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cadet blogs

Future Shock

(Choosing the Coast Guard Academy, Class of 2012) Permanent link
Mark Zanowicz Hello readers! Now that we’re well into November up here in Connecticut, traveling home for Thanksgiving has started to seem more and more appealing. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned enough before in previous entries, I’m hardly a fan of mid-semester projects or the cooling temperatures that accompany fall’s transition into winter here in New London. A few days at home sounds like an outstanding relief.

This year is especially taxing. With Billet Night happening in March, for us seniors these next few weeks are our last chance to work hard and raise our class ranks enough to be competitive for our “dream billet.” As a result, for the most part these past few weeks have mostly just consisted of working hard in class and trying to avoid doing anything silly enough on liberty that would warrant a disenrollment – and with 398 pages of Cadet Regulations to be followed, that can actually be quite challenging at times.

So, due to the bleakness of life here at the Academy at the moment, I would like to instead focus this entry on what prospective cadets are probably going through right now. I remember my senior year of high school; November represented a big push for getting college applications completed. Some of you may have already experienced the elation of getting your first acceptance letter to a college. Others may still be working away at applications. To help you out, here’s a few pointers I threw together for finishing your USCGA application and preparing for your first year here.

More about Mark.

Caught in the Middle

(Overcoming Challenges, Class of 2012) Permanent link
Mark Zanowicz Greetings everyone. Since my last entry, it feels like I’ve been swarmed by a million different military and academic obligations. Although that’s what I’ve come to expect from the Academy, the intensity is definitely picking up as the school year rolls forward. I’ve always considered the in-between months of the fall semester to be the dreariest – whereas in August and September you’re still fresh from summer leave and in December you’re still drifting through the post-Thanksgiving bliss, October and November represent a bleak period of progressively chillier weather, midterm exams, and dull repetitive days. It’s the time when schedules become routine, when the novelty of a new school year has worn off, and the joyful facial expressions of a Corps fresh from another summer have changed into the furrowed brows of students deep in concentration. It’s times like these that make you look forward to upcoming events all the more.

Fortunately, there are several things on the horizon that brighten things up a bit. At the end of the month, for example, I will be traveling down to Washington, D.C. to run the 2011 Marine Corps Marathon in conjunction with the Academy’s Running Club. Oddly enough, although I ran the Marathon last year as well, I’m actually finding myself more apprehensive this year – probably because I know how much pain to expect this time around.

For something a bit closer on the radar, this weekend is Parent’s Weekend here at the Academy. For this event, parents have the chance to come to the Academy and sit in on classes, tour Chase Hall, and spend a good bit of liberty with their cadet. As you might imagine, Parent’s Weekend is pretty fun – at least for the first couple years. For myself, the only reason I’m looking forward to Parent’s Weekend this year is because it offers me another chance to travel home. After three consecutive Parent’s Weekend’s, I think even my mom and dad are starting to get a little sick of this place.

Finally, of course, Halloween is also approaching. Here at the Academy, we take Halloween pretty seriously. In the two weeks before the holiday, we’re allowed to begin adorning our rooms with creepy décor. On the night itself, we all dress in costumes and have a Halloween themed dinner in the wardroom, before heading over to far side of campus to Trick-or-Treat at the Admiral’s house and the houses of the other members of the Academy Command Staff.

More about Mark.

One More Time Around…

(The Cadet Experience, Class of 2012) Permanent link
Mark Zanowicz Greetings all! I apologize that it’s been so long since my last entry, but in the past few months I’ve been busy with summer training, enjoying a few weeks of leave, and reintegrating myself back into the Academy lifestyle for my final year at USCGA. Now that we’re a couple weeks into the fall semester and things have settled down a bit, allow me to catch you up on some of the experiences I’ve had in the past few months.

