Written by Seaman Meredith Manning
Donning survival gear, learning the proper way to jump out of helicopters, taking a physical fitness test and sitting in the pilot seat of airplanes and helicopters is not what the average teenager does during summer vacation. However, for U.S. Navy Sea Cadet’s Suncoast Squadron and students of Pinellas Park High School’s First Responder Program, this was the opportunity of a life time.
Every summer for the past six years crewmembers from Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater, Florida have hosted a week-long internship for these high school students. The internship allowed them to experience the behind-the-scenes vantage point of both Coast Guard and civilian aviation. Furthermore, the internship exposed the students and cadets to other job opportunities and career paths within the Coast Guard.
The week-long opportunity kicked off with a welcome from Capt. Richard Lorenzen, commanding officer at Air Station Clearwater. After, they toured the air station, and explored both the HC-130 Hercules aircraft and the MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter. Next, the students toured a local airport to observe the civilian aspect of aviation. The day ended with a lesson on how the Coast Guard executes search and rescue cases, which prepared them for a simulated SAR exercise later in the week.
The second day was devoted to the exciting experience of working with Coast Guard rescue swimmers. The students participated in shallow water egress training and helicopter free fall deployment. They were eager to be buckled into a device, which simulated an aircraft entering the water. After, they had to free themselves and swim to the surface. They then proceeded to the dive platform and simulated entering the water from a helicopter to save a person in distress.
“It is important to understand all aspects of a survival situation,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Jacob Garbrecht, an aviation survival technician at the air station. “They were able to experience risk vs. gain by going through the same training as the crewmembers of a Jayhawk in an emergency egress situation.”
After a long day at the pool, they returned the next morning and were challenged with a Coast Guard physical training assessment consisting of a timed mile-and-a-half run, push-ups and sit-ups.
The physical training is a new addition to the program said Lt. Sean Lott, a pilot at the air station who led the internship. It gave them the chance to gauge their level of physical fitness and to see if they could endure the rigors of the Coast Guard’s missions.
Later in the day the students had the opportunity to run SAR exercises using the fundamentals they learned when they first arrived. During four simulated scenerios, they successfully rescued 10 people.
“There was a lot of learning, teamwork, growth and potential demontrated during the exercises,” said Lott. “The kids really enjoyed the exercises, even though they felt the pressure to respond and save lives.”
After learning about aircrafts, job opportunities, survival swimming, physical fitness and SAR, they wrapped up the internship with an orientation flight on a Hercules allowing the cadets to experience a Coast Guard aircraft in flight.
The internship was an opportunity not only for the sea cadets and the first responders program, but also for the crewmembers of the air station. It allowed the crewmembers to share their experiences and possibly inspire the next generation of Coast Guardsmen.
“I always look forward to the week with the kids because of their excitement to learn about my job as a pilot,” said Lott. “It is infectious and it motivates me to keep putting my uniform on everyday, and it is a reminder I have the greatest job I could have ever dreamed of.”