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Feature Story

Date: May 4, 2011

Contact: CGA Public Affairs

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Coast Guard chiefs take leadership to next level

Completing Officer Candidate School course

OCS graduate at CGA
Ensign Jeff Bender, a former electronics technician chief, poses for a photo at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy after graduation from Officer Candidate School Wednesday, May 4, 2011.  Bender is one of six former chiefs that were chosen for the latest session of the course.  U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class NyxoLyno Cangemi

The Coast Guard Academy is scheduled to graduate 37 U.S. students and five international students from Maldives, Bahamas and Jamaica from one of its officer development programs, the Officer Candidate School, Wednesday.

The current class of graduates is unique in one particular way.  Since 2006, five chief petty officers have attended OCS.  This semester six former chief petty officers will be graduating from the class. Each had their own reason for choosing this career path.

A former gunner’s mate chief, Jeff Schoknecht, said he already had the educational background, so it seemed like the logical choice to stay operational and keep doing what he liked doing.

For Jeff Bender, a former electronics technician chief, the move was for challenge and responsibility.

“I was having a great time doing the electronics thing,” said Bender. “I was a cutterman though, and once I got to the ship, I was able to branch out into all those different avenues of ship life.  I wanted to push further and gain more responsibility, a broader view of the Coast Guard and more challenges outside of my immediate specialty.”

Colleen Foley, a former information technology chief, chose the officer route for versatility.

“I found out I was coming to OCS before I knew I was making chief,” said Foley. “But, for me, it was that the IT rate became complacent for me, and I wanted to take on more and be more versatile.  I wanted to do different things, handle different projects.”

The Coast Guard's programs to facilitate the development of employees and promote advancement allow many Coast Guardsmen to make the transition in career path from enlisted to officer.

One such person is Capt. John O’Connor, the commandant of cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.  A former quarter master, O’Connor made the rank of senior chief in 11 years before being selected to attend officer candidate school.

“Everything I looked to do in attending OCS, I feel I have been able to achieve,” said O’Connor.  “I’m doing something different and the opportunities are greater because of the choice I have made.  OCS has allowed me to continue to make contributions and has kept my interest.”

Since graduating OCS, O’Connor has held many command responsibilities including aide to the commandant, chief of OCS, and he has served on five ships including the Coast Guard Cutters Mallow, White Lupine, Bibb, Evergreen and CampbellCurrently, he is the commandant of cadets at the academy, the first OCS graduate to hold the position.

OCS opportunities are open to both civilian and prior military applicants that meet the course requirements. Graduates receive a commission in the Coast Guard at the rank of ensign and are required to serve a minimum of three years of active duty. Graduates may be assigned to a ship, flight training, a staff job or an operations ashore billet.

The OCS program is one way the Coast Guard keeps highly skilled and motivated personnel flowing through all levels of the service and develops leaders who will plot the course of the Coast Guard in years to come.

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