CGA brings in record numbers of women and underrepresented minorities with incoming classby David M. Santos
U.S. Coast Guard Academy
The day starts in Leamy Hall Auditorium where hundreds of people from all over the country check event schedules and look over base maps. There is a tension in the air and a few worried glances, which is to be expected. Its reporting-in day at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., and the lives of 248 young men and women are about to change - dramatically.
Today marks the start of a 200-week program designed to educate, train and physically prepare young men and women to become leaders. Incoming cadets, referred to as Swabs, begin their time here with a intensive training program called Swab Summer. In the coming weeks they will be taught general military skills and get a healthy dose of physical conditioning in a program designed to develop self-discipline, military bearing and esprit de corps.
About a month earlier in this same auditorium, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano addressed a group of graduates saying, “You will don many hats as you leave this Academy, because it means a lot to be a member of the Coast Guard. You are rescuers, protectors, first responders, law enforcers, teachers, public servants,” Napolitano said, “In this ever-changing world, the only certainty is that you will be called on to carry out many missions around the globe.” But four long years stand between this group and their graduation date.
Later in the day, standing in line in front of the cadet barbershop is Brandon Dean. A varsity baseball player throughout high school, he served as captain of the team during his senior year, played in the school band and participated in several engineering competitions near his hometown of St. Louis, Mo. Dean, whose father retired from the Coast Guard, was also inducted into the National Honors Society. While visiting the Academy as part of the Genesis Invitational, a program for underrepresented minorities and first generation college students, Dean was able to sit in on a class and ask cadets their lives were like. “They told me I would need to manage my time and work well with others,” he said. “They mentioned that they were on demanding schedules, but did have some time for themselves.”
Among a crowd of swabs being issued uniforms is Jade Schroeder. Schroeder from Missoula, Montana developed an interest in the marine sciences after a school research trip to Costa Rica where she worked with leatherback sea turtles. She graduated high school recently with a 3.9 cumulative GPA and played hockey on a team that took second place at the state finals for three years in a row before winning it all this year. Schroeder made her first trip to New England last fall, visiting the Academy as part of the cadet for a day program. “I just felt at home when I visited the academy,” she said. “I liked the structure, and I knew it was where I wanted to be.”
The Class of 2016 is made up of approximately 36% women and 35% underrepresented minorities, the highest percentages of both groups in Academy history. They are also one of the most geographically diverse classes with students representing 39 different states and international students from Rwanda, Maldives, Lithuania and Sri Lanka. As the day continues the swabs have gotten haircuts, had uniforms issued and are beginning to march in formation under the watchful eyes of an ever present training cadre of upper-class cadets. After reciting the oath of office together as a group, they are given a few moments to say goodbye to family and friends.
Out on Washington Parade Field surrounded by family members is Nicholas Egersdorf. While still a senior at Mayo High School in Rochester, Minn., Egersdorf wrote an opinion piece for his hometown newspaper. In it he explored the decision he made to commit himself to four years at the Academy and five years of Coast Guard service after graduation. “It’s difficult to explain signing away nine years of one’s life,” he wrote, “It’s the greatest commitment I’ve ever made, to say the least.” He concluded with, "I’m willing to suffer now, because it is a part of the gift of life; because it’s all OK, just as it has always been, just as it will always be."
Along with Dean, Schroeder and Egersdorf, in this group are future helicopter pilots and patrol boat commanding officers. Over the years, some will rise to the rank of Admiral and one could eventually lead the service as Commandant. “These young men and women are among the very best our nation has to offer and they represent bright promise for the future,” said Rear Adm. Sandra Stosz, Academy Superintendent. “They have extraordinary potential and we are excited about the journey ahead.”