My wife’s daughter Breanna Hite returned to her alma mater recently to share her experiences and offer advice to Laguna Beach High School students who might be considering a Coast Guard career.
For the cadet, Hite’s turn at recruiting signified her own maturation and readiness to begin sharing the lessons that propelled her into the Coast Guard Academy.
Hite spoke to a few students in the quad during lunchtime, but hardly anyone recognized the uniformed ’09 grad. The exception was Liz Fletcher, who knew Hite from their time together in Sea Scouts. “We’re trying to figure out what we’re doing in the beginning. She made it kind of understandable and involved the new people very well.” said Fletcher, now a junior.
Hite was second in command of Mariners Ship 936 in Dana Point when the out-going Fletcher, then an eighth grader, came aboard. “She was always wanting to get into it and try different things,” Hite said of the newcomer’s energy and spirit. “I found that really refreshing to see.”
Hite would later lead a team that included Fletcher at Rendezvous, an annual Sea Scout competition. “Learning to lead your peers is a really tough thing to do,” said the second-class cadet. “Sea Scouts definitely helped me learn to do that.”
Even before Sea Scouts, Hite was fortunate to have many opportunities to discover her leadership skills aboard Campbell’s Sloop, a 34-foot Catalina sailboat owned by family friend Susie Campbell. “I just kind of gave her an opportunity to be herself on a sailboat out at sea,” said the licensed captain and avid racer. “I think she probably found it a great release of freedom and peace.”
It was a freak accident after a practice sail that Hite says played a big role in her decision to apply to the Coast Guard Academy. An unattended boom sent Campbell into the cold waters of the Dana Point Harbor channel with a serious gash in her forehead.
Hite and her crewmates radioed the harbor patrol as they brought the boat around to perform a man-overboard drill. “I’d like to think that definitely had some sort of impact on me in wanting to have a future in saving lives and being on the water,” said Hite.
The entire crew of Campbell’s Sloop would later be given the Red Cross Bravo for Bravery award for their quick action in saving Campbell’s life.
A member of the Coast Guard Academy’s offshore sailing team, Hite got her first taste of racing aboard Campbell’s boat a decade ago at an all-women’s regatta in Newport Beach. The memory invokes more laughter than pride, as they rounded the mark too closely and sailed off with a bright orange buoy caught in their rudder.
Campbell gave the intrepid 10-year-old the task of radioing the race committee boat to ask for instructions. “’You got it on there; you get it off,’” Campbell remembers them saying. “[Hite] learned right away that when things go wrong, you learn to make the best of it.”
After racing her boat with experienced women, Campbell several years ago decided to change course and crews. “What I really wanted to do was introduce the sport to women who otherwise would not have an opportunity,” she said. “None of the women I race with [now] have ever been a member of any yacht club.”
Campbell made it her mission to give any woman or girl who was eager to learn and willing to try an opportunity to gain real racing experience, whether in Thirsty Thursday fun sails just off Dana Point, or during spirit-testing, windless weekend jaunts from Newport to Ensenada, where Hite honed her sailing skills over the years. “I was just so impressed the way Breanna was willing to go along with whatever happened,” said Campbell.
In her last season of Sea Scouts, Hite earned her Quartermaster award, the equivalent of Eagle Scout. The achievement was not lost on the young Fletcher. “When she got her Quartermaster, I thought that was really cool. It kind of inspired me to do it myself,” said Fletcher, who, if all goes well, will receive her Quartermaster award this year.
Hite has made a start at the sort of sailing mentoring she received. During her meeting with Fletcher, she described AIM, the Coast Guard’s program for high school aged kids who want to experience cadet life first hand. “Going into an academy is, you know, a life-changing decision to make when you’re 17 or 18,” said Fletcher, who is currently considering the possibility.
“If people find their interest in the Coast Guard soon enough in their high school careers, there are plenty of opportunities to come visit the academy both during the school year and during the summers,” said Hite, who hopes to return to the academy after graduation to teach a new generation of cadets.
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