Going Coast To Coast Guard
Former Jackets guard Mo Bennett taking it all the way in her Coast Guard ascension
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
When she played at Georgia Tech, Mo Bennett combined superb physical tools with great intelligence.
Both elements will get put to use aplenty when she begins her new duties next week with the United States Coast Guard.
“I am an intelligence specialist. I’ll be doing counterintelligence,” said Bennett, whose rank is E-4, a Third-Class Petty Officer -- she will be stationed in Alameda, Calif. “I will go to school for analysis and reporting and I’ll also go to agent school for about nine weeks. That’s when I’ll get a badge and all that.”
While that means safer U.S. waters and a cresting wave in her career, it doesn’t lead to much open explanation of what she’ll be doing.
“I can’t tell you much,” she said, with a laughs. “Most of it’s a need-to-know. Most of it is top-secret clearance type of stuff. It’s a variety of things. Kind of look for people who want to harm our country and try to prevent that, whether they be home-grown or foreign.”
In a way, its professional life imitating college life, as for four years at Georgia Tech, Bennett was something of a secret weapon, primarily coming off the bench to provide instant offense or lockdown defense and rebounding, depending on what was needed.
Bennett just finished “A” School, the Coast Guard’s training school, where she received a letter of commendation then the rare opportunity to work in counter intel.
“It was a lot of power-point, a lot of rules and regulations, a lot of law that we had to memorize and learn so that when we are in the field doing our type of work we don’t cross any boundaries -- the privacy act and stuff, as far as like personal identifiable information,” she said. “We learn laws to where we can get close but not overstep their boundary and not have to face legal charges for different things.
“I’m excited about it,” she added. “This specific job isn’t offered to third-classes straight out of school, per se, so it’s an honor to have received this opportunity. It’s great for my career, a great stepping stone. I’ll get to go to agent school, carry a badge. It’ll stay with me the rest of my career even if I choose not to stay in the counter intel, world and just do regular intelligence.”
Bennett credits her time at Georgia Tech for helping prepare for life in the military and her current role.
“The decision I made to join was definitely a tough one however I feel like it’s the best decision I could have made outside of coming here for school,” she said. “I know this place prepared me well to go into the military. It’s disciplined, it’s similar to what I had been when I was at Tech.”
She also credits head coach MaChelle Joseph for making the transition of going into the Coast Guard easier by taking off some of the lure of travelling abroad.
“Everybody’s like, ‘Oh, you joined the military to travel.’ I’m like, ‘Not really. Coach Jo already took me around the world,’” she said, with a laugh. “Thanks to Coach Jo I did a little traveling. My freshman year we went to the Bahamas. That was my first time, I think, leaving the country. Then, at the end of the school year we went over to Tunisia, Africa, and then went to Paris, France. Then, of course, we went to the Virgin Islands, we went to Puerto Rico. So I’m thankful for it.”
Bennett also credited women’s basketball trainer Scott McDonald for getting her ready physically.
“Boot camp was a breeze compared to some of the stuff I endured here,” she said, with a laugh. “To get ready to go to boot camp I actually came back to McCamish and worked out with Scott McDonald. He worked me out pretty much every day. I lost weight, I got real lean and in shape and I was ready.”
Of course, Georgia Tech couldn’t prepare Bennett for everything. As tough as Joseph made her mentally and McDonald did physically, Mo still had to go through life experiences unique to the Guard.
The one that resonates most was a literal “Do-or-die” situation.
The day before Bennett was scheduled to fly back to the U.S. to play in the CISM World Military Women’s Basketball Championship, her ship, the Coast Guard Cutter Barque Eagle, was docking in Ireland as part of a tour of Europe. Suddenly, a good friend fell overboard. Adding to the immediate peril of their crewmate being swept away by the ocean, the crew had to deal with their older ship.
“It’s not like the rest of the ships that have a joystick to turn. We have the old helm that it takes like six people to turn,” she said.
The instinct and poise that kicked in, as the crew put to use all of the time they’d put in working on drills at sea -- like the man-overboard drills, left a proud impression on Bennett.
“To see our crew respond so quickly and save our shipmate’s life I think will forever stick with me,” she said. “It was scary at the time. I remember a lot of us cried because the reality of it is he could have very well been swept out to sea and lost. However we recovered him. So even though it was very scary, our crew responded and got him out of the water within nine minutes. It was my first time I actually saved a life in the Coast Guard.”
Bennett is sure that her classmate, a fellow Third-Class Petty Officer, won’t be the last life she saves. She’s also ready for a lot more challenges ahead. There will be a similarity to Georgia Tech, however, as she will contribute to a team that will chalk up many great successes yet she will often go unnoticed.
“The biggest challenge I feel is just trying to make sure I do things right to help the mission,” she said. “Our (job) is behind the scenes. We aren’t the ones that get all the praise and the glory for when drug busts are made or (illegal) immigrants are caught or people are rescued, however we’re the ones who provide the intelligence to putsteel on target to make sure that the people who are in the forefront can complete their missions, to make sure they’re in the right places at the right times.”
Mo admits she’ll miss her family and friends and the South but she’s eagerly looking ahead to the new chapter of her life. As she drives west with a friend she said she’ll make sure to stop and smell the roses.
“We can take turns driving and hit a few places,” she said. “We’ll probably stop in New Orleans, I want to see the Grand Canyon, maybe drive through Vegas and see what that’s like - I’ve never been. A nice little road trip, hit a few places on the way across.”
Once she reports (her reporting day is Aug. 9), Bennett will set her sights on moving up in what promises to be a future that’s wide open with possibilities.
“It’s a great career path. The opportunities are endless,” she said, ticking off the road upward -- Second-Class Petty Officer, First-Class Petty Officer, Chief Petty Officer, or possibly Intelligence Officer or Warrant Officer. “The field that I’m going to work in correlates into the civilian world very well.
“There are a lot of three-letter agencies -- the NSA, the FBI, the CIA, a lot of top-secret stuff,” she added. “Since I already have my clearance, if I wanted to get out and do that kind of stuff it would be an easy transition and an easy hire because they wouldn’t have to pay to get me clearance. I’ll already have it. I’ll probably stay my 20 years unless something in the civilian world pops up that’s worth it, then I would consider getting out. But I love the Coast Guard, so I’ll probably stay for a while.”