Editor’s note: This instructor profile is part of a series profiling some of the best instructors and company commanders throughout Force Readiness Command. This series will feature outstanding instructors who regularly go above and beyond to help shape the future of the Coast Guard. Lt. Cmdr. Dan Owen is the Coast Guard’s Liaison Officer at the U.S. Navy’s Afloat Training Group Pacific Northwest in Everett, Wash.
1. What made you decide to become an instructor?
I’ve always believed that the best way to retain information is to learn, do, then teach. What I enjoy most is enabling others to do something better or more efficiently. Instructing should be a symbiotic relationship where both the student and instructor learn and benefit from each other. This is particularly true with the Afloat Training Groups, where almost all of us either came directly from or will soon be heading back to a cutter to use the very skills (if not work with the very people) we’ve been instructing.
2. What do you find most motivating or rewarding in your role as an instructor?
Reuniting with former shipmates, interacting with new or future shipmates and being able to see someone go from frustration to elation (i.e. see the light come on) once they have, with your help, mastered a new skill. Best of all is reading cutter patrol summaries highlighting safe/successful mission execution and swift actions taken by a well-trained crew to effectively combat any/all shipboard emergencies. The thought that you may have played even a small part in making that possible always brings tremendous affirmation to our ATG credo, “cuttermen training cuttermen.”
3. What are some of the lessons you have learned from your students?
First and foremost, the vast majority of Coast Guard men and women can and want to do a great job. Second of all, we have a lot of really smart and talented people in the Coast Guard. Always take the time to listen to what others have to say and to hear their recommendations. Never assume you have all of the answers. Chances are you will learn more from them than you ever thought possible.
4. Where do you want to go for your next assignment, and how will this tour as an instructor help you in your career?
Right back out to sea on a major cutter! One of the best parts of being an Afloat Training Group instructor is the close connection to the cutter fleet. While technically described as a staff tour, you still feel like you’re part of every crew you train. Whereas, most cuttermen typically spend three or more years in a staff tour completely removed from their primary specialty and, when they return afloat, face an uphill battle getting up to speed on all of the recent changes.
5. Share a memorable anecdote or “sea story” from your time as an instructor…or, describe the most significant challenge you have overcome as an instructor.
One of the best parts of the job is getting to swap sea stories/reminisce with former and new shipmates. Also, getting to travel to remote & intensely beautiful parts of Alaska to visit and train many of our Northwest cutters has been an incredible experience… to include getting snowed in up in Homer, Alaska with no power to the town. Fortunately, one of the local restaurants had a gas-powered grill to cook us up some elk burgers and moose steak.
6. Describe some new or innovative methods or equipment you are using in the classroom.
Much of what Afloat Training Groups do constitutes experiential learning in a real world environment. The cutters are our classrooms and the sea is our school. Where innovation comes into play is helping cutter training teams develop drill scenarios that are as realistic as possible (e.g. smoke machines, sound effects, good crew member actors and scenarios that reflect actual missions, areas of operations and realistic possibilities).
7. How do you ensure that you keep current, teaching students the most up-to-date information and skills they will need?
This is a key component of the instructor-student symbiotic relationship. The cutter fleet is by no means immune to change. Shipboard personnel, equipment and procedures can and often do change, sometimes well before we become aware of the change. Therefore, we recognize that in order to ensure maximum training effectiveness, our training doctrine/procedures must be amenable to changes based on recommendations from a constantly evolving cutter fleet. Additionally, we continually ask for trainers with recent afloat tours.
8. Are there specific experiences, skills, or knowledge you have found helpful in this tour as an instructor?
Having experience and passion for what you are instructing is absolutely essential. If you’re going to be training cuttermen you need to be a cutterman. The value of knowing what it was like being on the receiving end of cutter training brought so many valuable insights into this job. There is simply no substitute for having served multiple tours on cutters (preferably multiple platforms) when it comes to training cutter crews. I suspect the same is the case in other specialties. Anyone can go through a checklist, but it takes years of experience to be able to explain in detail why something is on a checklist and how to properly fulfill those requirements.
9. What would you say to someone who is considering a tour as an instructor?
10. Who do you think would make a great instructor? What would you say to encourage them to pursue assignment to an instructor billet?
Everyone in the Coast Guard is an instructor in some shape or fashion. As soon as we learn one skill, there’s always someone new coming up behind us needing to learn the same skill. As I mentioned earlier, teaching is a vital component of our cognitive ability to retain essential skills, and a trained crew is essential to mission safety and success. I encourage every Coast Guard member to instruct others, not just for others’ sake but for their own sake and for the collective success of the unit and mission.