Written by Petty Officer Katelyn Shearer
At every military unit, there is one person who is expected to know everything at all times — the operations officer. They work tirelessly to ensure that all members are on the same page and prepared to complete the mission at hand.
That’s why when the command of Coast Guard Cutter Active, a 210-foot medium endurance cutter homeported in Port Angeles, Washington, found themselves without an “ops boss,” they knew they were in a pickle.
At the time, there were only a few weeks left before the cutter was hosting an aviation standardization team to evaluate crew performance on underway helicopter drills. Less than a month after that, Active was scheduled to participate in a multinational naval exercise called Trident Fury, hosted by the Canadian Royal Navy.
Someone needed to step up. Someone needed to surrender their time, sleep and sanity to maintain Active’s high operational standards.
Lt. j.g. Jessie Cuttie accepted the challenge.
“We’ve always known that Lt. j.g Cuttie was a hard working, smart and extremely capable officer,” said Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Michaelis, executive officer aboard Active. “As one of our highest performing junior officers, the commanding officer and I were extremely confident in her ability to continue to excel in this new position. True to form, she rose to the occasion with each new and unexpected challenge.”
Typically, the position of operations officer on a medium endurance cutter is filled by a lieutenant with years of experience at multiple sea and land units under their belt. Active was Cuttie’s first unit after graduating from officer candidate school in 2013. She served as the cutter’s assistant navigator, supply officer and assistant operations officer before accepting the position of operations officer.
“As ops, I learn double what I knew the day before, every day,” said Cuttie. “Most of it the hard way. It’s more of a reflection on the ops department and the command that this was an opportunity I could take advantage of.”
Once appointed, Cuttie dove in and planned the numerous helicopter drills involved in the crew’s aviation evaluation. Despite the crew being fatigued from their recent 89-day Joint Inter-Agency Task Force patrol, they aced all of their evolutions and received high compliments from the training team.
Encouraged by her first successful event as operations officer, Cuttie set sail for the Trident Fury exercises in high spirits.
“Because Trident Fury is a theater security operation exercise with Canada and the U.S. Navy, we’re doing many things that are outside the realm of what a medium endurance Coast Guard cutter usually does,” said the Charleston, South Carolina, native. “Interpreting NATO codes, steaming in formation, gunnery exercises with moving targets, and intricate boardings all make up the day-to-day operations. And it all starts with having the cutter positioned at the right place at the right time.”
Each day during Trident Fury, Cuttie was given a position and a time for the next exercise. She then had to calculate how long it would take to get there based on weather conditions and maximum speed of the cutter. Additionally, Active can’t make clean water or dispose of waste water while close to land; Cuttie had to find a window of time every other day to sail offshore or return to the pier.
“It’s been really interesting to see that despite the other ships having more technology and bigger crews, we all face similar challenges,” said Cuttie. “On the Navy vessels we’re working with, they have six people doing my job. We wear so many different hats in the Coast Guard and we do it well. We’re keeping up and playing just as much a part of this as the big ships.”
The Georgia Institute of Technology alumna admits that she’s made plenty of mistakes since taking the temporary position, but the crew has always stood by her.
“The crew is really patient,” she said. “It’s hard when your boss is new and making you do ridiculous things that you know won’t work. It says a lot that the command is letting me do this and the crew is helping me through it.”
Cuttie will transfer from Active this summer to take over as executive officer of Coast Guard Cutter Margaret Norvell, a 154-foot fast response cutter homeported in Miami.
“I love coming to work every day,” said Cuttie. “As long as I love coming to work every day, I’ll keep doing it.”
As a junior officer taking on a huge responsibility, Cuttie may not have had all the answers at first. But with unwavering determination and the support of her crew, she made sure Active was always ready to answer the call.