Third Prize Winner in the 2005 Vincent Astor Memorial Leadership Essay Contest
"Sail her full and by ... ready about ... helm's alee ... haul spanker boom amidships ...left full rudder ... rise tacks and sheets ... mainsail haul ... shift the headsail sheets ... ease the spanker sheet ... let go and haul ... set the mainsail."
To those who understand, these are commands of a bygone age, yet they echo today in the ears of every potential leader whose seabag was stowed below U.S. Coast Guard Barque Eagle's (WIX-327) teak decks. The terms must be learned and heeded seamanlike or an attempted tack may leave the Eagle in irons. I was such an individual; awed by her lines, taken with her beauty, and yearning to stand in her tops with every sail drawing.
The son of a Navy submariner, I called everything a boat. When I arrived at the Coast Guard Academy, I did not know the difference between a buntline and a leechline, but my time on the Eagle changed that. Terminology is only a part of what she teaches. Rear Admiral Robert J. Papp Jr., my first skipper on Eagle and currently Commander of the Coast Guard Ninth District, said, "Eagle offers a tremendous laboratory, with the cadets running the entire show under the supervision of officers and crew, as they learn the value of teamwork, sacrifice, and the Coast Guard's core values." Eagle teaches leadership as she goes about the business of shaping future Coast Guard officers.
Eagle taught me that leadership rests on two concepts: values and roles. The Coast Guard's values are honor, respect, and devotion to duty. She serves the organization in much the same way that the U.S. Revenue Cutter Salmon P. Chase trained the Coast Guard's first commandant in 1885.1 It braces around the Coast Guard's future leaders, changing their lives with the intense sailing evolutions of a square-rigger at sea by assigning them roles and allowing them to serve.
Instilling Coast Guard Values
Eagle taught me honor in several ways. First, she is about our sailing heritage as an organization. It is difficult for an individual to fully understand or appreciate maritime history without understanding its language. Learning the language from a book will never make it a heritage, but understanding from personal experience the substantial jargon used in a book such as Two Years Before the Mast makes one a sailor. She teaches what it means to be a sailor in the true sense of the word.
Honor is also about integrity and truth. I learned firsthand what happens when communication breaks down. During an evolution such as tacking, the result is immediate and deeply felt: failure. Proper communication requires regard for ship-wide success above personal success. Captain Eric J. Shaw, Eagle's current commanding officer, puts it succinctly, "Eagle cannot afford to make a mistake. Avast can be a call for the mistakes of others or personal mistakes, but it must be called whenever there is a safety concern. When Eagle engages in a tacking battle with another tall ship, the safety of both crews is often at stake." Captain Edwin Daniels has seen cadets pulling with all their might against their own shipmates or against a two-blocked line because they did not "know the ropes."2 A lie to shield a misunderstanding or personal mistake, such as not untying all the gaskets, quickly escalates into the ship-wide problem of being unable to set that sail. Absolute honesty is necessary.
Eagle also taught me respect, both for the weather and for others. The wind is powerful and the sea is demanding. When you only have canvas to spread before it, you learn to appreciate it and respect it. You learn to watch for the signs of approaching weather. You learn that without acting as a team, you will not succeed. This kind of respect is more easily gained without the modern niceties of electronic navigation and maneuvering. With regard to respect for others, Lieutenant Commander Dale Bateman stated "tight quarters forces cadets to learn respect."3 Anyone who has ever lived in crew's berthing aboard a naval ship knows the truth of this statement.
