Navigation…it’s not just in the cockpit

An aviator knows they can depend on an assortment of tools as they plan and carry out their missions, but what about navigating their life and career? The answer to that question, for the Coast Guard aviator, is a mentor.

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Aviate, navigate, communicate. These three words are drilled into the minds of Coast Guard pilots from day one. First, you have to focus on flying the plane. Next, you have to figure out where the plane is headed. Lastly, you have to talk to those in or outside the plane.

This week 3,000 aviators descend upon Dallas for International Women in Aviation. But, as these aviators are ashore and not in the skies, they still find themselves reflecting on the three words that mean the most to them: aviate, navigate, communicate. This story is the second of three from International Women in Aviation and focuses on “navigate” as Compass talks with Coast Guard aviators on how they navigate their careers in flight.

A Coast Guard C-130 Hercules aircraft from Air Station Sacramento. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman David Flores.
A Coast Guard C-130 Hercules aircraft from Air Station Sacramento. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman David Flores.

With contributions from Petty Officer 2nd Class Kelly Parker.

As a plane soars through the skies, it is a pilot’s duty to know exactly where they are at any given time. They depend on a suite of tools from aeronautical charts and GPS systems to radar and air traffic control for help.

An aviator knows they can depend on an assortment of tools as they plan and carry out their missions, but what about navigating their life and career? The answer to that question, for the Coast Guard aviator, is a mentor.

One of the service’s newest aviators, Lt. Caroline Kearney is stationed at Air Station North Bend, her first unit as a Coast Guard aviator. Kearney, a recent graduate of flight school, is becoming more proficient in her qualifications but also has questions about her career in flight.

Lt. Caroline Kearney, a pilot at Coast Guard Air Station North Bend, at flight school. Photo courtesy of Lt. Caroline Kearney.
Lt. Caroline Kearney, a pilot at Coast Guard Air Station North Bend, at flight school. Photo courtesy of Lt. Caroline Kearney.

“At flight school, you learn how to fly but they don’t teach you how to craft your career, to get to where you want to go,” said Kearney.

Cmdr. Laura Thompson, a career aviator, has experiences in the aviation community that have shaped who she is today. She knows that part of her role as a leader within her community is sharing those experiences with those rising through the ranks.

“It’s hard what we do, it’s hard for aviation specifically. Flight school is hard. Your first unit is hard. Qualifying is hard. And sometimes it’s just nice to know that it was hard for others too,” said Thompson. “It helps people get through those challenges and helps them succeed.”

“As a mentor, depending on what is going on with that person, I’ve most likely been there and can share how I dealt with it,” added Thompson. “I can share about how I could have done it better or could have done it worse, giving them some tools to help them succeed.”

With hundreds of women gathered together at International Women in Aviation this week, it was a perfect opportunity for many young aviators to seek advice on their profession and careers from mentors, including those outside their unit.

“I feel like being here really helps out because you’re getting mentorship from a level where it’s not someone who’s your supervisor,” said Kearney. “So you feel more comfortable asking questions and going a little bit beyond what you would want to ask your supervisor.”

The Coast Guard’s various airplanes and helicopters are found at different air stations across the country and Kearney finds value in talking to those outside her air station. She says it opens up a different world of aviators that come from different communities, like fixed or rotary wing, or different specialties, like engineering and operations.

The Coast Guard's newest plane, the HC-144 Ocean Sentry, shares the ramp at the Aviation Logistics Center in Elizabeth City, N.C., with an HU-25 Falcon and the long-retired HU-16 Albatross. U.S. Coast Guard photo.
The Coast Guard's newest plane, the HC-144 Ocean Sentry, shares the ramp at the Aviation Logistics Center in Elizabeth City, N.C., with an HU-25 Falcon and the long-retired HU-16 Albatross. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

“Seeing those outside your air station really brings together different experiences that aren’t necessarily at your unit. Especially since I’m so new to the aviation community,” said Kearney.

“Mentoring junior folks that enter the organization, whether it be women or men, helps that person succeed,” said Thompson. “For one, it offers a vision. It also may open their eyes to opportunities they aren’t aware of.”

Thompson mentors individuals in the aviation community but she knows it also strengthens the organization as a whole.

“In the long term mentoring ultimately helps the Coast Guard retain people and it also may help someone decide if this is what they really want,” said Thompson. Because just like we choose people to be in the Coast Guard, people need to chose to be in the Coast Guard. So I see mentoring as an important piece of our organization.”

Aircrews must know where they are and know where they are headed, following the best route. Today’s aviators rely on advanced GPS and radar systems to let them know where they are at, but to pursue what path their careers will take, they rely on mentors to navigate life’s challenges.

Coast Guard aviators at International Women in Aviation. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Kelly Parker.
Coast Guard aviators at International Women in Aviation. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Kelly Parker.

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