My summer got off to a pretty slow start. I served here at the Academy as Echo Summer Executive Officer (XO) from the beginning of May until mid-June. While the title may sound flashy, it consisted mainly of making sure the barracks weren’t messy (or, if you prefer, “assessing the material condition of Chase Hall”), organizing transportation for the limited number of cadets still on base, and standing duty. I can’t say it was a very exciting experience. However, I did get the chance to work directly with my Company Officer and Chief on trainings and logistics matters, which is a professional experience many of my classmates did not have this summer. Having a car on base and a good amount of liberty was not bad, either.

After my reign as XO, I waved a hearty goodbye to New London in mid-June and traveled about as far away as possible within the continental U.S. For the next five weeks, I spent my time in Bellingham, Washington on the 87’ patrol boat USCG Sea Lion. Bellingham is a small town tucked in the very top corner of the West Coast, about 20 miles south of the Canadian border. Unlike the previous part of my summer, my time on the Sea Lion was much more eventful. I had the opportunity to go on several patrols, observe multiple boardings, participate in anchoring and mooring evolutions with the crew, learn about the mechanical systems aboard the cutter (including the hydraulics and fire main system), attend fisheries trainings, and even achieve a Crew Member of the Watch qualification. Everyone on board was very welcoming and helpful. Although the Sea Lion had an all-enlisted crew (often 87s will have a LTJG as CO), I still felt as though the experience was highly beneficial to my professional development as an officer. I spent a lot of time on the bridge, working the radar and updating logs, as well as practicing contact avoidance while learning from the qualified members of the crew. All in all, my only gripe about my time on the Sea Lion was that I didn’t get to stay there long enough.

I can’t say I was too upset to depart, however, because after I left the Sea Lion I had three weeks of leave to do whatever I wanted. During leave, I traveled to Honduras for a week on a volunteer trip with my friend and fellow cadet blogger 1/c George Glock, and then spent the rest of the time catching up with friends in Maryland and visiting my sister down in Florida.

The only bad part of leave, as usual, was coming back to the Academy afterward. However, now that I’ve been back several weeks I’ve realized it really does get better every year. Being a 1/c especially is very nice. In addition to having all the 2/c privileges (being able to wear civilian clothes on liberty and shorts every weekend), we also have Thursday night liberty and are allowed to keep cars on base. It’s also a little better knowing this is the last time I’ll be coming back here after the summer. Just one more time around, I keep telling myself. It’s only eight short months until I can finally leave here and see what the real Coast Guard is all about. And frankly, while things are good right now, I also feel like it can’t come soon enough.

More about Mark.

Everything I Wish I’d Been Told

(Choosing the Coast Guard Academy, Class of 2012) Permanent link
Mark Zanowicz Greetings once again! It’s nearing the end of March up here in New London, but you wouldn’t guess that by looking outside. Just earlier this week, I awoke to see the roof of the clinic outside my window dusted with a fluffy inch or two of snowfall. This comes right after the sub-30° temperatures which have been scourging our campus for the past week. I’m now starting to notice that there is a direct relationship between the chilliness of Connecticut temperatures and how far south I want to be on my first billet. Florida, for example, is sounding pretty good right about now.

While we’re all pretty cold up here, the change in climate is hitting me particularly hard. Two weeks ago I spent a week in sunny Fort Benning, Georgia, competing in the NRA Pistol National Championships. It was a fun time with the team and a great way to end the season. The week before that was spring break, where I traveled to Honduras with several of my classmates on a volunteer trip in conjunction with an organization called Students Helping Honduras. Though it was my first service trip, I’m hoping it won’t be the last. I speak for the whole group when I say we all had a truly memorable experience.

After so much traveling, it does feel a little good to get back to the Academy and jump back into the swing of things. This week our liaison with Admissions requested that we write a blog entry about what life was like in the months before we came to the Academy. I’d actually been reflecting a bit on this even before we were asked to write about it.