Devotion to duty entails response. Commander Matt Bell, Eagle's executive officer during my later years on board her, said, "I've found nothing in the Coast Guard that comes close to being a young man sent to the royals at 0200 to furl sail in the middle of a howling gale. Stepping to the end of the lee yard with the ship heeled over 20 degrees and looking down at ... nothing . . . creates a challenge." I had to learn to respond when these tasks were required, when orders were given, when we were becalmed and sailing was not an option but maintenance had to be performed. Duty was also where I learned about roles. My role on Eagle changed over the years. I went from hauling lines to line captain to mast captain to being a topman. By the end of my fourth summer on Eagle, I was a qualified Boatswain's Mate of the Watch who had replaced the gantline block on the foremast, conned her through San Francisco harbor, furled the royal in 30 knots of wind and 8-foot seas, and sailed that majestic ship from Denmark to Bermuda, Panama to Washington, and Connecticut to Nova Scotia.
Learning About Roles
Once I had learned Coast Guard values by living them aboard Eagle and accepted them as my own, I was ready to evaluate my own roles aboard the ship. I found that leadership requires four steps: knowing, accepting, pursuing, and bequeathing your role. Chief Petty Officer Karl Dillman noted that "Eagle forces you into problem solving situations."4 You have to first know what you are doing and how to do it safely. Second, you must evaluate every situation and look before you leap to ensure nothing will affect your task. Third, you must explain it to your people both before you do it and after it has been completed to ensure learning has taken place. You cannot follow these steps without knowing your role.
Eagle is the ultimate team-building environment. She was purposely designed and built to teach sailing using outdated technology. There were better bracing mechanisms when she was built and there were better capstans, but Eagle was designed to teach teamwork. If the sailors working the braces do not work in concert, the yards will not come neatly around. If the masts' crews do not work together, she will not tack. If the blocks are not placed and worked correctly, small boat operations will not occur. No cadet can be the captain, and no captain should spend most of his time on the bowsprit. We each had our roles, and we had to accept those roles as our own and trust others to do theirs correctly. I once tried to micromanage an evolution on the mizzenmast by standing atop the Command Information Center to see both sets of braces. I lost a lot of respect that day from both my peers and my subordinates. I had not trusted them enough to maintain my position and await their replies. I learned, but it took that failure for me to understand.
Once I learned my role and accepted it, I had to pursue it. No matter how well I served as a mast captain, others had come before me and spent more time doing it in a wider variety of weather conditions. Roles must be pursued because there is always room for improvement. I realized that I would never know as much as Boatswain Rick Ramos, the sailing master during my short tenure on Eagle. I could, however, be the best I was capable of being if I committed to learning more of the role each day. lieutenant Commander Bateman noted that "Eagle is the first place that some people experience failure in a real way." If you do not adequately prepare, your subordinates will feel your leadership failure more acutely than you do. Recently, some first-class cadets failed to train their subordinates to prepare a proper port brief. When asked by the captain, the third-class cadets did not know the correct tides and currents, expected vessel traffic, or bridge opening contact information. Both the first-class and third-class cadets felt the sting of their failure from his rebuke.
Bequeathing your role is about more than training. It is about preparing subordinates to take over your position. An organization cannot grow over the long term without resident knowledge. Sailing Eagle requires such knowledge. Few ships like her exist, so the ability to continue to sail her requires people who have done it to prepare the next generation of Coast Guardsmen to sail her equally well. Eagle is not the only Coast Guard community that requires the succession of knowledge, but it is the community in which I learned it.
Relevancy to the Changing Coast Guard
Amazingly, the Coast Guard exists in a similar role as Eagle. When the political environment, public opinion, and threat conditions change, the Coast Guard must react. The question is whether or not the crew is ready. "Eagle thrusts people into an environment in which they are unfamiliar," noted Captain Ivan Luke, Eagle's most recent former commanding officer. It produces officers who are not shaken by change because they are comfortable with it. He lists the Coast Guard's transition into the Department of Homeland Security as a prime example of "a major change that has not hindered the Coast Guard one iota." As Vice Admiral Vivien S. Crea, the current Coast Guard Atlantic Area Commander, and others examine "the entire Maritime Homeland Security mission and establish processes and measures that can be used for optimal resource allocation decisions," our people can handle it because they have handled equally challenging tasks before. No one is an expert at sailing a tall ship their first day aboard. lieutenant Jessica Crandell, with four summers on board, says, "Eagle levels the playing field. No matter how many sports you've played or courses you've mastered, all fourth-class cadets are equal on Eagle'' It creates an environment where potential leaders must respond as they stand before a sea of tasks they have never performed.
