Jonathan Roth, a student at AUP Unit William and Mary, reflects on his summer internship at Coast Guard Ninth District Public Affairs in Chicago, Il.
"You’re working for the Coast Guard…in Willowbrook?” Almost everybody I told could not believe it. Me, working as a Coast Guard intern this summer, in a landlocked suburb of Chicago a half-hour from the glistening waters of Lake Michigan? Yep, that’s right. For eight weeks this past summer, I was an intern with Coast Guard Ninth District Public Affairs, whose area of responsibility includes the Great Lakes region. I worked alongside a Chief Public Affairs Specialist (PAC) at Marine Safety Unit Chicago in Willowbrook, Ill., that tiny suburb twenty miles due west of the lakefront.
I came into the internship with many objectives; I wanted to tell Chicago’s Coast Guard story, to learn about working in the Coast Guard, and to improve my professional skills in journalism and marketing – just to name a few. I walked away with so much more, and am honored to reflect on such a great experience in serving my country and recognizing Coast Guardsmen throughout the Chicagoland area.
My first day at the office reaffirmed the strong, shared culture that the Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary share. Arriving in my Operational Dress Uniform, the attire at MSU Chicago, I immediately fell in step with life as a Coast Guard journalist and was warmly welcomed by my new shipmates. So much so, in fact, that I was tasked with adapting a video public service announcement script to a radio-friendly format, with 30 and 60 second versions, within one hour of my arrival on that warm June morning.
A few weeks later, I assisted in filming that same PSA at Coast Guard Station Chicago-
small with a local NFL player and crewmembers from a 45-foot Response Boat-Medium from Station Calumet Harbor. Shortly after, I put together the PSA in post-production and was the one responsible for distributing it to military and civilian media sources, including the uscg.mil homepage.
In the weeks that followed, my mentors at MSU Chicago allowed me more opportunities to develop my technical skills, including updating and consolidating the region’s media contact list, assisting in a media advisory event with television film crews and helping prepare news and photo releases for important events pertaining to recreational users of Lake Michigan and the greater Chicago marine community. In each of these activities, my colleagues regarded me as a fully capable member of the team and were always available to answer my endless questions about their careers in the Coast Guard.
There was never a dull moment while I worked as a Coast Guard journalist over the summer. In July, I covered the 98th anniversary of the S.S. Eastland disaster in the Chicago River. I had never heard of this tragic event in all of my years growing up in the Chicago area. When I further investigated the capsizing of the chartered steamer that killed 844 passengers, I reviewed historical documents and began to make connections between the founding of the Coast Guard and this event, both of which occurred in 1915.
Talking with the Coast Guard Atlantic Area Historian’s Office, I confirmed that the response of eight surfmen from Station Old Chicago – the same station where I filmed the PSA weeks earlier – was the modern-day Coast Guard’s first major rescue operation. Just six months prior to the disaster, President Woodrow Wilson merged the Revenue Cutter Service with the U.S. Life-Saving Service to create the modern-day Coast Guard. Never had I thought I would be able to contribute to the Coast Guard history books during my internship.
One of my main goals for the summer was to tell Chicago’s Coast Guard story, the story of the men and women who protect citizens and infrastructure in a metropolitan area of more than 9.4 million people. When my mentor told me about the national “Week in the life of the Coast Guard” campaign, he suggested this opportunity would be my chance to craft my own feature stories. I visited Coast Guard Station Wilmette Harbor, Coast Guard Air Facility Waukegan, and an MSU Chicago public engagement event over three consecutive days.Through this “fieldwork,” I experienced many different mission areas of the Coast Guard and shared the hard work of these men and women in my community with the public. My photos from the PA campaign were published in the Coast Guard’s Compass blog and in their social media accounts — mission accomplished!
At the tail-end of my summer internship, 14 tall ships from the United States, Canada and Norway sailed into Chicago on a stop of the Tall Ships Challenge 2013 series. The work of multiple area agencies, including the Coast Guard, made possible this event, which drew an estimated one million visitors to the city’s Navy Pier. To understand the extensive preparation and planning that goes into smoothly running such an event, I shadowed just one of many Coast Guard teams working throughout the five-day festival. With a Chief Warrant Officer and two Marine Science Technicians, I boarded the S.S. Sørlandet, a 210-foot Norwegian full-rigged tall ship, to observe a safety inspection before general visitors were allowed aboard. We received a full tour of the ship by the crew and I watched as the inspectors from MSU Chicago ensured that the ship was in full compliance in the United States. The photos I took from this tour were published in a photo release, which caught the attention of The Weather Channel. The Weather Channel later aired a phone interview with the Coast Guard and used my photos in a slideshow.
Seeing my photos on television ended my internship with a great sense of accomplishment. Not just for myself, but also in the goal of promoting the Coast Guard’s activities to the taxpayers that we serve. My mentor and I logged many late nights to meet deadlines — especially at the USO at Navy Pier, where I survived on their candy — but the experience provided an unforgettable insight into the professional world and the proud service that men and women are committed to every day.