When Cadet 1st Class Hayley Feindel was in high school and it came time to decide her future, she – like many students – couldn’t narrow down what she wanted to do with her life. That all changed in 2005 when the season’s 12th tropical depression formed over the Bahamas. The tropical depression became a storm, and that storm became Hurricane Katrina.
Feindel’s family, who lived in the small community of River Ridge, La., was briefly evacuated to Baker, La., but their move became anything but temporary. With their home destroyed, Feindel moved in with family in Georgia where her family, along with her aunt’s family, relocated the remainder of her junior year.
While in Georgia, Feindel vividly remembers watching news coverage of the storm’s aftermath and seeing all of her favorite places destroyed. As she watched the devastation she also saw hope in the form of Coast Guardsmen, National Guardsmen, first responders and volunteers mobilizing from across the country.
“Watching all of those things destroyed, I just felt so helpless,” recalls Feindel. “I wanted to be there helping. I didn’t want to be the person sitting on the couch watching them.”
And so, she became someone who helped. Feindel applied to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and after a year at New Mexico Military Institute walked under the arches of Chase Hall, the academy’s cadet barracks, holding on to the ideals that brought her there.
Four years later, as a senior at the academy, Feindel is not just a member of the Coast Guard, but a leader. Driven by her desire to take action and get involved she has not only stood out academically, but is also an ace on the field.
Feindel pitches for the Coast Guard Academy Bears softball team where she is the NCAA Division III all-time leader with 1,206 strikeouts at the start of the 2012 season. In her junior year, she led the nation and set school records for wins (37), strikeouts (457), shutouts (26) and earned-run average (0.56) as she became the first Bears softball player to win first-team All-America accolades.
Continuing to be motivated by her desire to support those around her, she has grown from someone with aspirations to a leader actually making an impact. Despite her tremendous growth, she says it’s just a matter of being true to herself.
“Don’t get too wrapped up thinking about how to lead,” said Feindel. “Just lead by example and it just happens. If you stay true to what you think and what you believe and work hard, anyone can be a leader.”
While she makes it sound so simple, Feindel says life as a cadet is a “delicate balance.” From waking up to reveille far before most college-aged students, to carrying out military training and academic studies before lights out, Feindel has plenty to juggle at the academy.
“A lot is asked of you here, and you’re not doing something right if it’s easy because this place challenges you,” said Feindel.
And whether on the pitcher’s mound or in the classroom, the challenges Feindel experiences allow her to learn how to perform under pressure.
“When your back is against the wall you have to be at your best. This place is built to teach you how to perform under pressure,” said Feindel.
One of her most recent challenges was battling a broken finger and missing 13 games, having not missed a single game pitching since her freshman year. True to form, Feindel returned from the injury in style and threw a pair of shutouts, becoming the Division III all-time leader in innings pitched. She now has 905 innings pitched in her career, breaking the previous record of 898 innings.
With every win she has had in the circle – and she has had a lot – she takes with her vital leadership lessons to support training in the barracks. And that management in the barracks helps her with her schoolwork.
“My studies as a government major come full circle back out to the field. They all compliment each other and that’s how the academy is so successful in producing well-rounded leaders of character,” said Feindel.
Looking back on her experiences at the academy, particularly on the softball field, Feindel recalls one key component – teamwork.
“The best way to foster teamwork is through commitment, and beyond that committing to something bigger than yourself,” said Feindel.
And what is that something bigger for Feindel? Service to her nation in the U.S. Coast Guard.
She will soon be graduating from the academy with orders to Coast Guard Cutter Munro in Kodiak, Alaska. The pitcher, who is fearless on the ball field, says she is a little intimidated by the snow and ice but is ready to take on “the last frontier.” Her teammates will no longer be her softball team but her division aboard Munro.
“You are just one ensign, just one division on a 378-foot cutter,” said Feindel. “But if we all do our job and remain committed to something bigger, we’ll get the little things done. And when the little things are done big things will happen.”