Sea stories as leadership lessons

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Capt. Joseph and Corey Eisenbarth
Peter Joseph, a former commanding officer on Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell, and Corey Eisenbarth, an Alaska fishing fleet deckhand, tell the story of a rescue from their unique perspective to Coast Guard Academy cadets. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Timothy Tamargo.

With contributions from Petty Officer 2nd Class Timothy Tamargo, Coast Guard Academy Public Affairs.

Corey Eisenbarth was an 18-year-old greenhorn on the fishing vessel Seahawk in the winter of 1983 when disaster struck and the vessel’s six crewmembers were left floating on makeshift rafts as their boat sank in the Bering Sea. After 11 hours in the water, Eisenbarth and his crew were saved by the crew of Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell.

Eisenbarth, as a crewmember aboard one of the Deadliest Catch’s fishing boats, Cornelia Marie, recalled the moment the Seahawk sank in an episode where crewmembers shared boat-sinking stories. Eisenbarth’s story of the Seahawk’s sinking resonated powerfully with one particular viewer of the show – retired Coast Guard Capt. Peter Joseph, commanding officer of Boutwell during Eisenbarth’s rescue. The producers of the show connected both Eisenbarth and Joseph, and in 2009 the two met for the first time.

“The Discovery Channel made the introduction for us,” said Eisenbarth. “I was thrilled to meet the person who had a hand in prolonging my life. I was only 18 at the time. I had just started and didn’t even know enough to know how lucky I was … Every day has been a bonus day for me since.”

Earlier this week, Joseph and Eisenbarth shared their unique bond and views on leadership with cadets at the United States Coast Guard Academy. Joseph told the story about the rescue from his perspective as part of the Link-in-the-Chain tradition, which has alumni in a mentoring and advisory role to classes separated by 50 years. Eisenbarth, asked by Joseph to join him, spoke to the cadets about the sinking from his point of view and the importance of leadership while aboard a vessel.

“It is important for cadets to be exposed to sea stories about our traditional Coast Guard missions,” said Capt. John O’Connor, Commandant of Cadets at the academy. “Tonight’s presentation by Captain Joseph and Corey illustrates that despite the advances and improvements to life-saving equipment, the basic principles of search and rescue response will never change and it will always be both a highly professional and deeply personal pursuit of excellence that is at the very core of our service.”

Eisenbarth and cadets
Corey Eisenbarth talks with academy cadets after his presentation to the corps of cadets. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Timothy Tamargo.

Cadet 1st Class Zackary Ballard was motivated by Joseph and Eisenbarth’s message and ready to take what he learned and apply it to his duties after graduation.

“We have a tremendous history that we can build upon in the Coast Guard,” said Ballard. “Their story really showed what the hard work and preparation we put in here at the academy could yield in the real world. Seeing Corey and the video of his daughter really made all this preparation tangible and made it real for us.”

Graduation seems a far way off for Cadet 4th Class Matthew Parr, but he knows the lessons passed on were just as important to the junior members of the corps of cadets.

“Personally for me as a fourth class, my career here seems very far away,” said Parr. “This really shows me why I’m here. I’m here not only for myself but to help people. It shows the service that I want to provide for my country and that what we are taught here will be worth something to somebody one day.”

Retired Coast Guard Capt. Kurt Colella, the academy’s dean of academics, highlighted the need for the cadets to hear these stories and how they effect their growth as leaders.

“The people bring the stories to life…and I think that’s the real key leadership tie in,” said Colella. “If you aren’t actually talking to the person that made the decision and why, you are getting some other persons interpretation. It adds to the cadet’s understanding of their service. The humility level of people who do this sort of stuff for a living.”

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