Ship, shipmate, self: Kodiak-based Coast Guardsman recognized for dedicated service

HS1 Cassandra Brockett

Petty Officer 1st Class Cassandra Brockett stand temporary duty at the Rockmore King Clinic in Kodiak, Alaska, to assit members with personal health assessments Feb. 26, 2013. Brockett is permanently assigned to the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley as their ship’s doc. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.

Petty Officer 1st Class Cassandra Brockett, a corpsman aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley, has been selected as the Independent Duty Health Services Technician of the Year afloat for 2012. Her dedicated care of her shipmates was distinguished by selfless actions on more than one occasion.

The Alex Haley is a 282-foot medium endurance cutter homeported in Kodiak, Alaska. The crew of more than 100 patrols Alaska waters and the North Pacific. They conduct search and rescue, law enforcement, homeland security and international and domestic fisheries enforcement missions. The Alex Haley is the Queen of the Fleet, the oldest cutter in service, and bears the nickname Bulldog of the Bering.

“When the last line is cast off, I’m it,” said Brockett. “It’s challenging. You are more than just a doc. We are hundreds of miles out to sea and to many of the crew you are a mother, sister, friend and mentor. We take on many roles and wear many hats. Sometimes they just need someone to listen to them.”

Brockett is responsible for the medical care and readiness of the crew, the sanitation of the ship and many safety measures. Additionally she provides first aid training to the crew, serves as a victim advocate and is trained to handle critical incident stress and suicide situations. She stands watch aboard the cutter in port and volunteers with the local 4-H club.

Brockett, a native of San Luis Obispo, Calif., has served aboard three cutters in 14 years with the Coast Guard. Brockett settled on being a corpsman during her first tour, while aboard the Seattle-based cutter Polar Star. She was shadowing the doc aboard, a chief health services technician, when there was an accident in the middle of the night.

“It was a boiler that had exploded and the result was a watertight hatch — you know they are very heavy metal — blew off outward and hit a young man, a watchstander, in the face,” said Brockett. “It fractured many bones in his face and he was in bad shape. I watched our HSC go into action and it hit me, this person right here, his life is in her hands and she did everything. She handled herself. She was cool, calm and collected and she saved his life. To me that was why I joined the Coast Guard and that was the person I wanted to be, so my goal from that point forward was to be not only a corpsman, but to be an independent duty corpsman on a boat and it’s been a dream come true to fulfill that.”

Brockett has seen her own share of emergency medicine in the last year while aboard Alex Haley. Twice while the cutter was home, Brockett coordinated with Base Kodiak medical to schedule dedicated days for the entire cutter crew to receive required health services. As a result, the cutter’s 2012 overall medical readiness reached 98 percent and the crew’s personal health assessment readiness rose from 78 percent to 100 percent in one year. She oversaw seven medical evacuations from the cutter, ranging from cardiac arrest to torn ligaments, she treated 123 patients, and administered 86 prescriptions to ensure members returned to full duty status as soon as possible.

Of particular note, while on patrol in the Bering Sea, the cutter was diverted for a High Seas Drift Net case off the coast of Japan. Brockett developed a comprehensive plan to care for and feed the fishing vessel’s 18-member crew throughout a 5,000 mile, 21-day transit across the North Pacific Ocean. Although the Alex Haley was released from the case and another cutter took the job, the Haley crew was fully prepared for the mission with only two days notice.

On another occasion a crewmember experienced dizziness and partial loss of consciousness during routine work in Kodiak. He required advanced medical care and was taken to Anchorage where doctors diagnosed him with a rare, deadly blood disease and gave him an imminent death prognosis. Already on temporary duty in Anchorage, Brockett cancelled her plans and immediately went to the hospital to support the member and his family over the course of 10 days. Acting above and beyond her required duties, her selfless devotion to her shipmate and their family provided much needed care and compassion during a difficult time. After a very long and strenuous treatment period the member returned to active duty in the Coast Guard.

“HS1 Brockett’s actions during this tribulation proves that she eternalizes the phrase ‘Ship, Shipmate, Self,’” said Cmdr. Kevin Riddle, commanding officer of the Alex Haley. “In my 20 years of Coast Guard service, with over 10 years afloat, I have worked with many corpsman and IDHS technicians. HS1 Brockett is among the best in her profession.”

Brockett aboard CGC Northland

Petty Officer 1st Class Cassandra Brockett serves the medical officer and directs the care of undocumented migrants in the Caribbean Sea while on patrol aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Northland from 2008 to 2011. Brockett departed Northland’s homeport of Portsmouth, Va., to serve on the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley in Kodiak, Alaska, in 2011. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Coast Guard Cutter Northland.

Riddle’s sentiments have often been echoed by ship visitors, training teams and inspection personnel. The cutter has to meet high standards during a series of inspections throughout the year. Brockett passed several major inspections with zero discrepancies and achieved a 98 percent passing rate or greater at the Alex Haley’s Tailored Ship’s Training Availability, directly contributing to the cutter receiving the Battle “E” Award for overall operational readiness excellence.

Brockett recently achieved five years sea time and was added to the Coast Guard-wide Women Afloat Permanent Cutterman list, one of the only female health service technicians on the list. While she would like to go to another cutter after she leaves Alex Haley in 2014, she doubts the detailer will approve another underway tour so soon and she intends to apply for a position at the health services technician training school.

“I think my best use now is to teach the trade and then hopefully I’ll be an HSC, and then maybe he will have a nice shiny [national security cutter] out there for me. I would definitely go back underway.”

The corpsmen’s creed is “In the Service of Others.” Brockett embodies this motto and serves as an example to others. Three non-rated petty officers aboard the cutter are eagerly awaiting their opportunity to attend health services technician school and follow in her footsteps as she set out to do 13 years ago.

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