Story and Photos by Lt. Michael Starnes, Sector Houston-Galveston
Reservist Magazine #1-2015 • Around the Reserve
In the years since 9/11 the primary method of training Reserve small boat coxswains has been to activate boatswain mates on Title 10 orders, where they receive all of their training, and after 3 to 5 years they returned back to drilling status. This has created a problem with the majority of our coxswains being senior enlisted personnel and coupled with the closing down of most military out-load Title 10 operations, we no longer have the ready availability to train our reservists while on active duty.
The Reserve command cadre at Sector Houston-Galveston, Texas saw this trend happening and realized the need to train new boatswain mates as coxswains within the confines of the standard training structure of inactive duty for training and two weeks annual duty for training. The training center at Yorktown, Virginia offers an excellent, two-week coxswain course in the 25-foot response b0at-small or RB-S; however, it is difficult to get enough seats in the quota system to train all reservists.
Staff at Sector Houston-Galveston reviewed the success of the local training “colleges” being offered around the country for boat crewmen, boarding team members, and pollution responders. They realized that working off of that model and using the Yorktown coxswain course as a guide, they could develop a locally-held, intense course of coxswain instruction. After searching throughout available Sector personnel, a team of instructors and planning staff were assembled and the site of Station Galveston was chosen as an ideal location for instruction.
Station Galveston, which has been rebuilt since Hurricane Ike in 2008, offered excellent classroom facilities and a vast array of training opportunities on the water, to include, the sheltered ship channel, open bays, the Inter-Coastal Waterway, and the largest petrochemical port in the country with a high-volume of varied, commercial ship traffic.
After a preparation and planning period, which began in late 2013, the course began on May 12, 2014 and ran through May 23. Eleven students and five instructors gathered with the planning staff to begin learning what they would need to complete the coxswain personal qualification system. Challenged with seasonal thunderstorms the first few days, underway opportunities were limited; however, the vast majority of classroom topics were completed during this time. Once the weather cleared, the underway days became long and hot but extremely rewarding as the students worked their way through the underway curriculum in and around the Galveston and Houston Ship Channels.
Between morning classroom training, the trailering and launching of boats at the Galveston yacht club coupled eight hours underway. Most training days lasted up to 12 hours. The students remained enthusiastic, as they were there to absorb and learn the skills necessary to become qualified Coast Guard coxswains. The instructors skillfully led their students through all PQS topics including piloting, navigation, boat handling, mooring, trailering, search patterns, towing, rescue, and much more. Student progress was rapid, quickly advancing from short navigation runs and boat handling in the ship channel to more advanced maneuvers, to include search patterns and towing.
When the class was in the early stages of planning the contingency coxswain qualification was the goal. But with the advent of the Reserve coxswain designation in January 2014, search and rescue had to be added to the curriculum. This was a critical focal point of learning because most of the class had no previous exposure to these search patterns during their time as contingency crewmen. By the first weekend of the school the students felt like pros, running victor sierras and expanding squares at night without missing a beat.
A strong camaraderie was built between all. The students worked in the same small groups while the instructors rotated through each boat on a daily basis to ensure maximum diversity of learning. Before long each instructor had earned a nickname, or call sign, most notably, lead instructor Senior Chief Petty Officer Greg Robertson, “The Star,” an endearing reference to the Robertson’s rank insignia.
The academic portion of the class covered the entirety of the small boat coxswain PQS with over 33 classroom hours and nightly homework. This included policy, procedures, navigation, chart work and more. Station Galveston was undergoing an extensive rebuilt and dock space was not available for the class. The Galveston Yacht Club generously donated two spaces and the students became adept at trailering and launching the other two RB-Ss. Almost 50 hours was spent underway training, totaling over 900 individual hours without a single incident.
The instructors and staff closely evaluated the students for progress in learning both academically and within their boat handling skills and they voted on a few notable achievements: top student went to Petty Officer 3rd Class Jennifer Barrington from Station Houston, and most improved was Petty Officer 3rd Class Cody Steel from Station Galveston. Both were presented with a handsome, bamboo-handled marlinspike in recognition of their achievements.
We would like to thank all of the support elements that helped put this course together and made it possible to conduct this training. There’s not enough space to properly thank everyone in this forum, but most notably: Senior Chief Petty Officer Mark Spillane, Office-In-Charge, Station Galveston, for the use of facilities and personnel to keep the boats maintained; Chief Warrant Officer Jay Greiner, Sector Houston Boat Forces, working so hard to acquire platforms for training and the entire District 8 Reserve staff for diligently working to make sure orders were cut and funds were in place to keep things running smoothly.
Moving forward, several new Reserve coxswains are expected in the coming months. There were several interested candidates who were turned away due to limited space this year…but we hope to repeat this successful course next year, allowing others to take part in the excellent training environment Texas has to offer.