Every time I think of the spring before I reported to the Academy, I can’t help but think of author Tim O’Brien, who, after being drafted into Vietnam, claimed he passed the time before shipping out simply “playing golf and worrying.” When it comes to golf I usually find myself hitting patches of dirt farther than the ball itself; however, I did work at a country club in high school and spent a lot of time at a golf course, cleaning golf carts and picking up driving range balls in an enormous steel behemoth we simply called “The Picker.” Mostly, though, I just passed the time doing the same thing as Tim O’Brien: worrying.

More about Mark.

New Horizons

(The Cadet Experience, Class of 2012) Permanent link
Mark Zanowicz It’s late January at the Academy, which means the first couple weeks of classes have passed and the academic semester is just starting to lock into its groove. Though I just returned from winter leave earlier this month, I can already tell this is going to be one of my most demanding semesters at the Academy.

Late last year, I received my assignment as Echo Company’s Executive Officer (XO) for this summer. Essentially, this means that during the first several weeks of the summer, I will be responsible for carrying out the company’s duties and responsibilities while the upcoming 2/c are undergoing their training. This also means there will be a lot of work this semester to prepare for the summer, which includes dealing with the planning, logistics, and room assignments. While it’s definitely a bit of a workload, I’ve heard from 1/c cadets who filled similar positions last year that it is a pretty rewarding experience.

In addition, this semester promises to be academically challenging, as well. Those in the MES major have never had the easiest schedule, and this year in particular there seems to be a glaring lack of free periods in my day. It’s especially tough because my roommate is a Management major, whose “homework” always seems to involve watching Youtube videos.

I’ve also got several other ventures going on this semester, including preparing to take on the role of Tide Rips Yearbook Editor next year, as well as attending a community service trip to Honduras over Spring Break.

Overall, everything about this semester seems to be about looking forward, not just to everything that’s going on this semester, but also to the upcoming summer and all the challenges and experiences it holds. And, of course, looking forward to graduation, which comes ever closer as the calendar year changes once more.

More about Mark.

Post-Thanksgiving Blues

(The Cadet Experience, Class of 2012) Permanent link
Mark Zanowicz As I write this, I have to admit I’m feeling a little gloomy. Thanksgiving leave ended just last Sunday, thrusting us into what I consider the darkest part of the semester: the two and a half weeks between Thanksgiving leave and Christmas leave. It’s a time of bleak cloudy days, when the trees have given up all their leaves and the sun sets just minutes after classes end. It’s a time when end-of-semester projects start getting completed in a frantic rush and final exams loom just days away

But rather than getting depressed thinking about what lurks in the coming days, I’d rather reminisce about the good times I had at home in Maryland just last week. For the past two years, I’ve taken recruiting leave for Thanksgiving, which is an Academy Admissions program that 3/c, 2/c, and 1/c cadets with a high enough GPA can apply for. It allows for cadets to leave the Academy on the Friday prior to Thanksgiving (as opposed to the Tuesday before), under the requirement that the cadets must visit and recruit for the Academy at a certain number of high schools.

Though it may sound like a bit of work, it is a good deal because it allows for an extra four days of leave. I found visiting high schools was actually enjoyable. This year, I visited Middletown High School, the school I graduated from, and spoke with my old guidance counselor, which was a great way to both catch up and explain to her what the Academy is like. At another school near my house, I spoke with several interested students and distributed some pamphlets about the Academy.

While I actually had a pretty enjoyable time representing the Academy (despite the strange looks I got showing up at schools in the full Service Dress Bravo uniform), I must say the best part of Thanksgiving was after I was done recruiting. I had the rest of the week to catch up on all the episodes of Dexter I missed out on and see just how much whipped cream I could cram onto one slice of apple pie.

It is tough getting back into the Academy routine for a short, yet busy time, but Christmas leave is just weeks away.

More about Mark.

Getting In Stride

(Athletics, Class of 2012) Permanent link
Mark Zanowicz Fall season is in full swing here in New London. The air is getting chillier by the day, the nights are coming sooner, and the trees all around campus and the nearby Connecticut College Arboretum have started dropping their blazing red-orange leaves like they’re actually on fire. And, of course, the fall sports season is also steaming full speed ahead.

