Written by Petty Officer 1st Class Nick Ameen.
Sixty-two recruits and four company commanders stood at attention in tight formation as Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Michael P. Leavitt took their places near other senior officers and distinguished guests to kick off the graduation ceremony for recruit company Zulu 186, Aug. 17, at Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, N.J.
The recruits of Zulu-186 were facing their final day of the Coast Guard’s eight-week basic training program, and now, they were facing the Coast Guard’s top leaders.
Papp, the Coast Guard’s 24th commandant, was the keynote speaker for the ceremony and offered insight, wisdom and knowledge to the recruits. He discussed the Coast Guard’s many missions and the challenging environment in which its people serve, as well as the Coast Guard’s foundation of proficiency.
“It was inspiring to share this important day with the family and friends of Zulu 186,” said Papp following the ceremony. “However, graduation is just the beginning. In just a couple of weeks, most of these new Coast Guardsmen will be conducting frontline Coast Guard operations regionally and globally.
“The continued flow of drugs and migrants toward our shores, threats to fisheries, the increased activity in the Arctic and our mandate to assure the safe and secure approaches to American ports all challenge the Coast Guard on a daily basis. To meet these threats we need the Coast Guardsmen of Zulu Company to continually develop their proficiency, which will serve as an anchor upon which the Coast Guard will hold fast in uncertain and stormy seas, and I have no doubt they will,” continued Papp.
That message of proficiency particularly resonated with Seaman Darius White, a graduate of Zulu 186.
“I know that the three anchors—proficiency in craft, proficiency in leadership and disciplined initiative—will help us when we get into the field and face unexpected challenges,” said White. “It’s not about just being the best you can be, it’s about growing beyond your means and seeing what you can do.”
As Zulu 186 disbanded, the mood in the room dramatically changed. It went from a military ceremony grounded in precision, to a joyful celebration between shipmates and loved ones. The hundreds of people who witnessed the ceremony so attentively from the stands were now amongst the sea of uniforms, embracing their spouses and hugging their children. Tears and laughter flowed equally as the eight weeks of family separation came to a cheerful end.
Seaman Eugenia Metzger, recipient of Zulu 186’s Seamanship Award, spoke of her excitement to be done with boot camp and to be an official member of the Coast Guard, despite losing her voice from weeks of sounding off.
“I’m very excited,” said Metzger. “I wanted to be in the Coast Guard all throughout high school, and now that it’s finally here and I’m actually in the Coast Guard, it feels amazing. It’s even better than I thought it would be.”
Metzger’s mentor and family friend, Cmdr. Jeffrey Novak, presented her graduation certificate during the ceremony.
“He guided me through the process and explained to me what the Coast Guard is all about,” said Metzger. “Between all the other services, he really made the Coast Guard stand out to me. My whole career choice is because of him.”