Graduating cadets' leadership led to changes big and small

Earlier this year, when multiple cadets at the Coast Guard Academy engaged in self-harming behavior in the span of a month, first-class cadets Anita Green, Colin Fenster and Kelli Franza knew they wanted to do something.

They had a general idea of how they wanted to respond, and many of their peers approached them with their own suggestions. With the support of senior leadership at the academy, they organized a day for cadets to learn about support services available to them, and facilitated support groups and discussions around mental health.

"We were able to move forward with something the corps (of cadets) needed," said Franza.

Green, Fenster and Franza, in their roles as regimental commander, executive officer and chief of staff, respectively, lead the corps of cadets with assistance from a regimental staff. Cadets must apply to be in these leadership roles, which are open only to seniors, and rotate every semester.

Green, a self-proclaimed introvert, said she thought that being regimental commander, the highest ranking cadet, would provide "good leadership experience to fall back" on when she's a new junior officer in the fleet.

"You get that as a first-class cadet, but not on such a large scale," Green said of leading a population of nearly 1,000 students.

After graduating Wednesday, Green will serve as a student engineer on the Coast Guard cutter Decisive, based in Pensacola, Fla., which played a significant role in the response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill, and conducts drug and migrant interdiction, among other missions. Green has aspirations to pursue aeronautical engineering later in her career.

As No. 2 in charge, Fenster hosted open forums throughout the semester for cadets to talk about "what's going wrong or right."

"The three of us have the leverage to bring that up to senior leadership, and can have a frank discussion and say, 'I think we should move forward with this idea because this is really going to help improve how things run here,'" said Fenster.

He will be serving as a deck watch officer on the Coast Guard's polar icebreaker Healy, based in Seattle, Wash., used primarily for supporting scientific research in the Arctic.

Sometimes the changes they've helped to enact seemed small, such as instituting buffet-style breakfasts two days a week as opposed to one. But they had a noticeable impact on the quality of life for cadets, who must adhere to a regimented schedule over which they have little control.

"It may not be huge, earthshattering, groundbreaking things. The little things we can do on a day-to-day basis, those things add up," Fenster said.

Some seniors might not want to take on a leadership role during their last semester of college.

"But ultimately we have the most experience being here, and we do have a voice. We do have input," Franza said.

"I wanted to be a voice for all the people I've interacted with," she said.

As chief of staff, Franza managed a staff of six, who helped organize many of the events on campus and made sure they ran smoothly. Franza will report to Alameda, Calif., after graduation to serve on the Coast Guard cutter Bertholf as student engineer.

The Bertholf deployed to the Asia-Pacific region in January, as part of an expansion of Coast Guard operations in the region. The Bertholf can carry out a number of missions such as counter-terrorism activities and search and rescue, among others.

The Class of 2019 graduates from the academy Wednesday. National Security Adviser John Bolton is the scheduled keynote speaker.

j.bergman@theday.com

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