Cadets from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy are being credited with saving a national security mission after COVID-19 sidelined a tenth of a Coast Guard Cutter's crew.
The Coast Guard Cutter Munro was just getting underway in June when a crew member tested positive for the virus. After contact tracing was completed, 18 crew members had to be taken off the ship to quarantine.
“If you take a Coast Guard unit that is already operating with the lowest number of people it should have and you reduce that capacity, by 10%, you are in a position where you can only surge operations for a few days," said Captain Brian Krautler, executive officer of the Munro.
With the mission in jeopardy, cadets from the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut stepped in to help. Eleven third-class cadets, or sophomores, flew to California and met five first-class cadets, or seniors, who were already there for planned training.
According to Krautler, the group of 16 cadets was critical to getting the mission underway.
"Usually the cadets come to get training and they are in addition to the crew," said Krautler. "In this case they were actually taking the place of the crew and that is why it was so unique.”
The cadets said they were both excited and nervous.
"I was like, 'Oh, man! I am not ready for this at all,' but if they needed me, I knew I was up for the job," said Tyler Hyunh, a third-class cadet from New Jersey.
"It was a pretty surreal experience," said Jordan Park, a first-class cadet from Groton. "It was a really good lesson in adaptability and being always ready."
The cadets receive training both on the water and through simulators during their time at the academy.
“This is the classroom. These 16 cadets are up on the maritime boundary in Alaska. That is the real world," said Admiral Karl Schultz, commandant of the US Coast Guard. "We prepare them for that, but it is quite a bit different.”
Schultz said the cadets stepping in, and being ready to serve, were key for a successful mission.
“You don’t sideline a national security cutter in the Coast Guard without cost to the security of the nation so that is what these 16 cadets did," said Schultz. "They allowed the coast guard to stay on the watch. It is a big deal."
The cadets were at sea for a little more than a month.
“The cadets got their money’s worth," said Krautler. "They went from San Francisco, to the Arctic Circle, down to Hawaii. They saw a lot.”
While on board, the cadets were able to complete essential tasks.
"We launched small boats, we stood helm and lookout and we did some basic damage control drills," explained Branyelle Carillo, a third-class cadet from Maryland. "You also help around in the kitchen. You wash dishes. You help serve."
The cadets returned to campus in August and began classes. They told NBC Connecticut that they learned a lot from the experience.
"Everyone is important. No matter how small the job may seem," said Henry Smith, a first-class cadet from North Stonington.
"It was sad to see them go," said Krautler.