Editor’s note: This instructor profile is part of a series profiling some of the best instructors and company commanders within the FORCECOM enterprise. Force Readiness Command will be featuring outstanding instructors regularly who go above and beyond to help shape the future of the Coast Guard. Petty Officer 2nd Class Nicholas Saporito is a Training Center Cape May Company Commander who was recently selected as Training Center Cape May’s Company Commander and Sailor of the Quarter.
Interview conducted by Lt. Donnie Brzuska
1. What made you decide to become an instructor?
Ever since I completed basic training, I have dreamt of becoming a company commander. I still remember my company commanders vividly, just like every Coast Guardsmen I have ever spoken to does. I had a great first impression of the Coast Guard because I had great company commanders who by the end of basic training I admired and respected. I wanted the opportunity to be this first impression and to help train the future of America’s Coast Guard to the best of my abilities.
2. What do you find most motivating or rewarding in your role as an instructor?
It truly is amazing to see the transformation that takes place in eight weeks; from a group of individual civilians who may have doubted his/her decision from the moment the company commanders welcomed them off the bus, to functioning members of the military. I have to admit that I feel proud to know that I was part of that transformation process. At every graduation, I am excited to see the end product, and I am always excited and eager to pick up another company and do it all over again.
3. What are some of the lessons you have learned from your students?
I have learned that people have forgotten how to listen and work together. This day and age a lot of attention is given to an individual’s accomplishments, which is great, but in the military, teamwork is key. I have learned that holding the whole company accountable for a mistake that could have been corrected among themselves helps bring them together. This encourages them to communicate with each other and help each other.
4. Where do you want to go for your next assignment, and how will this tour as an instructor help you in your career?
I would like to go independent duty at a small boat station or possibly be an “A” School instructor. This tour has made me much more comfortable at public speaking and has also taught me valuable leadership skills.
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.
The most memorable “Sea Story” for me was when a recruit was having a seizure and stopped breathing. The ambulance was on its way but wouldn’t arrive for another two minutes. I started performing CPR and the recruit started breathing after I began chest compressions. Watching her take that initial breath and begin breathing was one of the most rewarding feelings I’ve ever felt.
6. Describe some new or innovative methods or equipment you are using in the classroom.
One of my favorite strategies of teaching is requesting a volunteer and then selecting the person who clearly does not want to participate. By challenging this person, I am building this individual’s confidence and choosing them as a leader. I’ve found recruits who shy away at first have never been given the opportunity to challenge themselves. I have seen many of my recruits transform when they are under this type of pressure succeed and see what they are truly capable of. I also feel that this builds comradery among the whole unit; I always encourage them to help each other. I like them to understand early on that when one prospers they all do, but when one fails, that is also a reflection of all them as a whole.
7. How do you ensure that you keep current, teaching students the most up-to-date information and skills they will need?
Prior to picking up a new company, the company commanders have about a week to prepare and determine a plan of action for the company’s progress. During that time, we discuss the roles each of us will have and the tone we want to set. Many company commanders have different styles and ways of training so it’s a good idea for us to talk about our methods prior to picking up so everyone is on the same page and the recruits see a united front.
8. Are there specific experiences, skills, or knowledge you have found helpful in this tour as an instructor?
I am adamant about always being on-time and prepared for any event in my life. On-time for a company commander means being early to everything. It is crucial to have plenty of time to review and discuss what has happened with the company prior to taking coverage from the company commander who has been there. I would strongly advise anyone who is entering this field to always be early if they want to be successful.
9. What would you say to someone who is considering a tour as an instructor?
I would strongly recommend they proceed with pursuing this goal. Being a company commander has pushed me far out of my comfort zone and has made me a better Coast Guardsman. This so far has been the most rewarding experience I have ever had. It is a very demanding job, you will put in long hours and there is little time off. While you are at work, you will constantly be moving, speaking and motivating recruits; you will be exhausted but the feeling of satisfaction will be your driving force.
10. Who do you think would make a great instructor? What would you say to encourage them to pursue assignment to an instructor billet?
A person who is dedicated, confident, grounded and has a positive attitude would be a great company commander. This is one of the most influential positions in the Coast Guard, and it needs individuals with these qualities to set the standard for the recruits. If you have these qualities, then you strive to be the best, can deliver the best and expect the best. You have to lead by example. This is where you can make your mark in the U.S. Coast Guard.