Cruising as a Cadet during Pacific Partnership 2015

The following blog is written by California Maritime Academy 2nd Class Cadet Markus Fountaine who is learning what life is like as a civilian mariner by spending his summer cruise onboard USNS Mercy (T-AH 19). USNS Mercy is currently underway in the western Pacific supporting Pacific Partnership 2015.

My time aboard the Mercy has been a great eye opening experience to a whole new world, and although at 19 years of age it is hard to be certain of what you would like to do in the future, my 100-day-summer onboard has been quite memorable. From the first daunting experience of seeing hallways bigger than African elephants to living in a lovely lower berthing with a village worth of people to controlling and driving a 1,000 ft. vessel with supervision during watches – my time spent on Mercy was definitely worth “giving up” my summer.

Cadet assists crew on USNS Mercy

Merchant Marine Cadet Markus Fountaine (left), from Tracy, Calif., uses a sextant on the bridge wing of the hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19).

Merchant maritime academies are four year programs and at the end of the four years I plan to graduate with a bachelors in marine transportation and my Coast Guard’s third mate officer’s license. Most maritime academy’s require no military commitment and you are free to do with your license whatever you please be it sail commercial ships, tugboats, military sealift command, or even join the Navy. At the academy you sail on the school’s training ship, T.S Golden Bear. But for 60 days during the summer you apply your schooling in a more hands on experience after your first and third year of schooling. Then after the second year you get to sail on a commercial vessel of your choosing for 100 days as a cadet intern. The sequence of students who get to pick their vessel is based off of your total grade point average for your first three semesters at the school and the cadet with the highest GPA has the first pick from the list of the ships- so having a good GPA is important! I chose the USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) and am sailing as part of the Military Sealift Command as a civilian mariner during Pacific Partnership 2015. The CIVMARS are responsible for the overall upkeep of the day to day operation of the ship. From navigation, to deck work, to the depths of the engineering spaces – we man it all.

Cadet assists crew on USNS Mercy

Merchant Marine Cadet Markus Fountaine, from Tracy, Calif., plots the location of the hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19). 

I can recall how nervous I was when I first arrived on the vessel and stood my first sea watches and took on my first day work projects. Although perhaps not as cool as driving a Ferrari, standing behind the helm with more than 24,000 horsepower at your fingertips was quite the experience to say the least. In my mind I always compared myself with the ship’s officers on board to see how much more I still had to learn and how I can hopefully become a good officer myself someday.

A typical workday for me would be four hours of watch and four hours of day work. During watch I assist the officer in charge by determining our vessel’s position via the use of GPS, visual aids, RADAR and celestial techniques such as shooting sun lines and plotting our whereabouts on charts. I assist with filling out weather reports, determine if we are staying on schedule with accordance to the sailing plan’s position of intended movement, keep lookout for vessel traffic, and any other task the mate may ask of me. During day work, I do ballast tank soundings to help ensure our vessel’s stability, inventories, lifeboat inspections, assist in the loading and unloading of cargo, tender boat operations and underway replenishment (UNREP) operations.

While the work is the same no matter the mission, it has been interesting that for my entire time onboard Mercy we are supporting Pacific Partnership 2015. So in addition to keeping everything on the ship running, I have helped transport patients and Navy personnel to and from the ship. Being part of Pacific Partnership has been a great humbling experience for me.

USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) continues Pacific Partnership 2015 at Papua New Guinea

 The hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) sits at anchorage in Papua New Guinea during Pacific Partnership 2015.


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