Leader, Teacher, Coastie

8th Coast Guard District News“Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” What Dwight D. Eisenhower meant by these simple words is that plans are only as good as the planning that goes into them. The future can be an intimidating thing to think about, especially when you’re a young man or woman coming out of high school. How do you begin prepare yourself for a new environment and responsibilities?

One day a week, each semester, each school year for the past three years, Coast Guardsmen from Aviation
Training Center Mobile have worked with the ROTC to offer a class in ASVAB and standardized test preparation to schools in the Mobile area. Over the course of those three years, they’ve helped approximately 540 kids come closer to their potential, while also exposing them to the type of values that can only come from the military.

On May 4, 2012, the instructors, students and program managers for the student training initiative shared a meal at the Coast Guard training center, celebrating the third year of knowledge sharing and relationship building.

“It was a great marriage from the beginning,” said Lt. Col. Robert Barrow (Ret.), ROTC instructor with Leflore High School. “These kids view the Coast Guard as their family. For the past three years, I can’t think of a better program and involvement with the community than the relationships that these Coast Guardsmen have fostered with the students.”

Enlisted and commissioned officers, alike, have given their time to support this one-of-a-kind program in increasing volume over the last three years. According to Petty Officer 1st Class James Nakamoto, participation in the program has never been an issue.

“We’re growing in numbers every year,” said Nakamoto. “The more the active duty members here on base hear about program, the more they see we’re involved with it, the more people who want to come join up with us.”

Nakamoto has been with the initiative since it was originally introduced in 2009. During that time, he’s stepped in for instructors that couldn’t make it and been the general go-to-guy for the program. It wasn’t a surprise to anyone, then, that he was elected to head up the fourth year of ASVAB training, handing him, what Nakamoto calls “the golden reigns.”

The instructors strive to remain objective, not pushing their students in one direction over another. With a background that involves both collegiate efforts and military service, Nakamoto is uniquely qualified to advise his students regardless what they decide.

“I’m an Army brat,” said Nakamoto. “I grew up in the Army. I know the environment that they’re going to be going into and I want to share that with them. If they decide to join the military, if they go to college, I’ve been to college. I have some understanding of what they’re getting into when they get there. I know what to expect. It’s not an easy transition, whatever they choose.”

But before the students can take that step into the future, they must survive the present.

“Many of these kids live in, what might be considered, dysfunctional environments,” said Barrow. “With this program, the kids are able to see that there are different and better ways to conduct your self. That’s the most important thing. By seeing that, it causes a different way that they approach their schoolwork, the way they treat each other and the way they treat their family at home.”

The “dysfunctional environments” stated by Lt. Col. Barrow were on full display March 15, 2012, when three young men snuck into Leflore High School wearing the school colors and opened fire on a student. Fortunately, no one was injured, although 30 students were caused to flee and the school was put on lock down.

Most people probably couldn’t relate to such an incomprehensible act of violence, but to Nakamoto, there was something eerily familiar about it.

“My home is, Fayetteville, N.C. The neighborhood I grew up in was just like Pritchard,” said Nakamoto. “I rolled into Pritchard and I literally thought I was going to turn a corner and see my house. So, the environment that they’re growing up in, it’s familiar to me. The school they’re going to is just like the one I went to. They’re environment is something I’m use to and the things they’re experiencing, I’ve experienced, unfortunately, many times, myself.”

Having come from an environment similar to Pritchard, Nakamoto knows the importance of having an outlet for emotions that might not otherwise have one. So, he and the other Coast Guard instructors took action.

“I asked if we could have a special session with students. No ASVAB, no math, no English, let’s just talk about what happened,” said Nakamoto. “That class was the most active class we had. The interactions between the teachers and students was very emotional, very open.”

“They talked to us about it and they had the same attitude that I’d expect, considering I grew up in that environment. It’s part of life. It’s something they hear and see everyday and it’s not easy. It never gets easier, but they’ve learned to cope with it. It’s an unfortunate situation they have to deal with and we help were we can.”

Having been associated with the program for all three years he’s been stationed in Mobile and having dedicated his last year at the training center to leading the education efforts, Nakamoto has invested a lot of himself in future of these students. At the end of the day there’s just one thing he wants back:

“Just seeing them graduate is reward enough,” said Nakamoto.

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