As a member of both the Pistol and Cross Country teams, fall is a pretty busy time for me. Most days, during my free periods at 1500, I’ll head down to the shooting range in the basement of Chase Hall for Pistol practice. At the Academy, Pistol is one of the only sports that is co-ed and competes at a Division I level. We have matches against schools like Navy, West Point, and MIT. It is a competitive and mentally demanding sport, but also extremely rewarding.

After shooting for an hour or so, it is a quick jog to Cross Country practice where I usually run anywhere from six to eight miles. I have run Cross Country all three years at the Academy so far and I consider it one of the best ways to earn a sports credit here. The guys on the team are great, and it is refreshing to be able to run off campus during the day for a change of scenery.

Still, it can be taxing to participate in two sports simultaneously. Yet, the most taxing thing I’ll do this fall has actually yet to come about. This year, the annual Marine Corps Marathon will be on Sunday, October 31, in Washington, D.C., and, in conjunction with the Academy’s Running Club, I will be traveling down there to participate. It is my first marathon, and to say I am nervous is an understatement. But at the same time, I feel mentally and physically prepared for it.

Overall, with so many things happening these days, it is sometimes hard to just sit down and take it all in. Still, while I may feel drained at times, I can say in all honestly that one of the best things about the Academy is the plethora of opportunities that it offers to cadets. At least at the end of the day I can sit back and know I am taking advantage of as much as I can.

More about Mark.

Cold Times Ahead

(Academics, Class of 2012) Permanent link
Mark Zanowicz It’s September here in New London. It’s a time when air is just starting to get that little chill in it that hints a brisk fall is just around the corner. Likewise, classes are in full swing and I’m starting to get that same little chill about the tests, quizzes, and projects that are in store this semester.

2/c year as a Marine Environmental Science major is slightly different than my other semesters have been. As a 4/c, I felt constantly loaded down with work. Performing the balancing act between a full schedule of classes, military obligations like maintaining an immaculate uniform and studying required knowledge (or indoc as we call it), as well as trying to get enough sleep, was quite taxing. I had to budget my time perfectly just to get everything done.

However, now that I’m a 2/c I actually feel as though the workload is quite a bit less. I’m only taking five classes this semester for a total of 17.5 credit hours. While that may sound like quite a load for any other college, it’s not bad at all compared to many of my classmates. There is no doubt, however, that my classes this year are much more difficult than in years past. As a 4/c taking classes like Chemistry and Leaders in U.S. History, you’re likely to come in with a least a rudimentary knowledge of the subjects at hand. But now? I can sit through an entire class of Ocean Dynamics and have no idea what how to make sense of what you were just told. I see some symbols go on the board, I hear a few things that my brain tells me are logical, and yet I still find myself walking out of class sometimes and asking “whoa – what just happened?” It’s the nature of the classes, really. The tests are more demanding. The textbooks feel more cryptic. I have the time to study, but the difficulty level is intimidating.

Paradoxically, having more time now actually means I need tighter time management skills, not more relaxed ones. I often find myself with the dilemma of whether I should read my textbooks or load up my Instant Queue on Netflix and see how many TV episodes I can squeeze in before class. Considering the subject of this entry, it’s probably pretty obvious which one usually wins out. Regardless, I’m still keeping ahead well enough, and if nothing else, I feel like I’ll come out of this semester with some real knowledge about stuff I’m actually interested in.

More about Mark.

Back In Blue

(The Cadet Experience, Class of 2012) Permanent link
Mark Zanowicz It was good while it lasted, but it is no more. Summer is over. The corps is back, Chase Hall has never needed air conditioning more, all the professors are busy handling out syllabi and detailing just what we’ve gotten ourselves into for this semester. Leave has come and gone all too fast.

