For people working and living in St. Louis, the Mississippi river is something they might cross a bridge over when driving to Illinois, glancing over at the rushing, muddy brown water for a moment as a barge passes by underneath. They might see it as they walk up the steps to the Gateway Arch, where in the museum they might learn about the city’s history as a strategic location for its position right along the river, or hear about the river’s tug boats of days past.
But, the river is something most live their lives without having the chance to actually walk along its banks, let alone join the United States Coast Guard for a ride through its waters.
That was before a group of interns in NGA’s Analysis met up with NGA’s west executive, Brett Markham, July 31, days before the celebration of the Coast Guard’s birthday Aug. 4, to brave the choppy waters of the Mississippi and enhance the agency’s relationship with their neighbor stationed along the river.
During their time at NGA, interns have the opportunity every summer to learn more about other components of the IC, including visiting the FBI and touring CIA’s headquarters in Virginia. Located directly behind NCW is the Upper Mississippi River sector of the Coast Guard and this year, interns in St. Louis had the chance to tour their facility and learn about their mission.
The next thing they knew, they were riding on a 29-foot boat with Markham and Coast Guard Sector Commander Capt. Scott Stoermer.
“The Analysis Internship Program is a well-rounded program designed to introduce interns to the Analysis mission and the pivotal role GEOINT has for decision-makers, warfighters and first responders,” said Erin Clark, program manager for the AIP. “We facilitate tours across DOD, IC and government entities.”
The tour gave the interns and everyone involved the opportunity to learn about their relationship to the agency, as well as a joint duty assignment opportunity that is now available between NGA and the Coast Guard, she said.
“The NGA-Coast Guard partnership is robust and growing stronger,” said Markham. “Enhancing our workforce’s knowledge of Coast Guard missions enables us to more effectively bring NGA capabilities to bear in support of those missions.”
The trip started at the docks behind 2nd street as Markham and interns were handed life vests and stepped down onto a foot wide strip along the side of a U.S. Coast Guard Response Boat Small, a common boat used by the Coast Guard for missions such as environmental response operations, port security, search and rescue and law enforcement, the latter two of which are the primary missions of the Upper Mississippi River sector.
From there, the group made its way to the rear of the vessel as it rocked back and forth on the river’s muddy waters.
Once safely on the back of the craft, several jumped inside to speak with the boat captain and learn about the controls and technology equipping the boat, including a navigation screen loaded with geographic data.
Meanwhile, others took seats outside with the on-boat mechanic, who talked about the sector’s day-to-day activities and functions. He explained that each member of their sector has a specific task, but that their team has to be flexible and willing to adapt to various circumstances, similar to how offices function within NGA, and cited his dual function as a law enforcer and mechanic.
“The boat ride was a nice way to cool off and get some sunlight,” said an intern in Analysis.
“In a more practical sense, it was neat to see how they match the technical specifications of their vessels, the skill sets of their staff, and the products of the IC with their mission,” she said. “Our short cruise to the arch and conversations with the crew really helped me to see how each piece fits together as one machine. This trip, and others offered to interns, allow for a more grounded approach to the analytic products that we are building.”
“When you work at NGA and only learn about NGA, you only think about the relationships directly with fellow IC agencies and our warfighters deployed abroad,” said Noah B., geospatial analyst intern. “Helping learn about how NGA interfaces with a more local organization like the USCG gives a good idea of the worldwide, multilateral approaches to safety and security that GEOINT provides that foundational platform for.”
Noah said that he’s always been interested in the Coast Guard’s mission, but that getting to experience it personally underlined its importance to domestic agencies, the rest of the military and the IC.
“Safety and security of the nation is a tall order, and seeing how the USCG and NGA interface, and how the DHS/DOD safety net fills those shoes lends great respect to the mission sets we try to reach to keep our citizens and people all around the world safe.”
Alicia T., geospatial analyst intern, said that the chance to hear stories about those missions was the highlight of the trip.
“There was a wide variety of people working at the St. Louis Coast Guard installation and they all had different experiences and stories to talk about,” she said. “We got to hear their stories about stuff like shooting out boat engines during pursuits and their response to all the recent flooding we’ve had and you just get a feeling like - Wow! These guys are the real deal.”