Choose your rate, choose your fate

Seaman Colin Snyder stands lookout on the bow of Station Milford Haven’s 45-foot Respone Boat-Medium while transiting the Rappahannock River, Sept. 21, 2017.

Story and photos by SN Shannon Kearney

Have you ever seen those commercials on TV where the main character is standing still and everyone around them is moving around them in a blur? Almost like time was standing still but the rest of the world was unaffected by it? That’s how my career at my first unit has felt.

Hi, my name is Shannon Kearney, and I’ve been a non-rate, or a seaman, at Coast Guard Station Milford Haven for nearly four years.

A non-rate is someone who has graduated boot camp but hasn’t yet gone to their advancement school, commonly referred to as a class “A” school, to obtain their rating. During these past several years at my unit, I have seen my fair share of people come and go. There are only three other people here that have been at my unit longer than me. I have seen 14 other non-rates come and go to their “A” schools, and I have seen 16 petty officers come and go as well.

Some may ask, “Why haven’t you gone to school yet?” And my answer is always the same: “Well, I’m going to Public Affairs ‘A’ school.” As of April of 2018, the wait for Public Affairs “A” school is two to three years. Public affairs specialists tell the Coast Guard’s story to the public through videos, photography, and written articles, specifically working on media relations and representing the Coast Guard on camera.

Why so long of a wait, you may ask? It’s because it is a Department of Defense-led course, and the Coast Guard can only send one to two people per class. There are only a handful of classes per year.

A 25-foot Response Boat-Small crew from Station Milford Haven cuts across the wake of the station’s 45-foot RB-M on the Piankatank River, Feb. 18, 2016.

Most people don’t know that there is an entire screening process to go through before you get the green light to go to PA “A” school. There is a command interview, a three-day PA interview, and grammar and typing tests. You have to write two essays, then send all of that paperwork as a packet to the PA rating force master chief to get his approval. Needless to say, it’s a long process, but it is worth it! I have yet to meet a PA that doesn’t like their job.

During my time here at my first unit, I have had to get several qualifications to fulfill my current billet. The first requirement I got within two weeks of being at my unit was my watchstanding qualification. I learned how to write logs, make standard pipes, talk over the radio, and had to memorize my unit’s area of operations, or AOR, as we call it. Fun fact: Coast Guard Station Milford Haven has the largest AOR within District Five!

After that, I worked to achieve boat crew qualifications on my unit’s 45-foot Response Boat-Medium, our 25-foot Response Boat-Small, and our new 29-foot Response Boat-Small. Soon after, I became a boarding team member by learning how to handle a gun, studying the law enforcement side of the Coast Guard, and learning some physical techniques, so I could help do safety inspections on vessels we encounter in our AOR.

Seaman Colin Snyder throws a heaving line while Petty Officer 3rd Class Isbel Alvarez serves as a safety observer on the Rappahannock River, Sept. 21, 2017.

I later became a trailer operator as well, so I could trailer our 29-foot boat to different points in our AOR from which we launch for search and rescue cases. I have used my qualifications to put boats in tows, trailer our boats to different locations, and conduct several boardings on commercial vessels, sailing vessels, and recreational vessels. All of the qualifications certainly kept me busy, and time has really flown by.

Station life is very busy, and we’re training almost every day, so we rotate crews regularly to avoid overworking the people we have out on the water. Thankfully we have two different duty sections at our unit, and they’re constantly in rotation. One week our duty section will work two days, and the following week we will work five days. We get underway every day to train, and sometimes Coast Guard Auxiliarists will get underway on their boats to help us practice towing for SAR cases. We teach the new trainees the basics of whatever qualifications they are trying to obtain, and sometimes we do safety boardings on recreational and commercial vessels within our AOR.

The crews of Station Milford Haven and Aids to Navigation Team Milford Haven host distinguished guests during the station’s 50th anniversary, Aug. 18, 2017.

There is never a dull moment!

Over the many years spent at my unit, I have taken the initiative to try to document my time here as much as possible by taking photos with my camera, and have passed several of them on to get published on the U.S. Coast Guard Mid-Atlantic Facebook page. I have taken photos of training, SAR cases, events held at the station, and even a photo of a Navy veteran who swam from the Pentagon to Norfolk to raise awareness for veteran and active duty suicides. My officer in charge has allowed me to work with the public affairs unit at District Five Headquarters to help prepare me for “A” school, and through them I have had the opportunity to visit different units in Virginia and North Carolina. I even got to ride in a helicopter!

The long wait for Public Affairs “A” School has given me the opportunity to really experience the day-to-day operational side of the Coast Guard, and the knowledge I have acquired throughout my years at my unit has assisted countless people in both emergency and non-emergency situations. I’m going to my “A” school soon, and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to document my time here at my unit and let others see the work we do.

I am very grateful to have spent my time here, and I wouldn’t have wanted to wait it out anywhere else other than Coast Guard Station Milford Haven.

The sun sets over Hudgins, Virginia, and Station Milford Haven, Feb. 9, 2016.

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