April 21, 2005 – U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Alvin Dalmida and Petty Officer Edwin Blyden wandered through the Charlotte Amalie High School science fair Thursday morning. But they weren't inspecting the exhibits as closely as they were inspecting the students who created them.
"How does aspirin in water act as a conductor?" asked Dalmida of one exhibitor. The eleventh grader proceeded to explain the entire process, pointing out the examples in three different beakers.
"Do you have plans for summer?" Dalmida asked, after listening to the articulate explanation to his question. "The Coast Guard has a summer program which might be just right for you." He launched into a brief recruitment campaign and told the students about the Coast Guard's summer program and where to apply online.
Dalmida and Blyden, both CAHS graduates themselves, were on St. Thomas this week to let junior and senior high school students know about USCG career opportunities and programs.
"When I was here, we didn't hear about these opportunities," said Dalmida, who graduated in 1981. Because of that, Dalmida is making sure V. I. students are given the opportunities to further themselves and their education. "I want these kids to make informed decisions about life after high school, even if it's not with the Coast Guard."
The AIM (Academy Introduction Mission) is a one-week summer program for high school seniors. The program is held at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn. Students are issued a uniform; they observe reveille at 6 a.m and taps at 10 p.m. In between they get a taste of campus life on a strict schedule. They work on some academic or engineering projects, learn about Coast Guard maneuvers, play sports, go sailing and graduate at week's end.
Dalmida's enthusiasm is catching. "It's a great experience, whether you decide to pursue a Coast Guard career or not," he said. And it costs the students nothing. "We pay for everything." Anyone with a 2.5 grade point average or better can apply. A math and science background is a plus, Dalmida said. He said he personally would give the students a good recommendation.
"After the students return, they are our ambassadors," Blyden noted, adding that that's a good way to reach the students.
Applications are available online at www.cga.edu.
After the science fair, the officers reached their targeted audience, the CAHS Junior ROTC (pronounced jay-rotcy to those in the know), taught by Sgt. First Class Juan Cruz. Cruz said his class of 249 students is about three-quarters girls. Why such a percentage? Cruz shrugged: "I think the females in the Caribbean are going ahead of the men," he said.
As if on cue, a female student entered the office to consult with Cruz. "This is Daria Scott," Cruz said. "She was just promoted from Company Commander to Battalion Commander." It took Dalmida and Blyden about a New York minute to react to that news. "What are you doing this summer," Dalmida asked.
The officers outlined the opportunities the summer program offers. "I think I'd like that," Scott said. Asked about her future plans, Scott said she was torn between enlisting in the military and following a political science major at the University of the Virgin Islands. "The military idea is a little shaky with my father," she said.
Dalmida said he would like to talk to her parents. "It's very important for them to understand what we can offer, and I like to meet the families," he said. The parents "must be 100 percent behind them." Scott, who plays tenor with the Rising Stars Steel Orchestra and is a member of the Honor Society, seemed to think that would be a good idea.
Dalmida told the students about various Coast Guard officer programs. He encouraged them to go to the USCG website and fill out an application for the summer program. "We are here to help you," he said. "If you don't fill out the CG application, fill out others. Go to the university website. Do you want to work at McDonalds?
"How many have career plans?" Dalmida asked. Two students said they plan to be teachers. "How many are continuing to college?" About 15 hands went up. "You've got to take this seriously," he emphasized to the students.
Blyden spoke about the opportunities for enlisted men and women. "You have two months basic training, and then you can be sent anywhere, you can travel," he said. "After you retire in 20 years, you can start another career. Or you can come in as an enlisted and work up to the Coast Guard Academy. Many retirees have successful second careers."
Dalmida was in for a surprise. Earlier he had mentioned a student, Scott Ledee, he met last year and has been mentoring. "He impressed me so much, I went to his graduation," Dalmida said. "Scott has been at another Coast Guard program at the University of New Mexico, and he called me yesterday to say he had good news for me."
It turned out Ledee's brother was in the class, and he confirmed the good news. Ledee had, indeed, been accepted at the academy. Dalmida was grinning at the news. "You see," he told the students, "you can do this."
Dalmida and Blyden said this may be their last year in the V. I. as a team, conducting outreach and volunteering their time in the territory. Blyden is a recruiting officer; Dalmida is a VHF Programs Systems engineer, and his main duties are far from recruitment, but he is dedicated to the outreach program. As an enlisted recruitment officer, Blyden will be in the territory next year, but not with the Outreach program.
Last year, three V. I. students were offered scholarships to attend the Coast Guard Academy. They entered through the CG Recruiting Initiative for the 21st Century, which is open to high school seniors. There are strict requirements, including SAT scores of a combined 1050, or a combined English/math ACT score of 45.
The scholarships are generous. Ledee, Dalmida said, just got a $235,000 scholarship. The cadets are obliged to serve for five years. They receive a Bachelor of Science degree in one of eight engineering or professional majors, and upon graduation they receive a commission as an Ensign.
Dalmida said two CAHS students, Urdley Smith and Nkosi Thomas, were offered the scholarships last year; both are attending the Coast Guard Academy now. Both Blyden and Dalmida said they would like to see more interest locally. They toured St. Croix schools earlier in the week and went to Ivanna Eudora Kean High School on Wednesday. "There was more interaction at those schools," Dalmida said.
Blyden is stationed in Texas, and Dalmida in Virginia.
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