Paying attention to detail and following directions to the letter more often than not proves to be a winning formula. Perhaps no one knows this better than QE3 Raibonne Charles, who some five and one-half years ago was provided a set of instructions which, if followed, could change his life while cementing his future with a rewarding career.
Charles in January 2016 was a member of Paul Hall Center (PHC) Apprentice Class 809, when then Director of Manpower and current PHC Asst. Vice President Bart Rogers uttered several phrases that would profoundly impact him and his classmates. Rogers during an orientation briefing advised Charles and his classmates “to use the school’s unlicensed apprentice program to its fullest potential; to upgrade often, and to leave the maritime industry as a chief/captain, or at the very least in a better place than it was when they walked through the door.”
Charles not only took Rogers’ words seriously, he put them into action. Shortly after completing his requirements for graduation from the apprentice program in late 2016 and going on his first voyage as a credentialed mariner, he returned to the PHC to begin upgrading his skills. This would become a recurring action on his part as he returned to the school time and again as often as he could to continue the enhancement of his abilities.
After completing literally every course available to him in his specialty at the PHC, Charles in 2019 applied for and was selected to receive a scholarship for active Seafarers through the Seafarers Health and Benefits Plan (SHBP). According to his scholarship package, he planned to use the grant to pursue courses which would help pave his way toward obtaining his third assistant engineer’s license. He applied for admission to the Maritime Professional Training school in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and the Mid Atlantic Maritime Academy in Norfolk, Virginia.
A 2007 graduate of Windham High School in Windham, Maine, Charles was a well-rounded student who served as president of his class and held membership on Windham’s student council. In the athletic arena, he demonstrated versatility by participating in football, basketball and track and field. Charles was a church youth leader and volunteered numerous hours working in an area soup kitchen. He also assisted residents of a Maine veterans’ home where he was involved in impact mentoring.
Following high school, Charles accepted an athletic scholarship to the University of Maine. He earned his degree in forestry while again making his mark on the gridiron as a standout defensive lineman. His accomplishments on the field did not go unnoticed, and not long after graduation, he was offered a contract to play professional football in the Arena Football League. He played three seasons as a linebacker with the Richmond (Virginia) Raiders.
“In April 2015, I walked away from the game of football forever,” he said in his SHBP scholarship application package. “I knew I needed a career that provided stability and would give me the ability to provide.”
At that juncture, Charles began revisiting interests from childhood. “As a young boy, the maritime industry was my first interest,” he said. “I have many fond memories of sitting on my veranda in Grenada and standing in the Portland harbor watching ships come in and out. Often, I was left wondering where did these ships come from and where will they go….”
Charles said his interest in shipping probably was the result of his childhood environment. “Both of my childhood homes were heavily reliant on the maritime industry,” he shared in his application package. “The most influential person in my life was a seafarer…. The first seafarer I knew was my father.”
It should be no surprise then, that Charles chose maritime as his career going forward following his days in the Arena Football League. “After really thinking about it and putting everything into perspective, I realized that this (maritime industry) is what I wanted to do,” he said. “So initially I talked to some people, did some research and tried to figure out what I needed to do to get the proper documentation to become a seaman. Once I figured that out, I did what most people do when they are looking for a job: fill out resumes and send out applications.
“I sent resumes and applications out to any and every shipping company in the world that I could find an application to,” he said. “What ended up happening was that a crewing coordinator from TOTE Maritime called and said she had received my resume several times since her company recruited mariners from other shipping companies. She explained to me what the SIU was, told me about the unlicensed apprentice program, explained what it was all about and recommended that I apply for it. I did, got accepted and in January of 2016 boarded a plane to Baltimore (en route to Piney Point) and my life has never been the same since,” he said.
This past February, Charles passed the examination which landed him credentials as a 3rd Assistant and Designated Duty Engineer. Justifiably proud of his achievement, he reached out to many of those who had figured prominently in his success to date. Among them was Rogers, whom he contacted via email in May to offer his thanks.
In part, that correspondence read: “I came through the program in class 809. From the day I joined the program my life has moved in a positive direction, and I am very grateful…. The opportunity that was provided to me by the SIU has transformed my family’s and my life. Thank you and everyone on the admissions/ manpower team that helped make this possible.”