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Underway on the Eagle, a day of fun for trainees and strengthening of Coast Guard-Navy relationship

Standing at the foremast on the Coast Guard barque Eagle, trainees from the Naval Academy Preparatory School rubbed their hands together to stay warm and pondered their fear of heights as they looked up.

It was a foggy Friday morning on Long Island Sound, and it would get chillier as they did an "up and over," which means climbing up the port-side shroud — the standing rigging — and down the other side. It's something first-class Cadet Hayden Carter called a "significant confidence challenge."

There was also the fact that the foghorn was sounding every two minutes, so before the trainees climbed, another cadet did a trial run to make sure the sound wouldn't be too alarming while climbing. The reaction: a shrug.

After more than seven hours on the Eagle, many agreed this was their favorite part of the day.

Photo gallery: Underway on barque Eagle for Naval Academy Prep students

Last week marked the first time a group of trainees from the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport were invited to go underway for a day on the Eagle, the Coast Guard's 295-foot training ship. Capt. Michael Turdo, commanding officer of the Eagle, said the Coast Guard is already trying to get another visit on the books for next April.

Most of the NAPS trainees aboard the Eagle on Thursday and Friday are headed to the Naval Academy after graduating in May; Executive Officer Jody Maisano said only 23 of the 252 are bound for the Coast Guard Academy.

Turdo said the invitation to the Naval Academy Preparatory School came at the request of Rear Adm. William G. Kelly, superintendent of the Coast Guard Academy.

Turdo said it's not so much about building a partnership specifically with NAPS, but about strengthening the relationship between the Coast Guard and the Navy.

"It is inspiring to look out on these decks and seeing all of you getting ready to take the watch," Turdo told the trainees after lunch, adding, "It's an exciting four years that await you, and five years after that at least."

The trainees were happy for the rare chance to get away from the Naval Station Newport — and to not be in physics class.

Some described prep school life in a pandemic as being "trapped," or being in a bubble. Aside from winter break, they haven't left base since the end of October.

Asked how the trainees were doing on board Eagle, NAPS company officer Capt. Shane Bowling said, "They're doing great. It's been a very tough year, obviously, due to COVID, so this is one of the first opportunities they'll get to (see) the maritime service."

Bowling is in charge of the third company, which accounts for two of the three platoons aboard Friday.

Watching the trainees follow instructions on setting sails, Bowling commented, "In order to be a good leader, you have to be a good follower."

Grace Flynn, whose brother is a fourth-class cadet at the Coast Guard Academy, was one of the few Coast Guard cadet candidates on board Friday.

"We don't really get a lot of exposure to Coast Guard just because we're surrounded by Navy," she said. Flynn, 18, said she thought being on the Eagle was "a reminder of what I'm working towards."

Jarrod Schad, who is stationed at NAPS as a Navy midshipman candidate, could be seen running around with a camera throughout the day Friday: He had been given control of NAPS' Facebook account and was posting live videos, saying it was a "good chance to show the parents" what everyone was doing.

Naturally, a fog horn sounded a literal two seconds after he started one of his videos.

Schad was one of the "priors" onboard, meaning those with prior military experience. The 22-year-old from Minnesota enlisted in the Navy and spent two and a half years on an aircraft carrier before starting his journey to become an officer.

Schad said he went to NAPS to get reacclimated to the classroom after being out of school for about three years, while others ended up in Newport because their military academy of choice didn't have enough spots open that year.

"As an enlisted, you have a really low ceiling in your career," said Jacob Swanner, also a prior. He spent two years as an enlisted navigator in the Navy, including time working with the Coast Guard in Bahrain.

"It's good for the sea services to interact with each other," he said.

Teaching about life on board

On board Friday were 111 NAPS trainees, about 60 crew members and 13 second-class and first-class cadet volunteers from the Coast Guard Academy, meaning students in their third and fourth years.

Second-class Cadet Bethani Hartman stood by the foremast while the first platoon prepared to climb. She has a special fondness for the foremast, considering that's where she was for swab summer — the beginning of her time at the Coast Guard Academy — and during her third-class summer.

She later helped out on the waist, the mid-section of the ship, teaching line handling to the trainees.

"On Eagle there is more lines than any other cutter, so they're learning how to make them up so they're secured," Hartman explained for Jarrod Schad's Facebook Live video.

The three platoons alternated between doing line handling, up and overs, and tours.

Leading one tour, first-class Cadet Phil Romero talked about the history of the Eagle as a Nazi ship that the U.S. took as war reparations at the end of World War II, showed NAPS trainees the places for sleeping and eating, and pointed out the stark differences between spaces for enlisted personnel and those for officers.

He answered questions from trainees about why he joined the Coast Guard and what the transition was like from prep school to the Coast Guard Academy, as Romero had previously attended Marion Military Institute in Alabama.

Shortly before the trainees disembarked, first-class Cadet Hayden Carter fielded questions about the longest time spent underway, when cadets and crew salute officers and what the various flags on the ship mean.

At this point, about 3 p.m., the Eagle had made its way back up the Thames River, leaving the fog behind as it once again returned to Fort Trumbull.

Carter was on the Eagle last summer, which he called a "great experience," as the earlier months of the COVID-19 pandemic made it a dynamic situation.

The strangeness of last year is immortalized below deck on a wall of plaques, each one showing a map of the Eagle's ports visited for the year. The 2019 map shows more than a dozen ports across the U.S. and Europe, while the 2020 map stands out for its lone marking: New London, CT.

e.moser@theday.com

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