Students in new program learn A,B, Seas

By Larry "E" Crutchfield

USTRANSCOM News Service - Weekly News Summary
August 9, 2002

WASHINGTON, DC -- For centuries, young people looked toward the sea to seek their fame and fortune. Plying the world's oceans as merchant mariners, they forsook the relative safety of terra firma for an adventurous lifestyle exploring strange and exotic lands, making fantastic discoveries and creating new opportunities.

Not much has changed.

On June 13, and again on June 18, 23 students from Mar Vista High School, Imperial Beach, Calif., set sail aboard two Military Sealift Command fleet oilers in search of adventure, and perhaps a rewarding career. The young mariners, ages 16-19, are enrolled in what may be the first-of-its-kind maritime training and education program, an 18-month regional occupational program course of instruction at Mar Vista High School.

The at-sea portion of their training is the MSC Pacific Apprentice Training Program, which is intended to prepare young men and women for careers in the maritime industry. The overall program is the brainchild of retired Navy Capt. Ray Addicott, a former MSC Pacific commander and co-owner of Training Resources Limited, the company that provides the Coast Guard- and state-certified instructors for the Mar Vista program.

"The United States maritime industry is facing a critical shortage of qualified merchant mariners," explained Addicott. "Labor, private industry, state government, Sweetwater Union High School District, Mar Vista High School and MSC Pacific formed this unique partnership to produce trained mariners in critical ratings - mid-level deck and engine unlicensed personnel.

"By putting the students into a structured training program and taking them through all the steps required to get their merchant mariner's document, we're able to keep them motivated to complete the training and become merchant mariners," said Addicott.

According to Mar Vista High School principal, Dr. Louise Phipps, that motivation is reaping unforeseen rewards for the students. "We've seen absences go down and their grades go up in their other classes," said Phipps. "They have a real sense of purpose and direction now . . . and it's paying off."

The students get two hours of maritime-related instruction five days a week during the school year. Over their summer break, they complete their at-sea training in the MSC Pacific Apprentice Training Program.

The student apprentices are assigned to two MSC Pacific oilers, USNS Tippecanoe, now operating off the coast of Hawaii, and USNS Guadalupe, the other Southern California oiler based out of San Diego. The apprentices will spend approximately six weeks learning and then applying the basic skills of the merchant mariner.

They receive instruction and on-the-job training in general shipboard duties that are common to all vessels such as the upkeep and maintenance of the ship's equipment - pumps, winches, electric and hydraulic motors, electrical generation, navigational equipment and aids, ship's rigging, fire-fighting equipment and ship's propulsion machinery and equipment. The students also get hands-on training in the operation of the oilers' underway replenishment rigs.

The apprentices are under the direct supervision of the ships' crews at all times during their training. When not doing work for the ship or on watch, a Mar Vista onboard instructor conducts classes and provides overall supervision of the apprentices.

"I'm really looking forward to my assignment to the engineering department," said 16-year-old junior, Cynthia Salgado. "It sounds so exciting to me - learning all the different systems and how to repair them. I don't have any experience fixing mechanical things, but I think I'll really like it just the same."

"I think I'd prefer the deck department," said Patricia Ruiz, a 17-year-old junior. "Actually, I really don't care where I work as long as it's aboard a ship. I tried the fast food thing. I lasted three days before I quit. The people were rude. I am so happy to have this opportunity, to have a chance at a real career."

During the at-sea training period, the apprentices earn $9.25 per hour and work a 40-hour week. The classroom portion of the program is paid for by the Sweetwater Regional Occupational Program, with grants from the state, the Sailors Union of the Pacific and private industry. The at-sea portion, including wages paid to the apprentices, is funded by MSC Pacific under the authority of the Student Educational Employment Program.

Upon successful completion of the Apprentice Training Program, graduated seniors may be offered positions with MSC. Starting pay, depending on the position, ranges from $25,000 per year to nearly $29,000. With overtime, a first-year mariner could easily expect to earn $35,000 to $45,000.

"We're the first to go through this training, so everyone's watching us. I know that. We all know that," said 19-year-old Francisco Velazquez who graduated from Mar Vista the weekend before he reported aboard Guadalupe for training. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us. We're the first in the nation to do this. The pressure doesn't bother helps me do better. In the end, I'll go to work for MSC - if they offer."

Capt. Tim McCully, USN, Commander, MSC Pacific, summed up the entire program during his talk with the apprentices aboard Guadalupe June 18.

"You have chosen to enter a most rewarding career," said Capt. McCully. "One that pays very well, and one that has virtually unlimited opportunity for advancement. From the MSC point of view, we look forward to hiring you as well-trained and highly motivated mariners. This is a win-win situation for all of us involved."

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