From civilian to Coast Guard leader

Seaman Brandon Gannon manages the small boat lowering detail as the only qualified boat deck captain aboard Coast Guard cutter Active, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017. Gannon is the lead seaman aboard and manages about 10 people. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nicole J. Groll)

Seaman Brandon Gannon manages the small boat lowering detail as the only qualified boat deck captain aboard Coast Guard cutter Active, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nicole J. Groll)

By Petty Officer 3rd Class Nicole J. Groll

Almost two years ago, 23-year-old Brandon Gannon lived at home in Reedsport, Oregon; finishing high school and preparing for college. Today, he’s the senior seaman aboard Coast Guard Cutter Active who is working to keep drugs from reaching America’s shores while learning to lead others.

Inspired by his friends, and with his family’s blessing, Gannon joined the Coast Guard in June 2016. A year and a half after moving to Port Angeles, Washington, Active’s homeport, Gannon found himself in a unique position supervising about 15 of his peers.

Not one to turn down a challenge, Gannon accepted his new role in the command hierarchy.

“The command believed he had enough maturity to offer him the position and allow him to become qualified in positions usually reserved for petty officers,” said Petty Officer 1st Class John Koch, a boatswain’s mate and Gannon’s supervisor.

Such positions, usually reserved for senior leaders on a cutter, include being the main qualified boat deck captain on the ship. Gannon was responsible for leading the davit-operating crew in safely lowering and raising the 26-foot small boat used for at-sea operations like pursuing drug traffickers. The davit moved the small boat from the deck and lowered the boat crew into the water for at-sea operations.

“It was a qualification I had to get quickly, but one I took very seriously,” said Gannon.

The boat deck captain needs to be vigilant. The small boat can weigh up to about 8,300 pounds and a mistake could be deadly!

Gannon faced some leadership growing pains as he strived to find balance in his new leadership role.

Seaman Gannon instructs a newly reported shipmate on the proper way to use power tools while removing rust spots from the deck of Coast Guard cutter Active on Oct. 11, 2017. Coast Guard cutter Active is homeported in Port Angeles, Washington. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nicole J. Groll)

Seaman Gannon instructs a newly reported shipmate on the proper way to use power tools while removing rust spots from the deck of Coast Guard Cutter Active on Oct. 11, 2017. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nicole J. Groll)

He relied on Koch’s mentoring to help him overcome leadership challenges he face in his new supervisory role especially when giving orders to his friends.

“I understood when things didn’t as smoothly for Gannon as they could have,” he said.

Gannon had other collateral duties as well.

And those jobs could be dangerous. He was in charge of leading the ground crew during flight operations when a helicopter deployed to the ship. His responsibilities included running beneath the rotating rotor blades and making sure the helicopter was safely secured to the ship with tie-down straps while not in use.

Aboard the 53-year-old, 210-foot ship, he was the damage control petty officer for the deck department and seaman berthing. This meant he was responsible for making sure the areas were maintained, safe and secure in case of an emergency.

Gannon is now working toward receiving his junior officer of the deck qualification. This qualification allows him to assist the command in ensuring the cutter is safe and secure while underway and in port.

“My parents are proud of me,” said Gannon. “I know they were scared for me at first, but it’s gotten better the longer I’ve stayed in.”

The Active has taken him all over the Eastern Pacific, quite the experience for someone who had never left the country before joining the Coast Guard.

“I wanted to help people and be a part of something bigger than myself,” he said.

As a leader of his peers on a world-class cutter, Brandon Gannon is well on his way.

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