Future Leaders: Sailing into a Commission

Published on May 9th, 2017

On May 17, 2017, the Class of 2017 will graduate from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, receive their commissions directly from President Donald Trump and become the newest group of officers in the U.S. Coast Guard. A very select group will also be recognized on the Board of Trustees Honors list.

On that list will be US Virgin Island’s Nikole Barnes, who was recently recognized as First Team Skipper in the New England Intercollegiate Sailing Conference, along with earning Sportsmanship and Senior Trophy honors.

Barnes couldn’t have written a better story for how her time at the Coast Guard Academy turned out.

At the beginning, it wasn’t always high praise and trophies for Barnes. For a while, she struggled to meet the challenging military, academic and athletic requirements of the Academy. With a little help and guidance, Barnes was able to refocus herself and finish strong, a common theme for her time at the Academy.

“I was on academic probation and was overloading on my classes,” Barnes said. “With the help of my instructors and the support from my advisor Lt. Cmdr. [Kimberly] Young-McLear, I was able to turn my academic career around.”

All of that encouragement paid off, when Barnes earned a place on the coveted Board of Trustees Honors list. To be included on the BOT list, cadets must earn three uniform stars for excellence in military, academic and athletic performance during the semester.


Barnes recognized as Women Sailor of the Year in 2016. ©Cynthia Sinclair.

This means a cadet must simultaneously attain a term grade point average above 3.15, be in the top 25 percent of their class in military performance and obtain a score of 270 or higher on the Physical Fitness Examination. Only around three percent of the Corps of Cadets accomplishes that feat.

One of the requirements to earn a place on the BOT list is to excel in athletics. The sailing team is the athletic sport she called home and that was where Barnes truly shined.

“For sailing, I was named All American for both Women’s and Coed for my Sophomore and Junior year with an honorable mention my freshman year, and I was named Female Rookie of the Year in 2013 for the [Academy],” said Barnes.

Her team also won the 2016 College Women’s Nationals, she won A Division by 50 points, and was recognized as the College Women’s Sailor of the Year for the 2015-2016 season.

As busy as her athletic life kept her, Barnes still took the time to volunteer for a great many things that took place around the Academy.

“I participated in numerous clubs, including CASA (Cadets Against Sexual Assault), the International Club, SPECTRUM (LGBTQ club), the Sustainability Club, and the WLC (Women’s Leadership Council),” said Barnes. “I am also a team captain of the Dinghy Sailing Team. For the sailing team, I wanted to be able to get to know my teammates on a closer level before I graduated and being a team captain has allowed me to do so while also helping lead the team.”

For Barnes, with time came perspective and the perspective allowed her to look back at how it all began. She recalled one of her favorite memories from her time at the Academy. The memory was from the grueling boot camp style training they go through called Swab Summer.

“Swab Summer was ending and I hugged 1st Class Cadet Niki Kruger with tears streaking down our faces,” Barnes said. “We both went to prep school and it wasn’t easy to get to that spot. It was a great moment to see that our hard work finally paid off.”

As this chapter of her Coast Guard career comes to a close, she will take her oath of office, become an ensign and take some much-deserved leave. From there, Barnes will head to the Response and Incident Management Division at Sector Miami to begin the next chapter.

“I’m very excited to get started working at Sector Miami in the Incident Management Division,” Barnes said. “While I do not have a lot of knowledge in that area, I hope that I can bring my unit a fresh set of eyes on how the unit performs and see if we can all work together to get full efficiency in our missions. I can’t wait to get started working there!”

Source: USCG

Comment: I was quite impressed with Nikki when I interviewed her at the 2016 College Nationals, and she will soon be competing in the Women’s and Coed events at the 2017 Nationals in Charleston, SC. I also understand that she has her eye on an Olympic campaign in the Women’s 470 event. All of us at Scuttlebutt wish her the best of luck! – Craig Leweck

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