Leaders Serving: Alum John D. DeCastra says AUP prepped him for a bright future


By Bethany Buchanan Bogacki | Branch Assistant, Public Affairs

Editor's note: Leaders Serving is an occasional series where the AUP catches up with its alumni to see what they're working on and what advice they have for future and current AUP students. 

John D. DeCastra, the Response Department Head of Marine Safety Unit Huntington West Virginia, was grateful for what he learned as an Auxiliary University Programs student the first week in his position when he had to handle a pollution incident and unsafe tugboat, all within days of each other.

“The AUP is where I learned to do all that,” DeCastra said. “So not only was I in the AUP learning how the Auxiliary and Coast Guard worked and recruiting others, I was also a full-time engineering student, working 20-plus hours a week, designing race cars, had all these different priorities going on. The AUP really taught me how to dig into manuals, prioritize and handle multiple things that might seem daunting and break them down into more manageable chunks.”

The AUP caught up with the alumnus recently to see what he’s up to. Below are his replies to submitted questions, edited for mechanics and style.


Which school did you go to? For how long? When did you graduate?

Auburn University. Four years. August 2012.


How old are you?

25 years old.


What was your major in college?

Mechanical engineering.


How did you join the AUP? When?

I joined the AUP through a friend who I saw wearing their uniform on campus.  The brought me to a meeting, and the rest is history. I joined the fall semester of my junior year.


What positions did you hold during your AUP tenure?

I was an instructor and a vessel examiner.


Will you explain your current job title and where you work? What are your duties?

I was initially a non-rate, seaman, on the CGC GALLATIN, a 378-foot cutter stationed out of Charleston, S.C.  While stationed there I painted, cleaned, scrubbed dishes, stood helm and lookout watches, sailed through Hurricane Sandy searching for survivors of the HMS Bounty, launched helicopters off the cutter in the middle of the night, was part of a custody crew of a fishing vessel caught smuggling drugs off the coast of Columbia, in total I was a part of seizing a little over 10 tons of cocaine.  I then got picked up for OCS and was stationed on CGC DILIGENCE out of Wilmington, N.C.  The first six months I was the Command, Control, and Communications Officer.  I supervised the Combat Information Center and selected boarding targets on a northeaster fisheries patrol, and mid Atlantic fisheries patrol.  Within those six months we boarded over 150 commercial fishing vessels preventing illegal harvest in closed areas and prevented illegal fishing practices that not only created unfair competition, but depleted limited natural resources through over fishing.  The last year I was the first lieutenant where I was in charge of Deck Department, which consisted of overseeing preventative hull maintenance schedules to keep a 50 year old ship operational through corrosion control (ensuring paint was on the hull and the ship stayed white), and ensuring the cutters small boats were operational and crews were trained.  Lastly I was the aviation officer and worked closely with the air stations to ensure the cutter personnel were trained and proficient in launching and recovering helicopters.  I am currently the Response Department Head of Marine Safety Unit Huntington West Virginia where I am responsible for Law Enforcement, Ports Waterways and Coastal Security, Incident Management, Recreational Boating Safety, and Search and Rescue on a little over 1,000 miles of river in Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky.


What did AUP teach you about leadership?

When I was a part of the AUP, it was in its infancy. By this I mean that the formal training programs, courses, internships, ect. were not yet established.  I spent the bulk of my time in the AUP trying to set those things up by building relations with the Gold Side by traveling to a small boat station that was four hours away to stand watches and work with the station personnel, gaining AUX quals, recruiting people in the college and, most importantly, building relations with the Auxiliary (something I am still doing for the AUP as the auxiliary liaison for my unit).  One specific example of this was speaking at the District 8 Auxiliary conference with the D8 commander present about the advantage the AUP has in diversifying the Auxiliary and the other advantages it has.  The Auxiliary is currently trying very hard to get more age diversity.  Every flotilla I come in contact with is very interested in the AUP and how to get younger people involved. This being said, the AUP taught me about upper-level management, thinking about the big picture, and working with partners through first-hand experience.


How did AUP prepare you for your future?

It gave me first-hand experience in working in upper-level management, working with partners, and how the Coast Guard works. It also gave me exposure to ICS and other incident-management tools.


What would you say to all the current and future AUP students out there?

Get involved!  Get your quals, teach classes, conduct CMEs, do patrols, volunteer at your local station as a watchstander.  You will get more out of the program, experience more of the local communities, more out of the coast guard, and more self satisfaction.  Not only get involved with the AUP, but also the other local flotillas in the area, division, and district!  You will inspire your other flotillas, your fellow AUX members.  The more involved you get the more you will benefit from the program, and the more the CG and American public will benefit from the AUX.

Know someone who should be profiled as a part of this series? Fill out this form here, send an email to Bethany Buchanan Bogacki at bethany.buchanan@cgauxnet.us or share your recommendation on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #AUPthought.