A New Way to Learn at the Reserve Boat College

By Petty Officer David R. Marin

SEATTLE – Located in the remote fishing town of Ilwaco Wash., the Coast Guard’s National Motor Lifeboat School (NMLBS) and Station Cape Disappointment serve as two of the Coast Guard’s most challenging training grounds. Generally occupied by active duty personnel, from May 5-16, the station and NMLBS were predominantly populated by Coast Guard Reservists.

Station Cape Disappointment and the NMLBS hosted the first Coast Guard Thirteenth District / Group Astoria Reserve Boat College.  Twenty two students from five stations, including 10 students from Station Cape Disappointment, nine from Station Grays Harbor in Westport, Wash., two from Station Umpqua River in Winchester Bay, Ore., one student from Station Yaquina Bay, in Newport, Ore., and one from Station Rio Vista, in Rio Vista, Calif., attended this training in the hopes of learning the skills needed to be crewman qualified aboard the 25-foot response boats.

“The Reserve Boat College is a program sponsored and developed by Group Astoria to give the reservists an opportunity to receive their qualification training without interruption and without hindering the capabilities and daily activities of their units,” said Lt. Cmdr. Catherine A. Holdren, from Group Astoria.

Reservists were formally integrated into boat forces to support the operational needs of their assigned units in 1994.

Adm. Thomas Collins, the Commandant of the Coast Guard at that time, presented a clear direction for the Reserve forces.  Adm. Collins stated that the main purpose of the Reserves is to maintain the competencies to perform three prioritized functions; maritime homeland security, domestic and expeditionary support to national defense and domestic (natural or man-made) disaster response and recovery in January 2006.

The College was developed in an effort to achieve a higher level of deployable boat force readiness and to improve the integration between the Active Duty and Reserve components in carrying out the three main Reserve functions said Holdren.

“We took lessons learned from the First District’s effort about a year ago,” added Holdren. “One thing that they recommended was to expand the course from one week to two weeks because there is just so much to cover.  So we did that and provided training modules that are otherwise difficult to get in a concentrated environment.”

The seeds for this college were planted when the Thirteenth District assembled a work group, in 2006, to collaboratively analyze the training requirements and how best to qualify the Reservists.  Out of that, a recommendation was made to accelerate the qualification process by concentrating the boat forces at locations where the right platforms existed.

“Another thing about the development of the Boat College was the concern of the impact that developing a course like this might have on the active duty command,” said Holdren.  “We assembled a task force to alleviate the burden of planning and coordinating the logistics as much as possible from the active command so they could focus on their daily missions and not be burned out by the time of the college.”

The task force was able to acquire and coordinate the use of five 25-foot response boats from stations Cape Disappointment, Grays Harbor and Sector Portland.  They were also able to outsource instructors for Team Coordination Training (TCT), first aid and the Scalable Integrated Navigation System (SINS) Laboratory.

With these assets the task force formed the Boat College with a curriculum consisting of 20 blocks of instruction covering 71 qualification tasks including 24 hours of underway time.

“We designed the course and, being in house, we were able to make it so that when we go through all the tasks in the contingency crewman Personal Qualification Standards (PQS.) We can be flexible enough to change things around at a moments notice,” said Lt. Karl Hellberg, the Task Force Leader with Group Astoria.  “So if our sailors wanted more practice in a certain area, we could change our schedule around and give them more time at the SINS lab, more time navigating, etcetera.  The whole thing was to get more hands-on time while getting them through their PQS, and that’s just one step.”

“Once we get people qualified as crewmembers we can move onto coxswain qualifications and hopefully onto boarding officer and finally have fully functioning crews out here on the Colombia River doing patrols,” added Hellberg.

“This training has been real helpful at keeping us dialed into the fundamentals that we need to be knowledgeable in as Coast Guardsmen,” said Petty Officer 1st Class John Sheridan, of Station Grays Harbor.  “The first week we worked with TCT, CPR and first aid.  We moved along real well and, towards the end of the week, we did a lot of navigational training with chart work and SINS.”

“The SINS lab has been a huge asset for us and the training,” said Holdren.  “Some of the feedback that we are getting from our boat crews is that the lab gives them the confidence needed for when they get out to the on-water portion, knowing exactly how to set it up.  The advantage of the local course is that it is very student-centered and can be tailored to the students and exactly what they need at that moment.  We were able to provide that extra experience for the students and that has translated to a more confident crewmember and an accelerated qualification.”

“It is my first time at Cape Disappointment and this Boat College is a novel idea,” said Sheridan.  “It’s all about the basics and staying focused and dialed into the things we need to have in our arsenal of knowledge to do the jobs we need to do as reservists on our boats.”

“It has been a real privilege to be here in Cape D working with the instructors and brushing up on some of the things we already know,” added Sheridan.  “And those who are new to the reserves can get on the same page so that we are all operating with the same basic knowledge that we need to have every time that we get underway.”

Another key component of the local model is the reduction of the impact the Boat College training has on the active duty personnel.

“We wanted to take some of that burden off the active duty crew and concentrate it into a two week course so that throughout the year that burden is lessened and that the reservists have that emersion experience so that they don’t have skill attrition throughout that eighteen months that it normally takes to qualify as a crew member,” said Holdren.

“The other thing that we insisted on and got a lot of support with, was that we have active duty members from the stations that the reservists are going to be assigned to, do the training,” added Chief Warrant Officer Terence Garvey, of Group Astoria.  “That way we don’t go through the steps of having someone trained and having to go back to their station needing to prove that they have learned this information in order to get qualified.  The person who is qualifying them is conducting the training.”

The planning for the Boat College began in January with a Thirteenth District Senior Reserve conference.  Rear Adm. John P. Currier, the Commander of the Thirteenth District, expressed his interest in developing boat force readiness and providing local utilities for the training of the Reserves.

“We were already headed in the direction of the Boat College and said we could make it happen before the (search and rescue) season kicked off,” said Holdren.  “It was a little ambitious, but here we are five months later and the Boat College is up and running.”

Interest in this type of reserve training has grown, starting from the First District, which has three out of their five sectors planning on running Boat Crew College training events this year, to the units in the Thirteenth District and Eleventh District where reservists have been turned away because of full enrollment in the classes.

“We are delighted by the interest that this effort has received across the Coast Guard and we hope that our local initiative will inform other efforts to develop rapidly deployable boat forces,” Holdren said.  “I would recommend that other efforts along this line follow this model in really reaching out and utilizing the key resources that are available within their sector, group or command.”

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