Face of Defense: Cutter Commander Shares Haiti Experience

NEW LONDON, Conn. — U.S. Coast Guard offi­cers are pre­sent­ed with many chal­lenges and oppor­tu­ni­ties. Nor­mal oper­a­tions may quick­ly turn into a life or death mis­sion that chal­lenges their train­ing and expe­ri­ence.
Coast Guard Cmdr. Diane W. Durham became the head of the Pro­fes­sion­al Mar­itime Stud­ies Depart­ment here dur­ing the sum­mer of 2010. She leads 17 mil­i­tary and civil­ian instruc­tors and staff, and over­sees the nau­ti­cal sci­ence train­ing of the more than 1,000 mem­bers of the academy’s corps of cadets.

Coast Guard Academy
Coast Guard Cmdr. Diane W. Durham, head of the Pro­fes­sion­al Mar­itime Stud­ies Depart­ment at the Coast Guard Acad­e­my, instructs sec­ond class cadets dur­ing an exer­cise on a train­ing boat on the Thames Riv­er near New Lon­don, Conn., April 4, 2011.
U.S. Coast Guard pho­to by Pet­ty Offi­cer 2nd Class Tim­o­thy Tamar­go
Click to enlarge

A few months ear­li­er Durham had put her expe­ri­ence to the test as com­man­der of the Coast Guard Cut­ter For­ward. She and her crew were pressed into action in response to a 7.0 mag­ni­tude earth­quake that struck less than 15 miles from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jan. 12, 2010.

The For­ward was on deploy­ment, Durham recalled, and recent­ly had arrived in Guan­tanamo Bay, Cuba, when the earth­quake occurred.

“The duty sec­tion and off-duty crew onboard were jolt­ed by unusu­al move­ment of the ship and quick­ly gath­ered to respond to an onboard emer­gency,” she said. “We learned that it was an earth­quake, and soon after, we learned of the dev­as­ta­tion in Port-au-Prince.

“The crew was recalled from var­i­ous points around the base,” Durham con­tin­ued, “and we were under­way by 10 p.m. We made best speed through the night.”

Durham’s cut­ter was the first U.S. ves­sel to arrive in Haiti for the earth­quake response mis­sion.

Dur­ing the response, Durham said her crew mem­bers con­duct­ed numer­ous mis­sions, includ­ing search and res­cue, air traf­fic con­trol, port assess­ments, dam­age assess­ment over­flights and med­ical evac­u­a­tions.

Durham and her crew were rec­og­nized for their excep­tion­al work dur­ing the response effort. On July 4, 2010, Durham rep­re­sent­ed the Coast Guard at the White House and was com­mend­ed by Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma for the Haiti relief efforts.

“We salute the Unit­ed States Coast Guard, includ­ing a Coast Guards­man who com­mand­ed the first U.S. ves­sel to arrive in Haiti after the earth­quake, help­ing to pave the way for one of the most com­plex human­i­tar­i­an efforts ever attempt­ed, Cmdr. Diane Durham,” Oba­ma said.

At the height of the response in mid-Jan­u­ary, the Coast Guard had up to eight cut­ters in Haiti’s ports, in the Caribbean and in Flori­da waters. Air assets includ­ed a HC-144A Ocean Sen­try air­craft, five HC-130 Her­cules air­craft, three MH-65 Dol­phin heli­copters and three MH-60 Jay­hawk heli­copters oper­at­ing in Haiti with more than 800 Coast Guard mem­bers pro­vid­ing assis­tance on shore, afloat on the cut­ters and in the air.

Durham said she empha­sized an open and hon­est com­mand cli­mate built on trust and com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

“Being on a cut­ter requires peo­ple to embody the term ship­mate,” she said. “You live togeth­er, work togeth­er, strug­gle togeth­er and suc­ceed togeth­er for long peri­ods of time. You become a fam­i­ly.”

This com­mand cli­mate direct­ly impact­ed Durham’s crew.

“Com­man­der Durham is very ded­i­cat­ed to the over­all mis­sion of the Coast Guard. I have sought after her coun­cil for stress­ful sit­u­a­tions on sev­er­al occa­sions,” said Senior Chief Pet­ty Offi­cer Nicole Rose, the com­mand chief on the For­ward. “What makes a good leader is look­ing out after your peo­ple, ded­i­ca­tion, moti­va­tion, com­pas­sion and the abil­i­ty to expert­ly han­dle dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions. This is a tal­ent too few have and many more need.”

Durham has served more than nine years at sea dur­ing her 21-year career on the Coast Guard cut­ters Rush, Deci­sive, Res­olute, Tam­pa and For­ward. Durham said she now brings her knowl­edge and expe­ri­ence from the fleet into the class­room to train and teach cadets, offi­cer can­di­dates, prospec­tive com­mand­ing offi­cers and exec­u­tive offi­cers.

“It’s impor­tant to have offi­cers from the fleet as instruc­tors because they know what is expect­ed of junior offi­cers in their first tours and what will help us achieve suc­cess when we enter the work­force,” said First Class Cadet Aman­da Cousart, a marine and envi­ron­men­tal sci­ence major at the acad­e­my. “Teach­ing cadets and oth­er Coast Guard per­son­nel is a way to make sure all of the infor­ma­tion Com­man­der Durham has learned is passed on so future offi­cers can make the Coast Guard thrive.”

First Class Cadet Dana Pre­fer echoed Cousart’s sen­ti­ments.

“I think that Com­man­der Durham is a wealth of knowl­edge because she has done almost every­thing you can do in the afloat com­mu­ni­ty,” Pre­fer said. “When she told us about her past jobs, I was very impressed that she held that many com­mand posi­tions and high­ly-sought-after bil­lets.

I believe that due to her diverse career path,” Pre­fer added, “she is able to get through to her stu­dents effec­tive­ly, and I see her as a very good mod­el of what a leader should be.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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