Billet night sets the stage for future Coast Guard officers

New London — The Coast Guard seized a record amount of cocaine last year. As departing Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft detailed in his last State of the Coast Guard address, the service, with its partners, seized 455,000 pounds worth $7.2 billion, breaking the U.S. record for most cocaine seized in a single year.

Some local cadets will be at the forefront of the Coast Guard's efforts to combat drug trafficking on the high seas. Jacklyn Kokomoor of Noank, a member of the academy's swim team, learned during billet night Thursday, when graduating cadets get their first assignments, that she is headed to Alameda, Calif., to serve on the national security cutter Waesche. During its last deployment in the Asia Pacific, the Waesche had offloaded 122,000 pounds of cocaine estimated at $1.84 billion.

"I wanted to defend the country but in a hometown type of way," Kokomoor said Thursday night after receiving her assignment.

She spent some time last summer on the Waesche, one of the newest boats in the Coast Guard's fleet, which includes ships that are almost 70 years old. A civil engineering major, Kokomoor said she thinks the big boats are best because a lot of the smaller boats don't have officer engineering positions.

Jacob Sorensen of Oakdale, whose dad served in the Coast Guard, will serve on the Benjamin Dailey, a fast response cutter in Pascagoula, Miss., which performs missions such as drug and migrant interdiction.

They were among the members of the academy's Class of 2018, which found out Thursday night in an Oscar-style reveal what their first assignments as Coast Guard officers will be. The majority of the cadets will go on to serve as deck watch officers, learning how to drive and maneuver Coast Guard ships.

A variety of factors, including class rank, are weighed by Coast Guard officials in deciding where to assign cadets. Considerations are given to requests to co-locate and to cadets who are planning to get married.

The cadets gave one another high-fives, back slaps and hugs as they made their way to the podium at Leamy Hall to get their billet, posing for pictures before returning to their seats, where they were congratulated by their classmates. Some pumped their fists in the air upon opening up their sleek blue folders and finding out their assignments. Others let out gasps. A male cadet flapped his arms upon learning he will be serving on the barque Eagle, which serves as a training vessel for cadets.

Among those congratulating the cadets was Vice Adm. Karl Schultz, who, it was announced Thursday afternoon, was nominated by President Donald Trump to lead the Coast Guard. Schultz, a native of East Hartford and a 1983 academy graduate, is currently the commander of the Coast Guard's Atlantic Area.

Some of the cadets will serve on cutters in Florida that responded to hurricanes Irma and Maria, and carried thousands of pounds in relief aid to Puerto Rico. Two will report to Coast Guard Cyber Command in Washington, D.C., a new billet as of last year. A group of cadets will serve on the Coast Guard cutter that was the first military asset to respond following the 9/11 attacks.

The seven international cadets received a standing ovation when their billets were called. They will serve in the sea-going services of their home countries of Gabon, Mexico, the Bahamas, Thailand, Honduras and Panama.

The assignments of three NCAA athletes at the academy, who were unable to attend the billet night ceremony because they were competing in their respective sports, were announced last.

In many cases, cadets were greeted by the commanding officer or leadership of the cutter they'd been assigned to. The leadership of one boat based in Honolulu, Hawaii, gave out leis to the cadets as they came off the stage. Those that received assignments to flight school in Pensacola, Fla., were greeted by Capt. Joe Kimball, the chief of aviation forces for the Coast Guard, and two Coast Guard pilots based in Cape Cod, all dressed in sage green flight suits and leather aviator jackets, who passed out aviator sunglasses to the cadets. Other commanding officers handed out baseball caps with the name of the cutter on them.

Of the nine cadets in the Class of 2018 from Connecticut, three are from the southeastern part of the state, including Daria McKenna of Mystic, whose parents are both academy graduates. She will be a deck watch officer aboard the cutter Willow, a buoy tender based in Charleston, S.C., her first choice.

"It's the biggest night, bigger than graduation, because you figure out where you're going to go, not for the rest of your life, but it starts the whole next chapter for you," she said.


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