Editor’s note: This instructor profile is part of a series profiling some of the best instructors 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 Paul LeBoeuf is the acting lead instructor at the Gulf Regional Fisheries Training Center. He is responsible for designing, developing, implementing, and evaluating the curriculum for GRFTC’s Living Marine Resources boarding officer course. Interview conducted by Lt. Denny Ernster.
1 . What made you decide to become an instructor?
While stationed in the Outer Banks, I taught a few classes at the local Community College. That is where I discovered that I enjoyed teaching.
2. What do you find most motivating or rewarding in your role as an instructor?
Two different things – the first would have to be teaching an inexperienced boarding officer. Watching them on Monday nervous and completely lost, then by Friday they are raring to go with a full understanding of how to complete a boarding. The second is helping to expand an experienced boarding officer’s knowledge; hearing an experienced boarding officer state that they have learned something throughout the course of the week is very rewarding.
3. What are some lessons you have learned from your students?
Have a back-up plan. And have a back-up plan for that back-up plan! I try to get there early every day we have a class, especially on the first day. I try and speak to each student; I feel you need to get to know a student on a level other than just as an instructor. That way, while you are teaching, you can tell if they are lost. Also, every student learns a little differently, so an instructor has to have different delivery methods. And if that doesn’t work, sometimes a different student in the class can explain it better than I can. Use your resources for sure.
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 love to go back to an operational unit. I enjoy being operational, so an maritime safety and security team or a cutter would be great, somewhere I can use my skills. Although, I’d also take another instructor billet. Being at this unit has made me understand the importance of knowing your job. I really thought I understood fisheries before; I had conducted hundreds of commercial fisheries boardings. When I reported here and started to dig into the laws, my eyes were opened to just how much I still had to learn.
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.
Well, let’s see….. I would have to say the time I got underway with Cutter Thetis. I had just gotten qualified to teach here at GRFTC; Thetis requested an instructor to get underway with them and train their boarding teams.
So, there I was in the Gulf of Mexico, setting up for my first class. I was expecting maybe 10 boarding team members at most. I turned around to see at least 30 people on the mess deck. What in the world had I gotten myself into?! I realized I didn’t bring nearly enough materials. I took a deep breath and dove right in, and then I saw the commanding officer and the executive officer sit down. I froze; I looked across the galley at all the different faces and ranks. I had non-rates who’d probably never even seen a commercial fishing vessel before; I had several first class petty officers that I figured had seen hundreds; ensigns, lieutenants; then there were the command, expecting nothing but the best.
What in the world had my command gotten me into?!, is exactly what I was thinking. I was so overwhelmed in the moment. I took a deep breath, crossed to the other side of the galley and continued with the introduction. Here I was, no more than 6 months at GRFTC, underway with a 270’ and teaching over 30 personnel and its command. I pushed through the week-long training without a hitch, even held extra training with the boarding officers and junior officers for case packages.
After a week and a half, the weather decided to cooperate and lay down to 6’ – time to conduct some fisheries boardings! The first one, I was nervous, but everything went smoothly. I couldn’t have been happier. The boarding team went through each measurement with precision; I didn’t have to step in. After two more boardings, I knew that I had done my job; I had succeeded in my mission.
6. Describe some new or innovative methods or equipment you are using in the classroom.
One piece of equipment I have started to use when I teach is the ELMO. It’s like an old overhead projector. I can place a blank fishing violation report on the ELMO, and it’s projected through the computer to the white board. I can walk the class through all 31 pages, filling in each space while the students follow my lead. This process allows the students to practice filling out the form while I demonstrate. I have incorporated it into a few other classes as well.
7. How do you ensure that you keep current, teaching students the most up-to-date information and skills they will need?
Get in the books and stay in the books. To stay current on fisheries, an instructor has to check for updates at least monthly – sometimes more often, depending on their role. I try and check the Gulf Council website, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries website, and e-CFR, Code of Federal Regulations website as often as I can. It’s amazing how often things can change with fisheries. Within the last 18 months, the majority of the Code of Federal Regulations has changed at least three times. Then on top of all of that, we have enforcement changes coming down from NOAA. The form requirements change often too, so we have to check the Atlantic Area Living Marine Resources portal page to ensure we have the latest and greatest.
8. Are there specific experiences, skills, or knowledge you have found helpful in this tour as an instructor?
I would say the number one thing is the fisheries boarding officer experience. I had four years experience in the field conducting commercial fisheries boardings prior to this tour. Without this experience, it would be extremely hard to completely understand what instructors are talking about in the classroom.
9. What would you say to someone who is considering a tour as an instructor?
It’s tough duty for sure, but worth it. Put it on your résumé only if you can fully commit to the job. It’s extremely hard for some people to stand in front of a crowd and talk. Now, think of that, but you are the subject matter expert. There are always snipers in class, people who are constantly trying to prove you wrong or make you look bad. So you have to know the material 110%. Instructor duty is not like your normal Coast Guard job where once you are qualified, you can breathe for a moment. This job is a constant. It’s tough, but extremely rewarding.
10. Who do you think would make a great instructor? What would you say to encourage them to pursue assignment to an instructor billet?
I think if you are extremely passionate about your job, you will be a great instructor. If you love your rating, go teach at “A” school; if you think you are the best boat driver ever, go teach people how to drive a boat. If you really want to be an instructor, be the best, dig deep into the manuals, research, use your liberty time to expand your knowledge.