A graduate student is wearing a uniform seldom worn by students in the hallways of the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
Lt. Junior Grade Melissa Barrett is a “Coastie,” a servicemember of the U.S. Coast Guard; her solid blue uniform of the day also garners her a second nickname as a “blueberry.”
The Coast Guard is the coastal defense, search and rescue, and maritime law enforcement branch of the U.S. armed forces and one of the country’s seven uniformed services.
Barrett began studying systems engineering in AFIT’s Graduate School of Engineering and Management in August. She holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the CG academy, near where she grew up in Connecticut.
During her academy days, Barrett spent a semester as an exchange student at the Air Force Academy. There she met 1st Lt. Layne Barrett, now her husband and a fellow AFIT student studying astronautical engineering.
“This is really lucky for us; we’ve been married for three years and finally get to live together by coming here,” she said.
Previously she was stationed at Houma, Louisiana; he was stationed five hours away at Eglin AFB, Florida.
In 18 months upon degree completion, she expects a follow-on tour at the U.S. Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C. The couple hopes to be co-located.
For now, Barrett enjoys being the single blueberry among AFIT student Airmen.
“It’s fun to let other services know about you. We are U.S. Department of Homeland Security, so we don’t fall under DOD,” she said. “It’s been fun to have the opportunity to tell others about the Coast Guard.
“I think I have the best of both worlds here,” she continued. “I love the Coast Guard because of how small it is and how everyone knows everyone, but the Air Force’s amenities are nice to have as well. You have your own base, gym and commissary, and the security is very reassuring.”
A fellow Guardsman also may be seen in AFIT’s hallways, as Cdr. James Royce, a CG Academy instructor, is currently teaching physics here. Barrett met him when she had him for physics at the CG Academy.
“I won’t be taking physics, but I go in to talk to him all the time,” she said. “It’s great to have someone to help provide guidance.”
Seven more “blueberries” will attend AFIT next year through a memorandum of understanding between the Air Force and the Coast Guard. Barrett wants to encourage other Guardsmen to attend AFIT.
“AFIT’s teachers are definitely dedicated, and I like the fact that this is a graduate degree where you have to do a thesis. The teachers will work with you on the research and the thesis step by step,” she said. “They have been through many advisees, and the student-to-teacher ratio is pretty low. You can have a lot of attention from a staff member who can really help you.”
Barrett said she enjoys learning more about the Air Force’s mission, history and culture.
“It’s been fascinating to learn the DOD perspective; because it’s a larger branch, learning about challenges with acquisition and large-scale maintenance is very rewarding,” she acknowledged.
The two Barretts have desks side by side in their living room and study together.
She hopes her degree will enhance her capabilities as a marine compliance inspector/investigator, she said.
“We inspect for safety, structural and engineering compliance in marine vessels such as commercial and domestic vessels carrying paying passengers. I inspect multiple types of vessels and make sure crew members follow standards,” Barrett said. “What I’m trying to do at AFIT is gain knowledge on how to help inspect for cybersecurity vulnerabilities and prevent bad things from happening.”
After the couple completes study time, they spend time enjoying community festivals, running and taking advantage of the area’s many biking trails.
“We can bike from our backyard all the way to Yellow Springs without leaving the bike path,” Barrett said. “It’s fantastic.”
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