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Albacore Crew Tells About Life Aboard Ship

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 7, 2004 – Coast Guard Seaman Crystal Begley likes being in the Coast Guard, but she echoes the sentiments of shipmates when she says life aboard ship has its "good and bad."

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A boarding crew from the Coast Guard cutter Albacore prepares to board a vessel to do a routine inspection. During the inspection, the boarding crew will check to ensure the boat meets required Coast Guard safety regulations. Crewmembers will also check for illegal weapons, drugs and immigrants. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
  

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Begley, 22, is one 10 crewmembers onboard the Coast Guard Cutter Albacore. The 87-foot vessel is used primarily for coastal patrols and is docked at the Coast Guard Station Little Creek, located in Virginia Beach, Va.

Although the crew appears to be a happy bunch of sailors -- "They are a pretty tame," joked the ship's captain, Lt. Joseph Giammanco. He also admits that keeping the Albacore mission-ready means the crew is always on duty. "There isn't much downtime," he said.

Even at night when the ship is anchored, someone is always up, "manning the deck or pulling watch," Giammanco said. "We go all night, 24 hours.

"Normally we're out three to four days each week," he explained. "What we do is go out for a day or two, come in to get fuel and food then head right back out."

When the Albacore is not patrolling, the crew is conducting maintenance or training. Giammanco said his crew has to complete more than 1,800 hours of training, such as in search-and-rescue operations, each year to meet Coast Guard requirements.

However, the work schedule is not the only drawback with life onboard ship. Living conditions are rather tight, particularly in the berthing, or sleeping, areas.

Inside the tiny compartments each crewmembers has a tiny rack, or bunk bed, a curtain for privacy and a wall locker. Even the captain must share his sleeping area with another crewmember.

At sea, the constant motion of the waves presents problems as well. Seaman Jayme Reed, 22, said her first time out to sea she got sick. "You take the motion-sickness pills and you'll be okay," she said.

It's even more difficult to take a shower or sit on the "head," or toilet. "There's nothing else you can do but hold on tight," she said.

"You just get aggravated and you just want to say, 'Stop!' But it's fun," she said.

Below deck, the tiny galley where meals are served doubles as an entertainment lounge. Inside there are digital satellite television and lots of DVD movies. A comedy special featuring comic Dave Chappelle plays continuously.

Here crewmembers come to relax and share laughs between shifts and to enjoy the one thing that is good onboard the Albacore -- the food.

"The food is the one thing we can't complain about," Chief Petty Officer Greg Clark said as he chowed down on a juicy hamburger and fries. "We've got the best cook in the Coast Guard onboard."

That "best cook" title belongs to Petty Officer Shayla Wright. Three times a day the Mississippi native serves up a meal that's good enough to call home cooking.

Each morning around 5 a.m. she starts the coffee brewing and gets the eggs, bacon, and biscuits and gravy ready. There is a choice of fresh fruit, cereal and juice.

Every now and then, she'll stir up her family's Mississippi brand of peach cobbler. The crust is handmade, and the sweet desert earns praises from the crew.

Wright's job is not an easy task, especially with the prep and cooking area swaying from side to side. "It can be a little tricky," she said of the ship's motion while under way. "You spill stuff all the time, but you get the hang of it."

Wright joined the Coast Guard eight years ago. "There isn't a lot of opportunity in Laurel (Miss.)," she said of the town where she grew up.

"Opportunity" is a word that is mentioned often when the Albacore crew talks about why they joined and continue to serve in the Coast Guard. The sense among them is that life aboard the Albacore may not be the greatest, but serving in the Coast Guard is.

"In the Coast Guard there is never a dull moment. Everything is different every day," Reed said. She joined the Coast Guard after getting a degree in communication and health education.

"You just don't go to work, do your job, and then leave," she said. "In the Coast Guard there is always something new to learn."

Learning something new is also why Seaman Thyschell Jackson, 22, of Washington, joined. Jackson completed three years of study in environmental science at the University of the District of Columbia. He joined the Coast Guard after learning the service offered a career as a marine science technician.

"I knew that once I graduated from college I wasn't guaranteed a job, so I joined the Coast Guard because it gave me an opportunity to work and learn something I was interested in," he said.

The Coast Guard has been good to Petty Officer 1st Class Joe Dumm, 28. The Pittsburgh native smiles when he says the service has given him everything he's ever wanted in life.

"I got a house, a wife, a child, a dog," Dumm explains. "All of that I probably wouldn't have if it wasn't for the Coast Guard. I can't complain. The Coast Guard changed my whole life."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageBefore the Coast Guard cutter Albacore gets under way for a routine marine patrol, Chief Petty Officer Greg Clark and Lt. Joseph Giammanco, the cutter's captain, go over the water channel route the ship will take to reach the Chesapeake Bay. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imagePetty Officer 1st Class Joe Dumm, 28, sits inside his cramped living space onboard the Coast Guard cutter Albacore. Despite constant sea patrols that keep him away from his wife and newborn, the Pittsburgh native says the Coast Guard has given him everything he's ever wanted in life. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imagePetty Officer 2nd Class Megan Sullivan is a mechanic onboard the Coast Guard cutter Albacore. Her duties require hourly inspections of the cutter's diesel engines and generators to make sure that everything is working properly. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imagePetty Officer Shayla Wright, runs the ship's galley and serves up meals that are good enough to call home cooking. Onboard the cutter Albacore, the crew says she is the best cook in the Coast Guard. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA  
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