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Billet night drama: The envelope, please

By Jennifer McDermott

Publication: The Day

Published March 29. 2013 4:00AM
Coast Guard, NOAA officer candidates given first assignments

New London - The Coast Guard had one spot available on its newest fast-response cutter, and two of the top-ranked officer candidates wanted it.

Thursday night, Kate Webb, Thomas Bardenwerper and the rest of the officer candidates for the Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration learned their fate during billet night at the Coast Guard Academy.

Webb said before the assignments were announced that she was excited and anxious. Margaret Norvell, the fifth fast-response cutter that was delivered to the Coast Guard just last week, is beautiful, Webb said.

"If I don't get it, it's all right. But I do want that boat bad," said Webb, 28, a Louisville, Ky., native who served previously as an enlisted member of the Coast Guard.

Bardenwerper, 23, a New Castle, N.H., native who graduated from Harvard University, said he, too, wanted to go to the Margaret Norvell, but there are no bad billets in the Coast Guard.

"I get the opportunity to be a Coast Guard officer. It doesn't matter where they send me, I'll leave here tonight with a smile on my face," he said.

The current class of 62 officer candidates is two-thirds Coast Guard and one-third NOAA. This is the first time the future leaders of the two services are training together as one class at the Officer Candidate School. They graduate in May. A few NOAA students did go through the program previously as a test.

The candidates said that even though they will soon fan out across the country, the bond they've formed with their classmates will help further the partnership between the two services.

Tracy Lippincott, 27, of Brockport, N.Y., said as a Coast Guard officer, she will communicate more easily with NOAA officers because she is familiar with the service and has an established relationship with some of its officers. Shanae Coker, 22, of Medford, Ore., who is in the NOAA program, said she also will collaborate better now that she knows so much more about the Coast Guard.

Each candidate was called to the stage at the Star Wars-themed billet night and handed an envelope with their first assignment, where they'll spend the next two to three years. A screen behind them flashed the name of their ship or station.

Many smiled and pumped their fists after getting their top choice. Others shrugged or nodded.

Webb's hands shook as she opened her envelope. She smiled and thrust both arms in the air when she read the name Margaret Norvell inside.

Bardenwerper is going to the Cutter Reliance in Portsmouth, N.H., an assignment he said is "pretty awesome."

The NOAA officer candidates are going to sea on 12 of the service's 16 ships. Four of the Coast Guard officer candidates are going to flight school.

Most of the future officers are college graduates in their mid-20s, and several said their significant others' careers also depended on the night's outcome.

Brett Hughes, 29, of Evansville, Ind., said his wife is an architect, and it would be hard for her to move away from Seattle. He said wherever he ended up, he'd be with great people, doing great work, but he was hoping for Seattle.

Hughes was assigned to the Coast Guard Cutter Midgett in Seattle.

"We've been working hard, and you want to set yourself up for your next tour by choosing wisely on your first," Webb said. "It's a great night and a great class."

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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