Jackie Kokomoor, Fitch High School and Coast Guard Academy graduate, is the executive officer on board the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Charles Moulthrope, scheduled to leave Key West later this month for its new home port of Manama, Bahrain, in the Persian Gulf.
The Charles Moulthrope was still waiting to be commissioned in late October last year when 17 members of the 28-man crew, including the commanding officer, became infected with COVID-19. Then in early November, Tropical Storm Eta blew through Florida and necessitated the cutter get underway to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for safekeeping.
Infected with COVID at the time but asymptomatic, part of the planning for the dual crises fell to Kokomoor, a lieutenant junior grade, who was later presented with the Commandant’s Letter of Commendation for “displaying exceptional foresight during a global pandemic.”
“You are commended for your outstanding performance of duty,” the proclamation read. “By your meritorious service, you have upheld the highest traditions of the United States Coast Guard.”
Kokomoor, at the time, was just shy of her 25th birthday.
“That really doesn’t surprise me with Jackie,” Coast Guard swimming coach John Weskott said this week of Kokomoor, the former Eastern Connecticut Conference 200-yard freestyle girls’ swimming champion who went on to captain the women’s swim team at Coast Guard, as well.
“She is high energy in a good way. It’s a positive facet of her personality. Some people are high energy and all over the place. Jackie is high energy and applies it very well. What the academy does and what the service does is give them access to the skills to be able to go do that. … This was Jackie’s opportunity.”
The Charles Moulthrope was commissioned on Jan. 21 in Portsmouth, Virginia, with Kokomoor serving as master of ceremonies. In attendance were Coast Guard commandant Adm. Karl Schultz and his wife Dawn, who is the ship’s sponsor.
The Charles Moulthrope, commanded by Steven Hulse, is Coast Guard’s 41st Sentinel-class cutter, 154 feet in length. The fast response cutter will be one of six stationed in Bahrain as part of Coast Guard’s Patrol Forces Southwest Asia.
Kokomoor received her letter of commendation from Hulse at the commissioning and was presented with the Commandant’s Letter of Commendation ribbon bar to wear on her uniform.
“We all work so closely together,” Kokomoor said, sharing the credit for her forward thinking with her shipmates. “While extremely honored that I was granted those honors, I worked alongside every single person on the boat. I happen to have a commanding officer who makes sure I have the band width to do my job. He had COVID, but we were in contact over the phone.
“… I think that the biggest piece was I never felt like I didn’t have resources to reach out to. We have the technology that allows me to call or email or text anybody to make sure we were good to go. I did a lot of coordinating but it could not have been done without the crew.”
With the crew living on the ship at the time of the outbreak, Kokomoor arranged for each member to have single-occupancy housing in the form of the vacation rentals at Naval Air Station Key West. Drawing from the healthy members of the crew, she drew up a duty rotation to continue to work, as well as to travel back and forth from the grocery store with meals for those with the coronavirus.
Then came Tropical Storm Eta and a directive from the Coast Guard to move its cutters from the path of the storm. With only a few healthy crew members, it was decided that the men and women who were quarantined would now do so on board the cutter as it was redirected to Guantanamo Bay. The crew that were healthy stayed behind in Key West so as not to be put at risk.
Upon returning from Guantanamo Bay, the crew members continued to live in single-occupancy housing to avoid yet another COVID outbreak. Kokomoor had the second piece of her COVID vaccination on Wednesday, as the Charles Moulthrope continues to prepare for its 7,000-mile journey across the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.
“Jackie has always been a go-getter,” Katey Kokomoor, Jackie’s mother, said. “When she has a goal, she goes for it. She has always been one who likes order and who likes quality. That’s important to her. So it doesn’t totally surprise me (that she received a commendation). But it makes me smile.”
Jackie Kokomoor has always been about the team for which she competes.
“She was better on relays than she was individually,” Coast Guard’s Weskott said. “She had that competitive spirit and team spirit. She put other people in front of her own interests. Jackie was a lacrosse player, as well, in high school. That team sport vibe translated over into swimming. It’s a good thing to bring to the table.”
As a senior at Coast Guard, Kokomoor was voted captain by her teammates.
She was part of the Bears’ 200 freestyle relay team which finished third in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference during that 2017-18 season. Previously, in a Senior Day victory over Clark, the 200 free relay team set Coast Guard’s pool record in 1 minute, 39.93 seconds and Kokomoor swam as part of the winning 200 medley relay.
Kokomoor said the oft-talked about camaraderie at the Coast Guard Academy unquestionably carries over following graduation.
When the Charles Moulthrope had to be moved to safety during Tropical Storm Eta, for instance, participation in the trip was voluntary for those who had contracted COVID. Every single member opted in, she said. In addition, the healthy crew left behind wanted to go too.
“Absolutely,” Kokomoor said. “It’s really cool. Even as we were getting underway, the healthy members were on the pier saying, ‘Take us with you.’ We couldn’t. But they were looking at us getting underway and getting ready to face some pretty gnarly seas and they wanted to be a part of it.
“It’s dedication. The cutter life instills some camaraderie, a little family in everybody’s heart. … There’s definitely a spirit on our ship of people who really want to undertake this mission. There’s an energy on the ship.”
Katey Kokomoor, who is the girls’ swimming coach at Ledyard High School and the boys’ coach at Fitch, grew up in Cocoa Beach, Florida, where the water was a way of life.
The family owned a canoe and Katey used it to explore a series of nearby islands for hours. She would sometimes tip the canoe over and swim underneath it to where there was an air pocket, somewhat of a comfort zone. Water safety was part of her elementary school education.
Katey and her husband Kris, both native Floridians who now reside in Groton, have five children, Erik, Kaley, Rachael, Jackie and Sam, whom the couple wanted to feel the same comfort around the water as they did.
Kaley, a 2009 Fitch graduate, earned All-America honors as a member of the Falcons’ 200 medley relay team and went on to swim collegiately at Bowdoin. Sam, a 2016 Fitch grad, was named The Day’s All-Area Boys’ Swimmer of the Year as a senior, setting the ECC meet record in the 100 butterfly in 52.59 seconds.
Jackie took things up a level by attending the Coast Guard Academy, assuring the family of water-related activities for at least five years following her graduation. A civil engineering major, Jackie’s first assignment after graduating was on the USCGC Waesche, a 418-foot national security cutter home-ported in Alameda, California.
“I think part of it was my proximity to the academy (growing up),” Kokomoor said of her commitment to Coast Guard. “I just think that our area encourages young adults to serve. I did a little bit of research and the Coast Guard mission piqued my interest. I was able to visit.
“I stand by it. The mission is more interesting to me, more fulfilling (than the other service academies). One hundred percent no regrets. Coast Guard was the right choice. I can’t imagine a life led any other way.”
The Charles Moulthrope, which bears hull No. 1141, will sail to Bahrain along with USGCG Robert Goldman, just commissioned Friday and emblazoned with No. 1142. Both ships will be accompanied by an escort.
Kokomoor, who joined the crew of the Charles Moulthrope last July at Bollinger Shipyards in Lockport, Louisiana, where it was built, has orders to remain in Bahrain until July, 2022. It was her first choice of assignments, landing her with a job on a brand new $65 million cutter.
“There’s definitely a bit of anxious anticipation,” Kokomoor said of the upcoming undertaking. “I have a friend on one of the cutters that are currently stationed there that will be decommissioned, so I have a little idea what’s going to happen. But you don’t know until you know.”
Of the Charles Moulthrope: “She’s nice. New paint. Not too many miles,” Kokomoor said. “She looks good.”