"I’m part of an organization that goes out and makes a difference in people’s lives."
Petty Officer 1st Class | Coast Guard
I’m an electronics technician in the Coast Guard. We’re the ones who ensure that the ship and small boats can safely navigate and communicate with each other. We maintain most of the communications gear, like the VHF radios and the satellite communications. We also take care of the navigation and fire control radars, and the GPS.
When you come out of boot camp, you’re a “basically trained” Seaman. You can go anywhere in the Coast Guard. To become an electronics technician, I went to Electronics Technician “A” School, where I learned some electronic theory and how to read schematics. They gave us the tools that we need to go out in the fleet and figure out stuff on our own because, of course, nothing ever breaks the way it breaks in school.
After that, you go to what we call “C” Schools, which are just more advanced training. That’s where you get more equipment-specific. The school I went to was specifically for the fire control radar system. One of the neat things about the school I went to is that there are people from my class on all of the cutters in the area. We can always call each other for support.
Right now, I am based out of Portsmouth, Va. I’m on the Coast Guard Cutter Forward, which measures 270 feet (in length). It’s a medium endurance cutter. We patrol a lot down in the Caribbean and down off the coast of South America. Most of our patrols are trying to stop immigrants or illegal drugs from coming in. But other cutters of our size do fisheries patrols, and one of our cutters just came back from Africa not too long ago. So, we have the ability to go everywhere.
When we’re underway, we all have different watches we need to stand. One of the watches I stand is called the Combat Information Center. I basically just keep an eye on the radar and just make sure that the command is informed of anything going on, or if our mission changes, or if I happen to see a “go-fast” on the radar — that’s our slang term for a small boat, less than 50 feet in size, with a really powerful engine. They're generally carrying illegal drugs.
Always at the Ready
On a mission, we are part of a task force. There are other cutters or Navy ships in the area and also your aircraft support — helicopters or fixed-wing planes — that you communicate with as well. We’re also in touch with the unit that’s in overall command of the area. A lot of times we’ll have translators on board if we’re going into another country’s territorial waters. It can get a little hectic trying to keep track of everything.
When the earthquake hit Haiti in January 2010, we were the first United States unit to show up. There were two task forces, and we ended up being the commander of one. We coordinated which areas everybody would patrol, what assets were going in and out, things like that. We even provided radio guard while the Coast Guard and Navy helicopters and planes were airlifting injured people. I’m sure the local people were grateful to look out there in the harbor and see a couple of Coast Guard cutters and realize the world knows what’s going on and help is coming.
I’m not one of the people who goes out on the small boat and actually does the lifesaving or the rescuing. But I’m still part of an organization that goes out and that makes a difference in people’s lives.