An essay about my year back at CGA

Forty-five years after graduating in the Class of 1977, I returned to New London in August 2022 to teach for a year. During our class’s monthly virtual meeting, my classmates were curious if anything on campus had changed. The best I could say was, ‘everything is the same yet different.’

The Beatles, for example, had just released a new song, Now and Then, assisted, of course, by artificial intelligence; one of the new challenges cadets and faculty face. The first personal computers came out in 1977.

‘In my day,’ as the adage goes, cadets ate meals together unless on liberty. Today, cadets are required to eat familystyle a few times a week. There’s also a Steel Beach at Leamy Hall where cadets can hang out, unheard of in the mid1970s (see photo below).

On the day I arrived, platoons of 4/c cadets and their 2/c cadres were marching, but women and people of color were well represented. The change in demographics began as a trickle: the first women attended CGA as part of the Class of 1980, my final year there. Forty-three percent of the Class of 2026 are women, along with many more individuals of color. I am proud that my former school represents what America looks like.

But some things have not changed. A group of 4/c cadets were being quizzed on their Running Light (now $29.95) trivia by their cadre right on the steps to Smith Hall where I worked. “Who is the Cadet Executive Officer? I don’t know, Sir!” Cadets who failed to know the answer then looked up the response and then had to run up three flights of stairs (outside, it’s 85% humidity), all the while chanting “The Executive Officer is Miss Ricky, the Executive Officer is Miss Ricky…” I’m told that oral repetition breeds far higher retention than simple reading. On my way to lunch I enviously watch the cadets in the familiar dinghies going round each mark, racing each other on the Thames.

Every day, tradition and the contemporary melded. When thenSuperintendent Bill Kelly ’87 welcomed new faculty and staff, including myself, we observed colors beginning at 0755. It was fun watching the young cadets, looking sharp in their crisply pressed uniforms.

Smith Hall

My favorite courses to teach drew upon my emergency management background with FEMA and required that I co-create courses with other instructors or as an old friend once said, “painting the bus as it drives by.” A bit of context here: When I graduated, I vowed never to return to Smith Hall. My least favorite group of subjects were taught there, and Smith Hall was far from the gym and my other classes. My 2022 teaching contract included several classes, including ‘Atmospherics’ – all in Smith Hall.

But at least I would be the grader and not the graded student. I had a healthy appreciation for weather from my time as a deck officer and navigator, and during my work with FEMA. In 2022/3, however, I was expected to teach the subject during an eight-week compressed curriculum. I had to not onlyknow what the dangerous semicircle of a hurricane was, but why and how it worked, and many other things I’d just accepted as truths. In my earliest days, picture me auditing an 8 a.m. class and then teaching the same material at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. By the end of the first cycle of half-semester courses, I understood many of the concepts I wish I had known forty-five years ago before when I entered the fleet.

While I was not steeped in the ‘science’ portion of courses, I was able to bring friends and colleagues to add real-world value as guest speakers, like RADM Mary Landry (Deepwater Horizon), RADM Brendan McPherson ’89 (D7/ Tropical Storm Ian), his brother Captain Jim McPherson ’82, now with FEMA (disaster response & recovery in East Palestine, Ohio, Kentucky & Mississippi), Former Acting DHS Administrator Peter Gaynor (FEMA Administrator COVID-19), and Dr. C.J. Huff (Joplin Tornado).

My highlight from teaching four different courses during my year at CGA was the interactions with the cadets, mostly 1/c and a few talented 2/c. Their curiosity, intelligence and frankly, fearlessness, were in stark contrast from my time on the same campus. Being challenged was a regular and welcome occurrence.

The labs in Smith Hall are, unfortunately, in the same physical condition as when I left in 1977. According to one senior official, “Waterford High School has better lab facilities than we do.” I’m proud that my class led the effort with the Alumni Association to fund the new Maritime Center of Excellence that will provide a partial solution to Smith Hall’s aging labs.

On Coast Guard Day in 2022, the service celebrated its 232 years of history, and the Academy’s long connection with the host city of New London. If there could be any more nostalgia, this was it, seeing the Coast Guard Band, NOAA Officer Candidates (OCs), Coast Guard OCs, cadets, and community leaders gathered to celebrate the occasion. I said hello to many old friends, including New London’s Mayor, Michael Passero, who attended St. Bernard’s High School when I did. The mayor suggested I speak to his Fire Chief, Thomas Curcio, to help with my emergency management course. I thought there were opportunities for the Chief to speak and for cadets to volunteer with the city and help with their programs. His ‘local’ perspective was one of the cadets’ highlights.

