By Carolina Lumetta
After being approved by Provost Margaret Diddams and the Student Activities Office (SAO) this fall, the new Wheaton Coast Guard Auxiliary University program (AUP) is on its way to become the first university detachment of its type in the Midwest.
College of DuPage junior Evan Sheriff and Wheaton sophomore Penn Moffat began laying the foundations for the program at the beginning of the fall semester and have been given all the “green lights” required to start the program, according to Moffat. “We have everything we need except student interest,” he said.
The AUP would function independently from the Reserved Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and serve a different purpose. Unlike ROTC, AUP cadets would offer assistance on Coast Guard military operations in the region without having to commit to becoming a career officer.
Sheriff is currently a cadet in the AUP program, but is acting remotely, without a detachment. “It was my motivation to start the program so that I can give myself and others an opportunity to become leaders in the Coast Guard in an area where it’s very difficult to do this,” he said. Like Sheriff, Moffat said he is hoping to have the opportunity to serve his country as a college student.
The AUP still needs to be approved by the Coast Guard in order to begin operations. This will happen if one more student joins as a cadet. If seven more Wheaton students join, it will also qualify as an official student-led organization.
Associate Professor of Politics and Law David Iglesias, who retired from the Navy as a Captain in 2014, will oversee the program if it can gain enough members. As he, Moffat and Sheriff look to recruit another cadet, Iglesias thinks one of their most challenging obstacles is a lack of student awareness about the Coast Guard’s presence in non-ocean regions of the country.
“A lot of people will make the initial mistake that I did, saying that we’re in the landlocked upper Midwest and that the Coast Guard is only on the ocean,” he said. Because of this, Iglesias doesn’t think it will be easy to recruit students but is confident that the project can be successful nonetheless. “Look what Jesus did with twelve. I don’t think this will ever be a large organization, but again, you don’t need a large group to do really important things.”
The Chicagoland area is in the 9th Coast Guard District, which encompasses four states. Here, the Coast Guard plays a role in protecting the safety of the Great Lakes, the Fox Waterway and the Saint Lawrence Seaway.
According to Moffat, the AUP would have opportunities to help the Coast Guard with search and rescue, environmental clean-up and infrastructure. “It is a military service that allows students who get involved to still serve in missions rather than just do training,” he said.
Before Thanksgiving break, Moffat and Sheriff advertised and hosted an AUP informational meeting in Lower Beamer while wearing their uniforms. “Unfortunately, no one showed up, which I did kind of expect,” Moffat said. He attributes this to Wheaton students being overloaded with schoolwork and hopes to host another meeting next semester at a less busy time. “We’ll see how that goes. I have my hopes up for it.” They also plan to recruit by presenting the national colors at school sporting events.
Last year, Sheriff presented his idea to Military Science Department Chair Steven Kurczak, who helped him set up a meeting with Provost Diddams and allowed Sheriff and Moffat to observe the Army ROTC program at Wheaton. Kurczak is currently serving as a lieutenant colonel in the Army. “I was a little leery at first,” Kurczak said. “I didn’t know what it was, and I didn’t necessarily want to commit to something that I didn’t know.”
But after doing more research and discussing the possibility with Sheriff, Kurczak decided to help the program get started. “It mirrors what an Army or Air Force ROTC program does, but it’s even more selfless,” he said. “There are no scholarships or service obligations. He is doing this strictly to teach people leadership and maritime skills to prepare them for a potential career in the Coast Guard or its reserves.”
Diddams, who approved the program at Wheaton, views AUP Rolling Thunder as another aspect of stewardship. “Participation in this program will be a way to tie what students are learning about creation care, sustainability and stewardship with the issues that we are facing in the Great Lakes Region,” she said.