us coast guard, reservist, Washington dc,
This article originally ran in the RESERVIST Magazine, Issue 4, 2017.
By: Anastasia M. Devlin
Alexandra Costescu is excited to have her nights and weekends back again. That means more time to spend with her three-year-old son, Lucas.
“He would ask me, ‘Mommy, are you going out on the boat tonight?" she said, remembering all the time she spent away from him over the last 18 months, pursuing a goal – her coxswain qualification.
Costescu, a reserve boatswains mate, spent the last two years on active duty contracts, first for the Cyber Cat Crisis Action Team Delta, and then, as an administrative specialist at Coast Guard Headquarters. She currently serves as a logistics coordinator for the Cyber-CIO-C4IT* Transformation Program Integration Office. All her active duty jobs were out-of-rating, and the lack of training within her rating meant she had no way of advancing.
Originally a reservist from Coast Guard Station New York, N.Y, she’d completed her boat crewmember qualification on the 25-foot Response Boat-Small I. After two years in New York City, she had been only a few steps away from her coxswain qualification, and she spent a few months driving back and forth from D.C. to New York, trying to finish it.
Unfortunately, the stress of balancing the trips, her full-time Coast Guard job and time with her son at home, got to be too much. Still, the time she’d invested called to her.
With permission from her command at Headquarters, she reached out to Station Washington, D.C., less than three miles away.
Commanding Officer of Station Washington, Lt. Brian Miller, said he and his crew receive lots of requests to train at the station from those stationed at nearby units in the National Capital Region, but due to their high operational tempo, they can only take five candidates into their training program per year. This is not unlike requests made to the stations located near districts or areas.
Though the Station doesn’t receive additional resources to handle these requests, Chief Jill Browne, operations officer for Station Washington, said her unit works with these members to complete certain competencies. Browne said, in return, the trainees commit to supporting station operations, in addition to their full-time jobs, by taking certain shifts underway as coxswains or crew throughout the year.
“We put them through the same rigorous training as any one of our permanent staff,” said Miller. “We certify them with the same level of confidence as our active duty.”
But as a reservist seeking to transfer to the station, Costescu was different. At the time, the over-billeted station had very few qualified reserve coxswains, and he recognized the return on investment in a committed, local reservist.
“We saw how dedicated she was, and we said, ‘If you want to do this, we’ll help you,’” said Miller.
Costescu continued to spend her nights and weekends away from her son Lucas, but she could finally see a light at the end of the tunnel. Over the next year, the active and Reserve members of the crew of Station Washington helped her begin work on her BCM qualification, this time on the 29-foot RB-S II. She progressed quickly toward coxswain, having done many of the tasks, albeit on the RB-S I in New York.
She passed her board with flying colors, but stumbled at the first check ride -- a huge blow after committing so much off-duty time. Costescu took to heart the feedback from her Station DC mentors, active and reserve, and passed her checkride two weeks later, earning her coxswain certificate in July.
Boat handling was the hardest part,” said Costescu. “Coming from zero experience on boats to being able to proficiently use the boat like it’s second nature… most people don’t realize how much stuff is learned in theory. Active duty [members] learn on the job; their day-to-day missions cover so much of what we need to know, whereas reservists learn it in black and white. We train, but to actually understand a real-life coordination effort is hard if you’re not live. We can go through the steps, but to really know how it works in real time is really different.”
Costescu pointed out her appreciation for the more experienced members of both components walking her through the “gray” areas of the job, while still operating safely and within the Coast Guard’s boundaries.
Miller said his newly-minted coxswain’s first mission was to take Rear Adm. Meredith Austin, Commander of the Fifth Coast Guard District, on a tour of the Potomac River. At the conclusion of the AOR familiarization trip, Austin presented Costescu with her coxswain certificate, as well as a district commander coin in appreciation of Costescu’s extreme dedication to Reserve readiness.
Thought she accepted one more year at headquarters, Costescu hopes to transfer to Station Washington in October 2018, and she'll be walking in the door with a coxswain qualification – a boon to a station with almost 20 reservists who need to be out, training on the water. But first, she had her son pin on her new second class crows.
(*Note: The name of Costescu’s command is an acronym of acronyms: CIO is Chief Information Officer, and C4IT is Command, Control, Computers, Communications Information Technology.)
Rear Adm. Meredith Austin, Commander of the Fifth Coast Guard District presents Petty Officer Third Class Alexandra Costescu her coxswain certificate, as well as a district commander coin in appreciation of Costescu’s extreme dedication to Reserve readiness.
Petty Officer Third Class Alexandra Costescu with her then three-year-old son, Lucas.