Paul Duddy ’71, CGA’s longtime volunteer photographer, and I, spoke about our passions for the campus, the Coast Guard, and its people. He let me know his wife, Maggie (Favretti), has a strong background in climate science and has been both a national lecturer and author about all things related to children and disasters. She later became a key participant in two of my classes and helped cadets understand important concepts related to the role youth can play in disaster recovery.

EAGLE

Later in the year and prior to Homecoming weekend, 1/c cadets gathered in Dimick Hall. I sat in on a recruiting session led by EAGLE’s Commanding Officer. This was an opportunity to see what type of assignments my future Ensigns might be interested in. Much had changed for the cadets, not only at the Academy but for their time aboard the EAGLE. A formal, curated, 200-week program now carefully scripts every minute and program during their four-year experience.

The EAGLE’s skipper quickly reminded the cadets they will have a very different experience than the “Old Fogies” they will talk to during the coming weekend. I thought about the comment, and realized she was right. I had spent 11 weeks aboard the EAGLE and did just about everything I could to have fun and to ‘create’ spare time. I volunteered for the Scullery because I wanted to see the evening movie. Nowadays, cadets had checkoff sheets and the opportunity to qualify in both deck and engineering positions.

When I asked my 1977 classmates about their EAGLE experiences, many familiar stories were revealed, like the berthing areas and storms we’d weathered together. As John Masefield so eloquently said in his poem Sea Fever, “I must go down the seas again, to the lonely sea and sky…” One classmate said it best, “I will always remember the truly wonderous celestial view of the night sky on a clear, dark night at sea. The constellations, planets, and the magnificence of the Milky Way that one rarely sees, started the ‘liking of the sea and its lore.’” It was our time in EAGLE, although a very different experience from today’s cadets, that made many of us realize the US Coast Guard was where we belonged.

Inflection Points

My classmates and I came to the Academy at the height of the Vietnam Conflict. Early recollections include Connecticut College students devising a massive slingshot and pelting us during Friday afternoon marching drills with water balloons flung across the expanse of Route 32. I also remember the 1/c cadets brandishing their swords, climbing the fence, and running across several lanes of traffic and pursuing the offenders.

I asked a colleague who’d been at CGA a long while what resonated with the cadets? What was ‘their Vietnam?’ I was reminded that all the cadets were born just as I got out of the Coast Guard and after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Their point of reference, however, was the pandemic. Several had family members affected by COVID-19 and more than a few had become ill and quarantined. Many had been isolated with micro subsets of their class and missed out on comingling, even with their own classmates for good portions of time.

Home Again

Why was I putting myself through yet another period of federal employment at age 68 years young following a 26-year Coast Guard career, a stint at TSA and two tenures with FEMA? Those with that viewpoint do not and probably never will know why I came back. But
I returned because I wanted to feel relevant and needed. And the thought of the time decades later at the Academy, training and educating future officers for a service I love, seemed like a fair deal to me.

And I was home again at the Coast Guard Academy, in more ways than one. I had grown up in New London’s old 5th ward on Crocker Street near Ocean Beach Park. I fished the Thames from nearby Pequot Avenue. My first job was bussing tables at the old Lighthouse Inn near Guthrie Beach and carrying luggage for summer guests. But much has changed in New London. My friend Irving Wong’s family’s Chinese restaurant on Pequot Avenue closed. The Chuck’s Steak House on Pequot Avenue where I also used to work has a new name, On The Waterfront. Two new seafood restaurants are wedged between the old Chuck’s and Fred’s Shanty. The gas station my father owned on Ocean Avenue is gone, replaced by Sam’s Chicken. The Recovery Room and Ocean Pizza, both New London institutions, somehow survived the pandemic and time. The Recovery Room is across the street from the hospital where I was born. One of the Mr. G.’s recently passed, but the restaurant and the memories remain.

I can tell anyone who asks that the Coast Guard is in good hands. Thankfully, rifle pushups, the Green Bench and Correction Platoon are long gone, the T-boats and other vestiges of our time are still being used effectively. And while the EAGLE is no longer berthed at the Academy, cadet life there, on campus and in the classrooms makes a lot of sense and will produce terrific officers for years to come.