The leadership has seen the signs of the weather and its crew is trained to deal with change, but how will this crew respond to the still changing conditions? The wind is shifting. Entry into the Department of Homeland Security has refined our focus and Coast Guard leadership is responding. Vice Admiral Crea lists many areas in which we must focus to succeed. Included in her initiatives is emphasis on partnerships and outreach at the homeland security field level, with "the Department of Defense and our sister services, other federal agencies, state and local authorities and private sector partners." Coast Guard patrol boats, U.S. Customs, U.S. Border Patrol, and others must work together tactically with the same efficiency that the Department of Defense services work together during combat operations. The same trust that exists between Eagle's crew to enable her to sail must exist between these organizations or we will fail to move in the synchronized manner required for success. Another initiative from Vice Admiral Crea is "the need for a fully integrated Maritime Domain Awareness Program, which leverages our international and national partners, in both the intelligence and law enforcement communities." We must know what and who approaches U.S. waters, analyze and use that data effectively to achieve an ever better maritime picture for Homeland Defense. Again, this initiative requires trust and teamwork between the participating agencies.
Communication also rises to the top in Vice Admiral Crea's initiatives to keep people "informed and aligned on priorities, direction and intent, as well as emerging events and intelligence." The Coast Guard faces the same challenges into which Eagle immerses cadets. We must be committed to maintaining our status as a premier organization that values truth, honest and open communication, mutual respect between its members, its customers and its partners, and appropriate response to the demands placed upon us.
Leadership is about individuals, their roles, and values. Sailing Eagle teaches this. I may attempt to motivate my subordinates, but sometimes role precludes enthusiastic encouragement. Not everything in the Coast Guard is fun. Ideally, leadership is about merging subordinates' values with those of the organization, and showing the value of their role. Commander Bell says, "leaders must find themselves, perhaps on the very decks of Eagle, to get the background or life experiences necessary to be a good leader. In the end, they discover something inside that was not there before—identified a truth, a strength, something that drives each of us to the next challenge." Today, three tours separate me from my Eagle experience, but I still look for two things in future leaders: are they suited to their role and do they hold the Coast Guard values as their own? I ask all new employees why they joined the Coast Guard, and what they want to accomplish in this organization. Their answers give me a glimpse into their values. My job is to then show them how their values align with the Coast Guard's and how they can achieve success both in their current role and, hopefully, for their career. It is not always cut and dried, but that is the challenge of leadership.
1 Commodore Ellsworth P. Bertholf served as the Coast Guard's First Commandant in 1915. C. Douglas Knoll published his biography, Commodore Ellsworth P. Bertholf: First Commandant of the Coast Guard (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2002).
2 Capt Edwin H. Daniels, Jr., USCG, is the most recent editor of Eagle Seamanship: A Manual for Square Rigger Sailing, 3rd Edition (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1990).
3 LCdr Dale Baternan, USCG, has sailed the Eagle for years: for four summers as a cadet, during his three-year tour as a Nautical Science Instructor at the Coast Guard Academy, and multiple occasions between his responsibilities as an Academy Morals and Ethics Instructor.
4 BMC Karl Dillman, USCG, who was recently featured in The Barque of Saviors by Russell Drumm, has extensive time aboard Eagle since his first tour in 1989 and has sailed aboard her German sister ship, Gorch Foch II.
Lieutenant Rogers' sea time includes four cadet summers on board the Eagle and a two-year tour on board the Coast Guard Cutter Diligence (WMEC-616). He is currently Industrial Manager of Integrated Support Command New Orleans and pursuing a doctorate in Strategic Leadership at Regent University.