Editor’s Note: We are following Isabella Balsamo (EGHS Class of 2015) through her training with the U.S. Coast Guard. You can read the first installment here and the second installment here.

01 November 2019 – 22 November 2019

Week 11: Creek Week! Monday of Week 11 was our first day at “The Creek” here at BM-A School. Wormley Creek is home to Training Center Yorktown’s Boat Forces facility and the docks for the small boat fleet. The Creek is home to fourteen 38’ SPC’s, four 45’ RBM’s and one 26’ TAN-B. In A-School the 38’ SPC’s are our training platform. 

On Monday we were taught how to complete boat checks and then issued gear. Following lunch we had our first evaluation on open water survival skills which we had prepared for in the pool during Week 09. We were tested on our ability to act as the surface swimmer and recover a man overboard, then properly place them in a Stokes litter and get them on deck of the 38’. We conducted all of these evals while still moored to the docks. Everyone in my class successfully completed their evals. 

Tuesday was our first day underway. We were all so excited to get out of the classroom setting and have more of a hands-on learning experience. We worked on man-overboard drills all day Tuesday to prepare us all of our Thursday evaluations. We also found out that those who were unable to complete Dunker training during Week 08 were going back to Elizabeth City to conduct training on Wednesday. Eleven of my shipmates and I passed Dunker training the day we returned. After passing I felt a huge weight off of my shoulders. I knew it was a graduation requirement and just wanted to pass. It was a relief for all of us. Thursday was our man overboard eval and I passed which was another relief, but nothing I was too worried about. Friday we had a pyrotechnic shoot. During this training we got underway and jumped into the freezing water to shoot off two components of our Boat Crew Survival Vests. We were able to shoot off the MK-79’s and MK-124’s which are two types of pyrotechnics used to signal distress. The MK-79’s are also known as pencil flares. The MK-124’s have both a day and night side to them. The day side lights off orange smoke and the night side lights off a red flame. The purpose of getting in the water and conducting this training is to make it more realistic in the case that we ever did need to shoot off these pyrotechnics in a distress situation.

Isabella Balsamo

Week 12: Monday we were dockside again and conducted training on the boats while moored. With instructors we reviewed Basic Engineering Casualty Control Exercises, aka B.E.C.C.E. Once we all got a good understanding of the B.E.C.C.E. we got underway on Tuesday to perform loss of GPS drills and coxswain down drills. We were taught all of the proper procedures in order to pass the drill. For loss of GPS we were taught how to shoot ranges on radar. To do this we needed to obtain three distances from three different fixed objects, either on water or land. Once getting those distances we measured them on a paper chart and marked where they all intersect, providing your position. The instructors then compare the latitude and longitude to our current GPS position to gauge accuracy. The Coxswain down drill is a drill that simulates a scenario where the small boat coxswain can no longer perform their duties and responsibilities. Therefore, a crewman must take over and get the small boat to a safe haven to ensure crew and boat safely. In conducting this drill we were evaluated on being the navigator. The navigator’s job is to instruct the helmsman of what courses to steer at what time and at what speeds. The instructors simulate a coxswain down and the navigator then takes action by stopping the vessel, dropping a GPS position, having the helmsman maintain the boats position, verifying you are in a safe location and then notifying the command about the situation. Once that is complete the crew reassesses the risk of the situation and passes that risk assessment to the command. The navigator then creates a route on the GPS to get the boat and the crew to their choice of safe haven. The navigator then instructs the helmsman on what to do to follow that route. The navigator must make decisions in navigation rules situations with other vessels to safely navigate the ship. In transit to the safe haven the boat can not exceed 100 yds of cross track error. Once you arrive safely you must notify the command. Thursday night we got underway for night operations to perform these evals. My whole boat crew passed both evaluations! We were very excited and happy to have passed.

Isabella Balsamo with her brother Michael on graduation day.

Week 13: Week 13 is the last week of Creek Week! This week reviews and evals small boat towing. We learn stern tows with both a single pendant and bridal and an alongside tow. All week we trained and practiced these towing evolutions. On Thursday night during night operations we had our final eval! The evaluation was putting another 38’ into a stern tow and on the coxswain’s command transition into an alongside tow followed by breaking the tow. Once again, we all passed our evals. It was also my birthday … so overall it turned out to be a great day! I was happy to finish. Friday we did not get underway. We spent the morning cleaning all the 38’s, making them ready for the next class. We then turned in all of our cold weather gear and pfds. Following that we got liberty for our last weekend at Training Center Yorktown!

Week 14: The week we have all been waiting for. Graduation! Monday through Thursday were available to complete work for any outstanding administrative tasks. We also took these days to clean and pack up our rooms in the barracks. My shipmates and I loaded up our cars to the brim ready to depart for our next unit assignments. Before we knew it . . . 22 November 2019, the day we had all been waiting for. Graduation Day was one of the most memorable of my life. It gave me a sense of pride like no other. I know that I worked hard and earned the crows being pinned to my collar by my mom and brother. This was a great accomplishment – for now. The measure of oneself is to glance in the rear-view mirror quickly, take note and not dwell on it, refocusing on the road ahead while making proper course corrections. We were all ready to do just that. Class BM 02-20 had been through so much together and had become so close that the goodbyes were bittersweet. I have full confidence that every BM3 from class BM 02-20 will go forth and do great things.

BM-A School was the single most important gateway and an unforgettable stepping stone in my Coast Guard career. Thank you all so much for following along on my journey through the A-School! I hope you enjoyed and got an inside as to what Boatswain’s Mates encounter for rate specific training. Fair winds and following seas, Shipmates! 

BM3 Isabella Balsamo
Semper Paratus!