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As Coast Guard Cutter Eagle pulled into port July 7, the crew was anxious with excitement. Not only were they pulling into their hometown, but they were sailing alongside four generations of Eagle’s commanding officers – past, present and future.
With Capt. Eric Jones, the 26th commanding officer, at the helm, the ship led the parade of sail toward Fort Trumbull. The mood was bittersweet, however; it was the last time he would moor the 295-foot barque before his change of command.
Capt. Raymond ‘Wes’ Pulver took command of the Eagle July 10. Pulver and Jones were classmates at the Coast Guard Academy, having graduated the same year. With more than 10 years of his career spent at sea, he is no stranger to losing sight of land and working with a tight-knit crew.
“This is a wonderful environment with the hard working crew and the cadets of Eagle,” said Pulver. “Being underway is special to me. Everything on a ship is mission based and everyone pulls together for the mission. I believe that every job on here is as important as each other, from the cooks to the command. You can’t get the job done unless you work as a team.”
Having served aboard Eagle before in the past, Pulver was the executive officer from 2001 to 2003.
“Life on here is about being part of a team,” Pulver said. “The camaraderie and the challenges found at sea provide something that the cadets don’t receive in the classroom back at the Academy.”
The Eagle serves as a floating classroom for cadets from the Coast Guard Academy and officer candidates and gives them opportunities to learn seamanship skills, work as a team and how to become an effective leader.
The floating classroom often takes visitors aboard, giving them the lifetime experience of taking Eagle under full sail. In the mid-80s, thanks to retired Capt. Ernie Cummings, Eagle became a classroom for six teens from the Rhode Island School for the Deaf.
Cummings joined Jones and the crew for the Boston-to-New London leg of the journey and was Eagle’s 18th commanding officer. He served as skipper aboard Eagle from 1983 to 1988 and recalls commanding the historic ship as one of his favorite assignments in the Coast Guard. While commanding Eagle, Cummings also journeyed more than 32,000 miles to Australia to participate in the country’s bicentennial.
Joining Cummings, Jones and Pulver was none other than the ancient mariner himself, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp who was underway on Eagle for the first time in 13 years.
“The Coast Guard is a maritime organization and we need our officers to have maritime experience,” said Papp, Eagle’s 22nd commanding officer. “Eagle gives them the opportunity to learn seamanship skills and to be part of a team and crew.”
Experiencing these things first hand at sea is much more valuable than just learning about it in a traditional classroom.
“If you know what it’s like to be wet, tired, and hot or cold, you may be a more effective leader out in the fleet,” said Papp.
With a permanent crew of 50, Eagle’s crewmembers aren’t there to fill numbers on a billet structure and to stand watch. They are experts in what they do, from the engineers to deck seamen, and they teach nearly 150 cadets at a time.
“I used to call my crew ‘college professors’ since they were teaching cadets a subject, probably the most important subject since this is the maritime environment they will be exposed to,” said Papp.
As Pulver takes command, it is business as usual aboard the Eagle. The crew is scheduled to leave New London and visit Halifax, Nova Scotia when all 150 cadets will depart to take time off before starting their sophomore and senior years at the Academy. At their departure, the ship will fill up once again with a fresh mix of cadets, but this time at the earliest start of their careers as swabs, preparing to start their first year at the Academy, eager to get their first taste of salt air and to watch land slowly melt away into the horizon.