Reservist

ISS1 2018

Reservist Magazine is the award-winning official publication of the United States Coast Guard Reserve. Quarterly issues include news and feature articles about the men and women who comprise America's premier national maritime safety and security

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Rebuilding Puerto Rico, on and off the clock Story and photo by Chief Petty Officer Shane Denny We had been in Puerto Rico for a little over two weeks, working sun up till sundown with no days off. We were doing what were sent there to do – assist with the recovery of the Coast Guard. I had been activated Sept. 5 to assist with Harvey and Irma, but after 30 days, I was sent to Puerto Rico for the last 30 days of my 60-day orders. While awaiting transport to Puerto Rico, I met Petty Officers 2nd Class Luis Estrada and Kyle Graeber in the Family Resource Center in Weston, Fla. We spent a week there helping the families of the displaced service members from the wrath of Hurricane Maria. We all caught the same flight down to Puerto Rico and became friends. While out on a patrol to check on certain coastal areas, Luis and Kyle ended up taking back roads in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. (At that point many of the main roads were still crowded with debris.) The stopped when they came across a dog in the road. There, they looked around at all the damaged houses and spoke briefly with the residents. The next day, while passing through the same town, they brought some water and food to a lady who lived there, and she helped them hand out supplies to her neighbors in need. Their conversation continued and she told them the story of how the storm had ripped off part of her roof, the back wall, and part of her son's room, leaving them exposed to the ocean out her back door, as well as the daily rain showers. The house was covered in blue tarps that her family and friends had supplied. She was a single parent, homeschooling her son, and she had little income other than the crafts she and her son would sell at the local market. The mother said that her son has expressed a desire to join the Coast Guard when he gets older. Luis and Kyle approached me about helping the family, and I told them we'd find a way to get it done. Luis and Kyle brought me on another harbor patrol run, and we stopped by her house again. She was very surprised to see us – she was certain that she wouldn't have seen anyone again. She started crying when we told her our plans to return with the supplies and personnel needed to complete the task. Luis showed me the stray dog that got his attention, and his plans for all the work that would need to get done. I said it was a lot, but it was manageable. A few days later, after talking to other deployed Coast Guard friends – all from different units and regions – we found enough LaKose draws on his time as an officer with the Haverford Township Police Department, just outside Philadelphia, to help him balance his skills in training both active duty and reserve recruits. "You have to be motivating and intimidating at the same time, so you have to strike that balance," said LaKose. "You don't want the delivery to be non-motivational. They need to want to do what you're telling them to do, and that's what carries them in the fleet." Spruce, who advanced to first class petty officer in January, joined the Coast Guard in 2011 after seeing the rescue station near his house on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. After a stint as a police officer, he transitioned to managing a housing unit for the Michigan Department of Corrections. "I was tired of being in prison," joked Spruce, who, at 39, was ready for a career change. "The prison environment was affecting my health, my attitude, my personality. But when I [drilled] at the small boat station, it didn't feel like I was working there. It felt like I was doing stuff, enjoying it." When the opportunity came up to apply for a new reserve position, Spruce saw the company commander job on the list. He said he'd always admired the role of drill instructor from his time at the police academy, and after working in the Summerstock program on the Great Lakes the summer before, he knew he was ready to apply for this position. "I've been through the police academy, the corrections academy and boot camp," said Spruce, "but company commander school was the most challenging out of them all." At 45, LaKose is the oldest of the company commanders at Cape May, and he uses his life experience, as a seasoned veteran of both the Coast Guard and the police force, to mentor his recruits through life choices. "There comes a time in training when recruits are allowed to have a dialogue with [their company commanders]," said LaKose, who rounds out his background as a local volunteer firefighter. "They ask me questions that relate to not just their future in the Coast Guard, but their personal future, and I'm able to help them out with that." "My experience [working for the prison system] helps out quite a bit here," said Spruce, a father of three. "In the prison system, you never bring anything home with you." Spruce and LaKose agree that, as reservists, they view the experience as company commanders through different eyes. Spruce said depending on a recruit's question, he thinks having more Coast Guard experience would have been better, but sometimes having that real world perspective is better. The physical fitness and intensity can be tough, but there's not too many drawbacks to being a company commander. Well, maybe one. "Indoc weekend, usually sometime Friday night or Saturday," said Spruce with a laugh, "the voice is gone. It comes back really quick. Lots of cough drops." � Chief Petty Officer Shane Denny, with the mother and son, and the other deployed reservists who all helped out with rebuilding their hurricane damaged home in a rebico, Puerto Rico. Issue 1 • 2018 � RESERVIST 41

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