cmdr. Zachary Pickett, chief of the Coast Guard Officer Candidate School, and Cmdr. G. Mark Miller, chief of the NOAA Corps Officer Training Center, said the two services work together so often at sea, it only makes sense to train together to further that partnership.
The services responded together to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. They collaborate after natural disasters. Scientific data that NOAA officers collect is used to regulate fisheries, and the Coast Guard enforces those regulations.
NOAA students, who are learning how to manage the agency's fleet of research and survey ships and aircraft, have sailed on the Coast Guard barque Eagle for the past year and a half.
This summer, the entire program moved from the Merchant Marine Academy after the Global Maritime and Transportation School, which supported NOAA at Kings Point, closed, Miller said.
The Coast Guard Academy set aside classroom space and made room in the barracks. NOAA assigned three instructors to the academy.
The current class of 62 officer candidates is two-thirds Coast Guard and one-third NOAA. Most are college graduates in their mid-20s. At the Merchant Marine Academy, the other students were undergraduates, not peers of the NOAA students.
Shanae Coker, who is in the NOAA program, said she has been learning how to salute and march from the Coast Guard officer candidates because the military lifestyle is "way out of the norm."
"We depend on each other. You can't succeed on your own," said Thomas Bardenwerper, a Harvard University graduate in the Coast Guard program. "You need the entire company, and that includes NOAA and the Coast Guard."
Some of the Coast Guard students, including Karl Harris, served previously in the Coast Guard in an enlisted job. Harris said he likes being at the academy with the NOAA students because it's rewarding to use his background to help them.
Harris said he was perplexed though, when one of them asked for a measurement in milliliters instead of ounces. Coker, who was sitting with Harris and Bardenwerper after lunch, said with a laugh, "We're a bunch of science geeks." She has a degree in marine biology from Westmont College.
But, Coker said, all of the candidates have the same goal — to become an officer.
The previous class of officer candidates, which graduated in December, included some NOAA students as a test, but they did not go through the first week with the Coast Guard.
After the indoctrination is over, the candidates will still spend time together, but they will be taught separately. The Coast Guard curriculum focuses more on leadership while NOAA's is based on nautical science.
After they graduate in May, Pickett said they will collaborate more easily because of their shared experience at the academy. The Coast Guard has 6,800 officers while NOAA has 321.
"Before, they were strangers," Miller added. "Now, for the rest of their lives, they're classmates, friends and shipmates."