For myself, remembering the military and caring about them has always been a brainless process. But after all the interviews I have done, all the military I have met, and all the hard work I have poured into this project so far, I would say that now I have a deeper understanding and connection with the military myself. When you read the interviews, think about that specific individual and their story. I hope you enjoy this interview with Petty Officer Blacklaw as much as I did.
Petty Officer Second Class Whip Blacklaw
United States Coast Guard
Petty Officer Blacklaw has been a dedicated service member for ten years. He is currently filling the position as a temporary recruiter in Colorado. There’s a lot that has happened to him since the time of enlistment until now – in a good way.
Why did you decide to join the US Coast Guard?
The main reason why I joined was because my older brother had joined before me. Initially I was thinking I wouldn’t join the military. I thought the military wasn’t for me. But after all the stories that he came back with and all he told me about the great things about the Coast Guard, two of my other brothers and I all joined at the same time.
Where have you been stationed?
First Station: Everett, WA on a buoy tender
AIDS to Navigation Unit in St. Petersburg, FL
Staten Island, NY
How do you feel while you are in the military?
I would definitely say successful. When I was growing up, I didn’t think I’d be going to college. I didn’t really have money, and I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do. I figured I could just do odd-jobs and hope it all worked out. Since I joined, I have been given a lot of opportunities and done more than I could have ever imagined I would do in my life. It’s been very, very successful for me so far.
What has it been like while you’ve been serving?
Every day is different. One day I could be working on a buoy in turbulent seas. The next day I could be hanging out with guys in the galley. Overseas, it can be rough doing certain things; it can be lonely; but it’s very exciting otherwise. I loved it. So far I’ve loved everywhere I’ve been stationed and everything I’ve done in my career. There’s always new and exciting things every day.
What was training like for you?
At the beginning it was not fun. It’s an 8 week course in New Jersey. It’s pretty hard. You’re learning something new. You get yelled at, and you get told to do push-ups and sit-ups. I was already pretty used to getting yelled at because of my mom though. That part wasn’t too challenging for me. After you start figuring out boot camp, it does become rewarding. You look back at it when you’re done, and you realize it actually wasn’t that bad. It definitely prepares you for life in the military. Fortunately, I did have 2 brothers with me at basic training. A lot of the interactions between my brothers and I were funny. It was really hilarious to see them get yelled at and to see the interaction between them and the company commanders. There’s a lot of really funny stories that came up from boot camp.
You enlisted, what was your experience like with that process?
It was fairly smooth and easy. However one of my brothers, Beau, cut his hand right before we were going to ship out. We could have shipped out without him, but my other brother and I decided that we would risk waiting, and the possibility of not getting in by waiting, so that we made sure all 3 of us joined together.
What is your job in the US Coast Guard?
I’m a Marine Science Technician.
Do you feel like you’ve built good friendships while serving?
I would say that it is more like family. You spend so much time and do so many things with individuals that numerous people are like family to me. I would do anything for them and vise versa. Sometimes you risk your life and your life is in the hands of someone else. These people are the ones that are making sure you stay alive. Friendship isn’t quite a strong enough word for me.
What does your family think of you being in the military?
My brothers are all in the military, and we are all pretty proud of each other. For my parents, I think the proudest they have ever been is when we decided to join. Our mom went to our boot camp graduation too. My family definitely enjoys being in the military.
Were there any moments you’ve been afraid?
There were numerous times.
In St. Petersburg, FL I was scared for the people around me. We were climbing a 200 foot tower to fix lights and things at the top. Some people are scared of heights, so the thought of falling was scary. Another is if it were storming, you had to get down and back to boat before a lightning storm would come in.
At Staten Island, NY in the middle of the night, we had to do a routine boarding on a cruise ship. The cruise ship wouldn’t slow down, because they were on such a short schedule. We were trying to do a boarding while it was freezing out. There was probably about an inch of ice around the outside of our boat. The cruise ship opened up a doorway on the side which we would have to climb a ladder to get into by jumping from our boat, while it’s going full speed. We were all standing there with all our gear on. Right before someone jumped, one of the lead Petty Officers said, “This is too dangerous. We’re not doing this.”
Overseas, there were times where I had bombs exploding around me or being shot at with mortars. Eventually, I got used to. But, it can be a scary thought that you’re in a hostile area and everybody is trying to kill you.
Do you feel like your career in the military is a successful and fulfilling one?
I think my career has exceeded my expectations from what my brother had told me before I joined. It has been extremely successful and fulfilling. I got another 10 years to go before retirement, and I have no idea what is going to happen in that 10 years. If it’s anything like the first 10, it will be doing a lot of things. I’m looking forward to it.
Any stories you’d like to share?
Another time at boot camp, they told us we had to clean our lockers. The lockers have to be spotless. We call it squared-away. My brother Beau tells me he has to go do Drill Team and asks me to clean his locker for him. We only got an hour to clean our lockers. I rushed to his locker repeating the numbers he told me in my head to unlock it, and it was completely trashed. I just started ripping everything out and redid everything. When I finished his locker, I ran back over to mine to fix it up. I just slammed mine shut right before the company commanders walked in. My brother and I are across from each other when they do the locker inspection. Everyone else got hammered for something until they got to my brother’s locker. They said, “Holy *bleep*! Look at this, Blacklaw Bravo. We finally have a locker that isn’t completely messed up. If anyone has any questions on how to do their locker, come talk to Blacklaw Bravo. He’s the only one out of you guys that doesn’t have his head up his *bleep*.” They start yelling about it even more saying, “Oh man. About time. About time someone knows what they’re doing!” After they shut the locker and move on to the next one, my brother looks at me slightly and smiles real big then goes back to the position of attention. I’m just looking at him like, “I hate you so much.” And of course I got a bunch of gigs on my locker.
The final two questions below gives the interviewee the opportunity to share their voice in the issue “Connecting & Protecting” is addressing.
Do you feel like there is a disconnection between the military and the general public?
Yes I do. I feel like if someone doesn’t have anyone in their family who’s in the military, then they have no clue what we do or who we are for the most part, especially when it comes to the Coast Guard. People around here especially have no idea. They don’t even realize that the Coast Guard is even military most of the time.
Do you have any ideas on how this issue could be resolved?
I think education on the military would definitely help. When somebody says the “four branches of the military”, and there is someone else in the room that knows there’s actually five branches, they need to step up and educate the people. Overseas, a lot of people didn’t know the Coast Guard was a part of the military – even military members themselves. A lot of them actually said that if they had known the Coast Guard was military, they would have joined. The media doesn’t do the Coast Guard any favors either for the most part.