Well, I have almost officially made it to my first Thanksgiving break at USCGA, which means that I have almost officially made it through my first semester of “college.” Now, clearly, this is not your average college experience. Over the past few weeks, I have seen many of my shipmates get honor-boarded and masted, have attended a formal dinner training that our instructor said was the worst she had ever seen, and have experienced a “bussing and respect remedial.”
No, this place is not your average college. We take honor, respect, and devotion to duty very seriously. And, right when you start slipping through the cracks and lose sight of these three pillars, you had better believe that there is someone there to remind you–albeit through administrative action, or through a light slap on the wrist and some notecards. As fourth class, we are the followers. A part of being on this lovely level of the chain of command is that, sometimes, we get to write these notecards. On such notecards, we get the privilege to write, in pen, mind you (so you cannot re-use the note cards), “1/c (name of your Company Commander), 4/c (Your last name) respectfully requests to inform you that (insert anything you might need to inform people of–your whereabouts, something you did wrong, indoc test corrections, etc.).”
On another note, honor boards are where a cadet who has acted in a manner that rubbed someone the wrong way (cadets are honor-boarded when they are suspected of cheating, fraternization, or simply breaking the regulations). This process consists of the cadet walking in and sitting at the position of attention with an upperclassmen advisor of their choice. The upperclassmen who comprise the honor board and will ask the cadet questions about the situation. The board then makes a recommendation to Commander Barker, who oversees the mast. Most honor boards lead to masts. The mast is much more formal because it is where Commander Barker decides how hefty the punishment will be for the cadet in question.
Cadets are required to attend certain dinner and etiquette trainings so that we learn the importance of respect and how to act toward officers and how to act when we become officers. Due to the nature of such trainings, we cadets get restless and sometimes feel the need to occupy our time with other things to distract us from the training. Unfortunately, my classmates and I made a very negative impression on our instructor, adding to the respect issues and misconduct coming from the Class of 2019. We fourth class cadets who attended this specific dinner training were addressed about our misconduct and now have to write a memo and apology notes to the trainer and the staff. This is an understandable punishment that we are all dealing with and will get through together.
On another note, this morning, our first class that is in charge of fourth class behavior and misconduct, and our company guidons, second class cadets who are in charge of the fourth class of their company, met with us during our morning training period. Although the training took time out of our mornings, everything that they had to say was correct. This always happens to the fourth class. Thanksgiving rolls around and we start getting bored with doing our jobs. When we square corners, it looks more like circling the corners. When we speak to upperclassmen, we drop our “sirs and ma’ams.” When we are marching in section to class (also known as “busing”), we speak to each other, which is not allowed. I think that we have forgotten our place at the bottom of the food chain, so to speak. We have forgotten what we learned over Swab Summer about teamwork and that we need each other to get through this. We have forgotten that we still have another semester of being fourth class. We have forgotten that we can never get too comfortable. About anything. Ever.
The main thing that I have learned is that life at the Academy is like one giant, slightly bruised apple. You can look at it and be like, “ew. This apple is gross. Why would anyone want that?” Or, you can journey through the process of eating the apple. One bite at a time. When you decide to deal with it and eat the apple, you find some bruises. That bitter, sour taste enters your mouth and you squinch your face up. In fact, when you are least expecting to find a bruise, you find one. That’s the best part. You never know when it’s coming. It just does. And there is nothing you can do about it. You just have to embrace it. Think about all of the people before you that had a bruised apple. You aren’t special. Embrace that bruised apple. Because, you know what? What it comes down to is the fact that somewhere out there, there is someone who would die for that apple.
Now, don’t get me wrong. USCGA has made me who I am today and I am forever grateful. I have gotten to travel an insane amount. I have been to New York City and Newport, Rhode Island on Eagle over Swab Summer, Canada with the dance team and Wind Jammers, Boston for a dance team competition, numerous church camps, Colgate College for a Mock Trial competition, and, of course, initially to lovely New London, Connecticut. To make everything that much better, the people here are amazing. We have all been through some sort of trial that has brought us together and formed a level of respect for one another. We have done something and are doing something that nobody else in the whole wide world gets to do. It sounds super cheesy, but I always feel blessed here. On my hardest day, when I am getting called out, have a bad test grade, or am fighting with my best friend, none of it matters. Because I am here. I am doing what I truly believe I was meant to do. I am glad to be here. And I can’t wait to see what lies for us next.
More about Kirsten.