Overall, from CATP back in May to my time as cadre over the month of July, I can say it was definitely both a fulfilling and a demanding summer. I always thought that going through something like Swab Summer or AIM was the hardest when you were the kid being yelled at. Little did I realize it’s actually just as hard going through it on the other side, when you’re doing more yelling, getting less sleep, and are given an unprecedented level of responsibility. Regardless, being cadre and going through 2/c summer really was a blast, with some truly great experiences like sailing around Long Island Sound in the Coastal Sail Training Program and traversing the mighty Thames on T-Boats. I can honestly say I feel like I’ve developed greatly as a leader and a cadet, and had a great time in the process.

With the summer behind me, I’m looking ahead to the new school year. As a 2/c Marine and Environmental Sciences major, I’m now taking many more major-specific classes, including Fish Biology and Ocean Dynamics. My schedule this semester is much better than previous years, with a couple more free periods and labs that seem like they’ll be quite interesting.

Probably the best part about being a 2/c, however, is the increase in privileges that came along with it. We now get “shorts” every weekend, meaning we do not have to spend Saturday nights at the Academy and don’t have to be back on Sunday until 1900. That’s in addition to Friday night liberty. The best privilege, however, is what we call “civies.” After two years of having to wear some sort of uniform every time we walk out the Academy gates, we’re now authorized to don whatever civilian attire we deem appropriate. It’s exciting, despite how mundane it may sound. That’s how it is at the Academy: it’s the little things that you have to learn to appreciate. Right now, there’s not much I can appreciate more than rolling out of the barracks in Levis and a death metal t-shirt, ready to enjoy the weekend before putting pen to paper all through the week.

More about Mark.

Summer Days

(The Cadet Experience, Class of 2012) Permanent link
Mark Zanowicz July is here at last. At the Academy, it’s a time of long summer days, all sorts of trainings, and, usually, falling asleep at night in pools of your own sweat (except for those lucky few living with the air conditioning in E-Annex). And, of course, summer training is in full swing.

I’ve already got to experience a lot more this summer than I’d ever thought I would. Back in May, I had the opportunity to go down to Aviation Training Center Mobile in Alabama for our Cadet Aviation Training Program. There, several of my classmates and I had the opportunity to fly in several Coast Guard aircraft, including HC-144s, Jayhawks, and Dolphins. After that, I participated in our Coastal Sail Training Program, where, working in a group with four other cadets and two safety officers, we spent two weeks sailing around various ports in Long Island Sound and the surrounding area. It was a really great time and let me get a hands-on feel for leadership and teamwork out there in an actual nautical environment.

R-Day, the infamous day when the new class of swabs first reports to the Academy, was last Monday. As a result, the Academy is now swarming with new faces, most of them fresh out of high school. It’s really loud with them yelling all the time, and a faintly pungent stench is beginning to creep up in certain places in Chase Hall. It’s all part of Swab Summer, and to be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The beginning of AIM, however, is just around the corner. The first batch of AIMsters will report this Sunday. All the cadre have already spent a week in trainings and discussions preparing for how we’re going to act as cadre and how to react in certain situations. It’s an exciting time. For most of us, it’s the three weeks we’ve been most anticipating this summer. I’m a little anxious to see how things will turn out, but I’m sure it’ll be an intense and rewarding time both for myself and the AIMsters I’ll be leading. And with leave just three short weeks away, things are just looking up from here.

More about Mark.

AIMing for the Right Decision

(Choosing the Coast Guard Academy, Class of 2012) Permanent link
Mark Zanowicz It’s April now, which means classes are ending, final exams are beginning (ugh), and summer training is just around the corner. Just a few weeks ago I received my assignment as an AIM cadre this summer. For those unfamiliar, AIM (Academy Introductory Mission) is a summer Admissions program for rising high school seniors that simulates the trainings and intensity of Swab Summer over the course of a week in July. It serves as a way for prospective cadets to get a feel for what life will be like in the first few weeks at the Academy, when speaking in the third person and eating meals like a robot suddenly become the norm.

