Measuring Success Through Leadership
by U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Shannon Kearney
July 24, 2022
In Coast Guard recruit training, our staff members mold and shape the future of our enlisted workforce. From customs and courtesies to nautical seamanship, company commanders and instructors alike teach future Coast Guardsmen how to operate in today’s modern fleet. At the foundation of this training lies mentorship. People with experience in the fleet or in the field of instruction deliver information to Coast Guard recruits to help them succeed in their future careers.
Out of more than 40 of these instructional systems branch staff members, Lt. j.g. Aarica Carrington stands out among the rest. As an officer who entered the service through the College Student Pre-commissioning Initiative scholarship program, she has had a unique basic training experience and has taken on an array of responsibilities, both assigned and volunteer-driven duties, to help herself and others succeed.
U.S. Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Aarica Carrington, the instruction and testing officer at Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, N.J., poses for a portrait at the training center, June 14, 2022. Carrington is an alumni of the College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative program and is a master training specialist for the training center, which enables her to certify base personnel to instruct recruits in a classroom setting. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Shannon Kearney)
Carrington first learned about the Coast Guard while attending North Carolina A&T State University in 2015. During that time, a Coast Guard recruiter visited her college to advertise the service’s CSPI scholarship program. The program was open to all students at Minority Serving Institutions and paid up to two years of their college tuition in exchange for time in service.
“I never thought of joining the military until my recruiter came to my school,” said Carrington. “Once I heard about the scholarship, I realized it could help my mom with my school tuition, and of course also guarantee me a job after graduating college.”
So Carrington applied in her junior year of college and was accepted into the program. She was enlisted in the Coast Guard and received a salary, allowances, entitlements, and all the benefits of an active duty service member while still enrolled as a student in school. After completing her junior year, she attended Coast Guard boot camp and graduated with recruit company Alpha-193 in July 2016. Carrington then went back to school and obtained her degree, completed Officer Candidate School in 2018, and reported to Coast Guard Cutter Forward (WMEC 911) in Portsmouth, Virginia, as an ensign.
During her first year on the cutter, Carrington obtained her deck watch officer qualification and was in charge of the seven-person electronics and information systems technician shop. As the department head, Carrington was in charge of making sure all of the cutter’s electronic equipment was mission-ready and upgraded prior to and during underway patrols.
After a year, she switched to leading the six-person operational and intelligence specialist shop. Her shop was in charge of preserving the cutter’s cyber security, intelligence operations, patrol logistics, and maintaining communications with districts to inform them of vessel boardings and migrant and drug interdiction operations. These communications kept the Coast Guard districts informed of what they were doing and what they needed to carry out their missions.
“During my time on the Forward, I learned a lot about myself, about leading a shop of amazing junior and senior personnel, what it’s like to be underway, and the rigors of search and rescue, drug interdiction and migrant interdiction,” said Carrington. “I served onboard for two years with an awesome junior officer group, chief’s mess, and underway crew.”
After promoting to lieutenant junior grade, Carrington reported to Training Center Cape May as the instruction and testing officer. Her primary job responsibilities have included supervising and managing four of the instructor branch divisions at the training center: Marksmanship, Seamanship, Gymnasium, and the Instructional Systems Branch. She also has managed recruit training feedback surveys, direct entry petty officer training, recruiter school, company commander school, and recruiter-in-charge school. In addition, she is one of three master training specialists at the training center and is one of the few people who can certify staff members to provide classroom instruction to recruits.
U.S. Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Aarica Carrington, the instruction and testing officer at Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, N.J., teaches recruits in training about recognizing and reporting signs of sexual harassment and assault within the service’s ranks, June 15, 2022. Carrington is one of three master training specialists at the training center and is able to certify base personnel to instruct recruits in a classroom setting. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Shannon Kearney)
Along with her primary duties, Carrington also has collateral duties. She leads monthly audits in the training center clinic’s pharmacy, performs as the assistant drug testing coordinator for the training center and outlying commands, stands duty as officer of the day, serves as an official change agent for the Coast Guard, and operates as president of the training center’s Leadership Diversity Advisory Council and the Officer’s Association of Cape May.
