Coast Guard cadets to spend summer in Africa

Four rising seniors at the Coast Guard Academy will spend most of their summer on the Northwest coast of Africa carrying out community relations work as part of a larger NATO mission.

The cadets - Kirsten Carson, Jillian Stuckey, Maximillian McCall and George Mcburney – will be on board the USNS Carson City, currently operated by the Military Sealift Command, whose primary mission is to provide rapid transport of military equipment and personnel in theater. They will be among a small group of Coast Guard personnel whose mission is to conduct law enforcement training to developing Coast Guards in the region.

The cadets had already been assigned to various Coast Guard units as part of their summer training when the opportunity came up to serve aboard the Carson City and go to Africa. They had to apply for the assignment and went through a rigorous selection process

McCall, 21, of Wenonah, N.J., and Mcburney, 21, of Wimberly, Texas, were initially going to spend their summer on a 210-foot Coast Guard cutter based in St. Petersburg, Fla. – something they'll likely get to experience after graduating from the academy, McCall said,

"An opportunity like this never really comes along," he said of the Africa trip.

The academy encourages cadets to approach their summer assignments like a sponge.

"All of us have that mindset going in, we just want to soak up as much as we can from the civilian and African cultures," McCall said.

What drew all the cadets to the assignment was the opportunity to go somewhere they'd never been and interact with a diverse group of people including civilian mariners, Portuguese, French and Spanish officers who will be aboard the ship, and residents of Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Cabo Verde, the countries they'll be visiting during the summer.

"People can find things they don't know intimidating. I want people from other countries to get to know us and the United States," Mcburney said. ".... the more I can learn from them, and the more they can learn from me, can increase relations and cohesion."

The cadets will be performing regular duties aboard the ship such as standing watch, under the direction of the civilian captain and his staff, in addition to their community relations work. They will also be able to observe, and hopefully take part, in the law enforcement training and medical mission that will be going on.

Given the broad nature of their mission, the cadets must be proactive about how they go about interacting and working with those in the various African countries they are visiting. That's why the most important criteria in the selection process was self-motivation, a recurring theme for all of them, said Lt. Eric Back, who handles the cadets summer training assignments.

"It's really important that when we're working with these other nations, we are intentional about what we're doing and we're taking into account the cultures of the people were working with," said Carson, 21, of Ashland, Ky.

She said she was impressed that the academy was giving cadets the opportunity to engage on that level.

The cadets had to go through various Department of Defense trainings before they left, including the proper protocol if they encounter a threat and ways to keep themselves safe. They said they'd read up on the countries they'll be visiting. Before they left, they went out and bought Permethrin, an insect repellent that they will wash their clothes in.

Stuckey, 21, of  Richmond, Va., who wants to pursue international relations while in the Coast Guard, said the trip will be "perfect practice" for what she ultimately wants to do in her career.

"This opportunity is very slim so when it comes up, you have to grab it," she said.

j.bergman@theday.com

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