The Unsung Heroes of the Coast Guard Cutter Eagle

by Petty Officer Shawn Eggert

SEATTLE – Two things come to mind when the Coast Guard Cutter Barque Eagle comes to town; sails and cadets. And while the Coast Guard is just as proud of its boat as it is of its cadets, there is an important element of the Eagle that is often overlooked.

“I think there is a general lack of understanding that the Eagle is a functioning, operational unit,” said Seaman/Boatswain’s Mate Sharon Mezulis, who works in the operations department aboard the Eagle. “There is a lack of awareness of the permanent crew which is here three hundred sixty five days a year, during dry dock and freezing winters; not just when we’re sailing the Caribbean.”

It’s understandable that people would get swept up in the Eagle’s more famous attributes with its six miles of rigging, 23,300 feet of sail and 150 energetic and youthful cadets, but the permanent crew of approximately 50 enlisted and officer members aboard the Eagle fills a very important role in the maintenance of the vessel and the training of the Coast Guard’s future leaders.

“When we aren’t in the middle of a summer cruise, we have more time to take care of our own damage control training, and there is a tremendous amount of maintenance to be done,” said Mezulis. “During that six-to-nine-month period, the Eagle is completely manned and maintained without the aid of the cadets.”

Mezulis and the other members of the crew are largely responsible for keeping the Eagle seaworthy and ready for the newest group of cadets to come aboard at the beginning of summer. In addition to maintaining the decks and sails and painting the hull, extensive work sometimes need to be done to a part of the ship visitors rarely get to see.

“Everybody sees the topside of the Eagle,” said Damage Controlman First Class Joseph Ander, lead petty officer aboard the Eagle. “Unless they’re in the Coast Guard, they really don’t know about what’s going on below decks.”

What goes on below decks is another often overlooked aspect of the tall ship.

“We have the largest afloat dining facility in the Coast Guard when we’re underway,” Ander said. “For that dining facility, you have to make water, keep the lights on and, when there’s no wind, you’ve got to make way somehow. You can’t just be left to the fates.”

That’s where the Eagle’s massive 16-cylinder Caterpillar D399 engine comes in. The Eagle’s engine generates about 1000 horsepower and can propel the ship up to a cruising speed of 7.5 knots (8.7 mph.) Traveling by sail may sometimes be faster, but it isn’t always practical and the engineers aboard the Eagle work hard to ensure the engine is up and running for those times when the Eagle has to navigate a narrow channel or make way upon a calm sea.

“When we first got underway this summer, we had to do a top end overhaul on the main diesel engine,” said Machinery Technician First Class John Kovacevich, auxiliary and main propulsion division supervisor aboard the Eagle. “We got that and some problems with the valves behind us and it’s been running smooth ever since.”

With the Eagle back on the wing, the crew was able to pick up their first group of cadets and get onto the ship’s number one purpose: training.

“I love training,” said Kovacevich. “It’s a good feeling when you’re teaching somebody something and you see them get what you’re telling them. It also helps me retain that knowledge because I’m using it everyday. It makes everybody better.”

Mezulis, who joined the Coast Guard after a stint as an environmental education instructor in Flagstaff, Ariz., found herself training cadets almost as soon as she was out of boot camp.

“In boot camp, I was asked a few questions to ensure I was ready and certain I wanted to work in a teaching environment” said Mezulis. “I arrived during the winter when there were no cadets aboard, but was training them on watchstanding by summer. I think it’s very beneficial for the cadets to interact with enlisted members throughout their training.”

“If you’re in the Coast Guard and you want to train, if you want to teach, if you want to pass on what you’ve learned, this is definitely the unit you want to come to,” said Ander, a former instructor at the Coast Guard Training Center in Yorktown, Va. “You’re pretty much bombarded with questions from the cadets. As long as they’re willing to learn, I’m willing to teach.”

Perhaps it is the fate of all educators to be overshadowed by the accomplishments of their students and maybe the name of a craft will always outlast the names of its crew, but one thing in this case is certain: The men and women who serve aboard the Eagle will be always ready to train the future leaders of the Coast Guard and its engineers will ensure the Eagle is always ready to make that happen.

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