If you could ask the Commandant of the Coast Guard one question, what would it be?
Five female cadets, in D.C. for the AcademyWomen Leadership Symposium, were faced with answering this question as they met with the Commandant of the Coast Guard, Adm. Bob Papp. This once in a career opportunity made them privy to the ultimate insider tips on what it takes to be a Coast Guardsmen.
The intimidation factor was ever present as the five young cadets sat down across from Adm. Papp. But before the conversation started, Papp pulled out his chair from behind the desk and sat off to the side, creating an open atmosphere and helping to put the cadets at ease.
As the conversation began to unfold, First Class Cadet Jenna Carpenter asked a question about her opportunities for a first tour afloat. She had the desire to serve afloat, but was there space?
Papp replied frankly that this was one thing he was absolutely working on. While the service is acquiring new cutters with better co-ed accommodations like the National Security Cutter, it is also changing the structure on existing platforms to better accommodate female members.
“This is a challenge facing us now,” said Papp. “I want you to think about it, and shoot me an e-mail, I’m in the directory.”
The cadets laughed at the prospect of e-mailing him, but more importantly his imploring for ideas prompted First Class Cadet Laura Delgado to share her experience of being stationed on a 110-foot patrol boat for her summer assignment. She had issues with her berthing situation, but admitted the time aboard was invaluable for her professional development.
As Delgado spoke, there was a visible change in Papp’s body language. Previously leaning forward and animated, he sat back and took it all in.
Through the continued storytelling and exchanging of ideas, the once nervous laughter and chatter turned into a comfortable and honest dialogue.
“When you were a cadet, did you ever imagine becoming Commandant?” asked First Class Cadet Allison Majcher.
“There were days when I didn’t even think I would graduate the Academy,” said Papp. “I never imagined and I never planned to be Commandant, I just picked jobs I knew I would enjoy.”
The cadets had gone well over their allotted time, but there was still time for one more question – “What is something you know now, that you wish you knew as an Ensign?”
Papp unhesitatingly responded, “I wish I would have gone to the Chief’s Mess.”
The first time he visited the Chief’s Mess he was “requested” to be there, the Admiral noted. A request a junior officer should initiate rather than the Chiefs. He told the cadets that to this day he still seeks advice, guidance and counsel from the Chief’s Mess.
As the meeting drew to a close and the cadets took advantage of the photo opportunity, they also reflected on the conversations that just occurred.
“It was very flattering for the commandant to take time out of his day to meet with the five of us,” said 1/c Cadet Raven Holm. “A lot of amazing opportunities come up in the Coast Guard by virtue of it being such a small and versatile service, and Adm. Papp’s willingness to spend time with us really spoke to that.”
“My favorite part was when Adm. Papp talked about his family,” said Second Class Cadet Madeline Buchert. “It showed that as important as Adm. Papp is to the Coast Guard, his family still holds to be one of his highest priorities.”
Adm. Papp started the conversation by saying the cadet’s unvarnished observations were valuable to him. But, there was no doubt that the unvarnished responses from Adm. Papp were even more valuable to the cadets.