McMillen graduates from U.S. Coast Guard Academy Seaford graduate first woman from state to complete academy

By Lynn R. Parks

Bailea McMillen has sailed all over the world. Even so, she was a little anxious last Friday, just one day before she was due to fly across the country to her new home on the U.S. Coast Guard base at Kodiak, Alaska. "I'm looking forward to it, but I'm a bit nervous," she said.

McMillen, 21 and the daughter of Dr. Eugene and Barbara McMillen of Dagsboro and formerly of Seaford, is a recent graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn. She is the first woman from Delaware to graduate from the academy.

She received her ensign's commission at the May 18 graduation ceremony from President Barack Obama and on Saturday headed off to her new assignment at the largest Coast Guard base in the United States. There, she will be part of a 120-person crew on a 378-foot high-endurance cutter and will head out on a three and a half-month cruise in the Pacific Ocean.

She will be in charge of a division, five or six people, she said. She does not know what her assigned specialty will be, or what the mission of the cutter will be. But she said that on such trips, cutters normally engage in one of three activities: fishing patrols, to inspect net catches and ensure they are within regulations, interdiction of migrants trying illegally to enter the United States and good-will missions, promoting the Coast Guard and the United States.

Even though she is prone to seasickness, she said, she does not anticipate trouble on this tour. "Cutters are built so well and are so big that they don't rock so much," she said.

Eventually, McMillen said, she would like to join the Coast Guard's National Strike Force, a highly-trained group that responds to oil spills and other natural disasters. The Strike Force has three strike teams, one based in Fort Dix, N.J., another in Mobile, Ala., and the third in Novato, Calif.

"Being on a strike team is a big specialty and I will need a lot of experience in that type of work," McMillen said. As a member of the team, she would respond to situations like hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans in August 2005, and last year's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

"I would actually be making a difference," she said. "That's exactly why I got into the Coast Guard." McMillen was born in Olympia, Wash., and moved with her family to Seaford when she was 12. She graduated from Seaford High School, where she was a member of its Junior ROTC program, in 2007 and started her studies at the Coast Guard Academy the next fall.

At the academy, she obtained a bachelor of science degree in marine and environmental sciences. She was a coxswain on both the men's and women's crew teams and led the teams to several collegiate records.

As a student, she participated in two summer-long boat tours, one out of Ohio and the other on a 378-foot cutter out of Hawaii. During her senior year spring break, she was part of a team that went to Honduras to help build a school.

McMillen said that she was attracted to the Coast Guard after hearing tales her father, who joined the service right out of high school, told about his adventures. "It just sounded like so much fun," she said. "It sounded like a good place to be, a good service to be in." And her dad, an instructor of nursing fundamentals at Wor-Wic Community College in Salisbury, said that he and his wife, a nurse with the Indian River School District, are as pleased as they can be with their daughter.

"It is an understatement to express how proud we are of Bailea, especially with the degree in which she has distinguished herself and with the high level of honor she has represented the state of Delaware," he said.

News tips wanted
Call us with ideas for news and features. We're always looking for good stories to share with readers. Call Bryant Richardson at 629-9788.