While I never went to AIM myself, I’ve heard only positive things about it from my classmates and would encourage anyone considering coming to the Academy to at least consider enrolling in AIM if they have the chance. The firsthand experience of it can be one of the best deciding factors in determining whether or not you really have the desire and drive necessary to overcome the challenges you will be presented with here at the Coast Guard Academy.

Some of these challenges I’ll be facing for the first time this summer, as this will be the first time several of my other shipmates and I will be responsible for overseeing the training, safety, and logistics of a large group of people. It will certainly be a tough leadership experience, but I’m definitely looking forward to it.

More about Mark.

Mid-Terms and New Classes

(Academics, Class of 2012) Permanent link
Mark Zanowicz It’s late February now, just about the middle of the spring semester here. As I write this, the ground is buried under a nice layer of snow; similarly, I’m buried under a hefty layer of homework. Not only are there mid-term exams to worry about, but it’s around this time that the due date for long-term projects starts approaching much quicker than I wish they would.

On the bright side, this is also the time of year when I get to register for next year’s classes. The Marine and Environmental Sciences major is unique in that you can pick two of three tracks to focus on during your first and second class year. The three tracks are the biological, physical, and chemical tracks. Each track features different classes, instructors, and labs and allows you to narrow in on your specific interests within the major. For example, the biology track allows you to take classes like Fisheries Biology and even take a trip to see organisms at a nearby aquarium. The physical track involves studies of ocean currents and weather, among other things, while the chemistry track involves such classes as Organic Chemistry.

Right now, I’m leaning toward joining the biology and physical tracks. Last semester I took Marine Biology and found the course to be quite interesting, especially with some of the dissections we performed in lab. Similarly, Meteorology, which I also took last semester, was also interesting and offered knowledge that would be extremely applicable as an officer in a seagoing service.

Overall however, while the work load can be demanding at times, I’m definitely satisfied in my major and any of the three tracks offer great opportunities to learn both in the classroom and hands-on.

More about Mark.

Dawn of a New Semester

(The Cadet Experience, Class of 2012) Permanent link
Mark Zanowicz It’s January now, which means winter leave has officially ended. I’ve said goodbye to my friends and family and the twinkling Christmas lights are just a memory. I’m back at the Academy, with the spring academic semester beginning next week.

It’s a pretty busy time around here. At the beginning of each semester, we change rooms, get new roommates, and change divisions. With new people to work with and new cadets leading the regiment, a new semester always means a few hiccups at first as everyone starts getting settled into their new positions.

As my third or fourth time coming back to the Academy after a long period of leave, I find it never really gets easier. It’s always a little tough to get back into the regime: waking up at 0600 and going to formation is a far cry from my daily schedule on leave, mostly consisting of waking up at noon and eating half a box of Eggo waffles. But whether I’m ready or not, the new semester is just days away, and I know the best thing now is to just buckle down and get ready.

More about Mark.

The Joys of Running

(Athletics, Class of 2012) Permanent link
Mark Zanowicz Now that it’s mid-November, when the sun sets an hour after classes end and the weather gets chillier day by day, I’m finding it’s getting more and more difficult to get out of the barracks and enjoy a nice run in the woods near the Academy. It hits especially hard for me because running, or, more specifically, cross country season, is probably my favorite part of fall semester.

I’m not going to say I’m a very good runner – I’m not. But regardless of ability level, the experience is like nothing else. There’s just nothing like strapping on your training shoes and throwing on your gym gear, then going out to join the cross country team on a run through the forest or the streets of New London for miles after mile. It’s a time when you can leave the worries and difficulties of cadet life behind; when you can enjoy the solace of the world around you or joke around to your teammates about the happenings of the day. It helps me on tough days like nothing else. Running: it seems so simple, but it really is something powerful.

More about Mark.