“Coming back to Cape May brought back a lot of hard emotions that I thought were gone, but they came back in a good way,” said Carrington. “Working closely with the indoctrination side and seeing company commanders in and out of work is awesome. Being here and assisting with the development of our service’s future petty officers, chiefs and commissioned officers has been extremely fulfilling. They will all be the future petty officers, command master chiefs and shipmates that I will rely on in my growth as I climb the ladder of the officer corps.”
With all of the primary and collateral duties that Carrington has taken on, maintaining a healthy work-life balance has been paramount for her well-being. Whenever she needs to recharge her battery or be near her support system, she will often drive to her hometown in Baltimore to see her family and friends. Carrington said her life balance is where her family is, so she likes to go home to soak up the good vibes and family environment that she would need to get through the week. She often feels very connected to her elders and values those who have passed away, so she prays to them and speaks to them when life in Cape May gets lonely for her.
In addition to her family and friends, Carrington also credits her chief petty officers, lead petty officers and other junior enlisted personnel with keeping her days eventful and providing a smile or joke to get her laughing during the day. If she needs guidance or advice on how to handle a situation, Carrington said she will lean on the training center’s chiefs and the chief’s mess for guidance. They are her literal anchors that keep her grounded and teach her a lot about gaining perspective to operate within the service.
Chief petty officers are the top enlisted leaders within the service and are valuable mentors for gaining and developing leadership skills and expertise. Carrington believes that there are three defining traits of a good leader – active listening, being receptive to feedback, and empowering your people.
“Listening to respond instead of listening to react is a big deal to me,” said Carrington. “Keeping my ear out for only what I want to hear will keep a wall between me and my people. Actively listening to their needs and perspectives can help me better support the shop and make sure proper representation of them is shown through me when I am in front of senior command leadership.”
Carrington also said empowering your people is another great way to be a leader. She says when you do that, you’re providing your people with the autonomy to have their own voice, speak their own minds and have responsibility within a constructive environment, which will, in turn, empower them to support you and the vision of the service.
Receptivity to all kinds of feedback is also essential to being a strong leader, said Carrington. No matter if it’s from somebody junior or senior to you, negative and positive feedback are both important and can teach you something. To her, they both afford room for growth and development as a person and as a professional.
Carrington combines all of these leadership traits every summer outside of her normal duties to assist fellow CSPI students coming through basic training to fulfill their obligations before attending officer candidate school.
“The past two summers I have been here, I’ve set up meetings with companies who have had CSPI students to get them admin time to contact their schools, which would allow them to set up classes or contact their recruiters to make sure their classes weren’t dropped if they had been reverted or rephrased in training,” said Carrington. “I’ve also hosted question and answer panels with them about the career paths they were interested in, describing the responsibilities in each career category and setting them up with mentors in the fleet who are interested in the same ones.”
Carrington said she also takes them through the OCS pre-reporting guide so they can understand what is expected of them. Many of the classes in recruit training are enlisted-driven, and for good reason, but it’s also good for the CSPI students to learn them as well since they will be in charge of petty officers and chiefs in their not-so-distant futures.
“My favorite quote of all time is ‘Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome,’ by Booker T. Washington,” said Carrington. “It reminds me that the obstacles and hard times I’ve faced are what measure how successful I am, and any of the jobs I acquire are because the experiences I’ve had in the past have made me who I am today, and that’s what matters most.”
Carrington endeavors to earn her permanent cutterman qualification in the future and become the commanding officer of a white hull cutter. She also hopes to represent her community, her family and the CSPI program to the best of her ability and continue to take care of her workforce and her shipmates as she climbs the ladder of the officer corps to succeed in the Coast Guard.
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