Nov. 21, 2002 – Charlotte Amalie High School student Nkosi Thomas knows how he feels about the U.S. Coast Guard opportunities available to graduating seniors: after spending a week as a summer intern living out of the barracks at the New London, Conn., campus, he's going to give the Coast Guard Academy a try.
In a manner similar to the U.S. military forces — Army, Navy and Air Force, the Coast Guard offers a choice of direct enlistment or getting a college education and moving into the service after that.
During this week, Chief Warrant Officer Flavel Blyden, a Virgin Islands native who's making the Coast Guard his career, and Lt. Chris McMunn, admissions officer, are on St. Thomas meeting with juniors, seniors, and guidance counselors at a number of high schools. Their visit to CAHS was especially important, as an application is already in the works for graduating senior Nkosi. The two visitors spent a good while talking with Nkosi and his parents, Janelle and Randolph Thomas, and guidance counselor Barbara Isaacs, and answering a variety of questions, not the least of which was "When will he hear if his application is accepted?"
Blyden and McMunn explained the process in detail, starting with some of the admission requirements – grade point average, SAT or ACT scores, essay, references. Nkosi's already past those parts, and McMunn said he should be notified regarding acceptance in January.
The Coast Guard accepts 300 to 320 new students each year, but McMunn emphasized that no one is turned away for lack of space; the Academy expands to accommodate all interested applicants who meet the requirements and follow through with paperwork and start-up financial contribution.
Only an initial contribution is required: once classes begin, students are on salary, in return for service after graduation. The four-year Academy offers eight majors.
How did Nkosi, interested in "search and rescue work" and "saving lives" but too young to remember the activity in V.I. waters in earlier years when a Guard boat was based here, come to learn about the Coast Guard? He was looking for something in the way of summer enrichment and, through counselors including Isaacs, learned about MITE (Minority Introduction to Engineering) and AIM (Academy Introduction Mission). He then talked to Virgin Islanders Alvin Dalmida and Austin Callwood, both career Coast Guard men, and learned details, and off he went for the week.
Randolph Thomas emphasized the instrumental assistance to Nkosi from Dalmida and counselor Isaacs.
"He's very adventuresome," said his mother. "He's too adventurous for my heart."
But an Academy applicant is in good hands with the Coast Guard, and has lots of career choices. At school, tutoring is available if some classes are difficult. And after college, a Guardsman or Guardswoman might choose a number of pathways: chief operating officer of a ship, a doctor in public health service, a pilot, as well as all the technical positions open to engineering graduates.
And McMunn emphasized that women have been welcome since 1976: about 30 percent of Academy students are women. Ivanna Eudora Kean graduate Janelle Greenaway is in her second year at the Academy.
Last Summer, The Coming Summer and Onward
Last summer, Nkosi spent an introductory week with the MIKE program, spending each day from reveille to taps on concise orientation to all majors and programs. This year, as a successful entrant, he will spend seven intense weeks of his summer with the Academy. There'll be time aboard the Coast Guard Tall Ship "Eagle," and a first turn as deck officer — responsible for everything aboard ship. A severe limit on phone calls and emails home is in place; but each student is "adopted" by an area family and gets to relax and spend weekends with them. (Once regular Academy is underway in the autumn, there are no limits on cadet communications with home.)
Blyden, married and the father of two children, says he himself made the right choice and he has 16 years of service under his belt and a recent promotion to show for it. The Guard "gets you traveling," he said, and by and large he likes that.
Nkosi seems pretty sure he's on the right track for his own future. They both agreed they like the mission of the Guard, with its emphasis on keeping people safe.
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