John Walsh is a 2nd Class Cadet (junior) at the United States Coast Guard Academy. If you want to learn what it’s like to be a “Swab” at USCGA, read on!!
2/c John Walsh
US Coast Guard Academy
Academy Endeavors: Life as a Freshman at US Coast Guard Academy
My name is John Walsh, and I am currently as 2/c cadet at the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT. My Academy story has been anything but boring, and over the past two years I have completely transformed as a person, student, and leader. I know that the next two years will be just as impactful.
I am originally from a town called Melrose, Massachusetts. Melrose is about 10 minutes north of Boston, only a few miles from the coast of Massachusetts. I grew up playing sports, staying busy in school, but spent most of my time, thoughts, and energy on the outdoors. I grew up spending almost all my summers on the water. Whether it was commercial fishing, being a mate on a fishing charter, hauling lobster traps, or getting tossed by the waves, I always loved the sea.
When the time came to start thinking of life after high school, I was not sure what I wanted to do, but I knew a normal 4-year college was not for me. I did not know where to begin and I understand the daunting feeling of thinking life as a child was ending forever. One of my family’s close friends went to CGA and was constantly telling me sea stories of dangerous search and rescue cases or exciting ship boardings off Kauai, HI. I had no family members in the military, and my mother was not a fan of the idea of her son attending a military academy. I had no idea where to begin. I first attended a service academy fair as a junior in high school, and immediately went to the West Point and Annapolis booths, as most high schoolers do. As my conversations with their admissions teams concluded, I saw a poster of a Coast Guard Jayhawk Helicopter and remembered the stories from the family friend. After a brief conversation with the admissions officer at the CGA booth I was sold. That was it- I decided I needed to go there.
I was lucky enough to be a rower in high school, and my times were fast enough to be recruited by the Academy. I reached out to Coach Bill Randall, the Director of Rowing at CGA and we began talking on the phone and filling out recruiting paperwork. I was advised by Coach to attend the AIM summer program which is CGA’s summer seminar. I took the SAT 6 times as well as the ACT twice. I struggled immensely with standardized testing and the entire application process. After all the late nights and stressful days, I was appointed direct to the Academy which was beyond anything I could imagine.
Once I completed my 7-week Swab Summer, life as a 4/c was fairly close to what I imagined. Very early mornings, a lot of boot shining, and a whole lot of time spent memorizing indoctrination information. I had a full season with the crew team ahead of me, and I was starting to get into the groove of Academy life by mid-September. A week later, I got mono, and my fall semester completely changed. I was always tired, couldn’t compete in rowing, and yet still had a job and classes I had to get done. It was very difficult to mentally get through the fall semester, but the other 4/c in my company picked up where I couldn’t and supported me through the entire semester. Classes were a culture shock, and most classes only do 4 large exams per semester which I was not used to. Squaring my corners, walking down the center of the hallway, and calling everyone sir and ma’am began to take a toll on me, but nothing I could not get through with the support of my fellow 4/c. The friends that are made at Academies are the closest friendships one will ever form. I can not explain how appreciative I am for my experience at the Academy so far, and all the hardships that have stimulated growth in my character. CGA is designed to make cadets “fail-forward” and learn from our let downs. I have never messed up more in my life than the last two years at CGA, but I also have learned so much. I believe that the demanding curriculum of academics, athletics, and military trainings are preparing me to be a more empathetic and courteous leader. I know that as a junior officer I will need to lean on enlisted members just as they will lean on me.
Despite the “ups and downs” of my last two years, the friendships and experiences I have had make every early wake up, and late-night worth it.