Following the gulf oil disaster, USF graduate student and U.S. Coast Guard reservist Monica McGuire answers the call to serve.
USF.edu News Writer
Wind and waves. The smell of a salty breeze. The rhythmic rocking of swells and surf.
That ageless call of the sea – combined with a passion for service – has been a compelling force for Monica McGuire throughout her life. A Miami native, she grew up near the beach and as a college student, spent summers and breaks living and working aboard her parents’ charter sailboat. After receiving her undergraduate degree, she followed in her father’s footsteps and joined the U.S. Coast Guard. Lt. McGuire served on active duty for six years before trading her dress blues for USF green and gold in 2007, but maintained her link to the Coast Guard as a reservist.
A few weeks after the April 20th Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion, McGuire was called up to play a role in the subsequent response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Her graduate degree in art history – which she is only a qualifying paper away from completing – on hold, McGuire is part of the St. Petersburg Branch of the Deepwater Horizon Response Unified Command housed in downtown’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Building. Her role is to monitor the trajectory of the spill along the coast and offshore in the Sector St. Petersburg Area that includes Taylor County to Collier County along Florida’s West Coast. As part of the strategic planning process to ensure the area is prepared to handle any potential impact, McGuire provides logistical information to the commander and the unit’s numerous local, state and federal agency partners.
McGuire says that her experience with Incident Command System – a standardized incident management approach that is used by governmental and private organizations alike for incidents of any type, scope and complexity – made her the right person for the job.
“It can be overwhelming just to think about it (the spill) in its totality when you take into consideration the environmental impacts, the impact to the local economy, and the threats to the livelihood of the people directly affected,” she says. “The issues get very complex, but I try to focus on the solutions and how people have come together in a unity of effort. Working with other agencies, private companies, volunteers, local and state government toward a common goal provides me with inspiration and motivation.”
McGuire entered the Coast Guard through its Officer Candidate School – a rigorous course of instruction that prepares candidates to receive a commission at the rank of Ensign and to serve a minimum of three years of active duty.
The Coast Guard, however, wasn’t the first step McGuire took after college to serve either her country or others. She had spent a year with the Peace Corps as a non-profit development volunteer in Estonia. She helped organizations and individuals during the time of social and economic transition following the country's regaining of independence from the Soviet Union. “I assisted non-governmental organizations to expand their outreach so they could help individuals integrate into the new way of life.”
The Peace Corps experience was so powerful for McGuire that when she started at USF, she became the Peace Corps recruiter on campus for two years. “I loved interviewing potential candidates who shared my enthusiasm for travel, learning new cultures and service. And I loved playing a role in helping them meet their dreams and create positive change.”
The desire to combine her love for the sea and for service is why McGuire joined the Coast Guard. Her first of three tours of duty was aboard the USCG cutter Seneca. Based in Boston, the Seneca patrolled the Caribbean enforcing maritime law and performing search and rescue missions.
“While on alien and migrant interdiction, we would come across anywhere from 15 to 100 people on vessels that were totally unseaworthy, without food or water, and no idea of where they were. These were desperate people. It was unforgettable. We were literally saving their lives.”
Today, while she is based on land, McGuire assists with work that could easily be defined as a rescue mission, as well.
“I’m grateful that I can be a part of the efforts to mitigate the impact, so there was no hesitation or disappointment about being called up to serve.”
To help save the sea she loves.
Mary Beth Erskine can be reached at 813-974-6993.