After completing an intensive and all-encompassing curriculum, six bosuns are the latest to finish recertification. Seafarers Joseph Gierbolini, Richard Grubbs, Brian Guiry, Tavell Love, Samuel Porchea and Lionel Rivas graduated from the course Oct. 4, when they were introduced at the membership meeting in Piney Point, Maryland.
Their two-week curriculum, offered at the union-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education (PHC), concluded as they were presented with their respective certificates of completion. During their training, the members received hands-on instruction and high-level refresher courses, as well as attending face-to-face meetings with union and plans officials along with various representatives from different departments within the SIU and the school.
In keeping with tradition, each bosun gave a brief graduation speech to the assembled union officials, fellow mariners, trainees and guests in attendance at the membership meeting. They expressed gratitude for the opportunities provided by the union, and specifically thanked their instructors, port agents and other officials.
Profiles of the bosuns and excerpts from their speeches follow.
Gierbolini sails out of Jacksonville, Florida, but he joined the union in Puerto Rico in 1999. He opened his remarks with a quote from author Patrick O’Brian: “Injustice is a rule of the service, as you know very well; and since you have to have a good deal of undeserved abuse, you might just as well have it from your friends.” He then followed up by saying, “This is not an easy life that we choose. But it builds a brotherhood, a friendship that very few people will ever understand who do not serve in it.
“It has been a long stretch of ocean, but I am proud to call myself a sailor, and proud to call myself a bosun,” he added.
Gierbolini described his time in Piney Point as “excellent. I have been waiting a long time for the opportunity to get into this class,” he said.
He also thanked those who helped him join the union in the first place: “I would not have been able to do any of this without (former SIU Port Agent and current Recertified Bosun) Victor Nunez, who first got me into the union. I would also like to thank my uncle Tony, and my mentor Mike Burns. Together, I owe my position and my career to you.”
He concluded by addressing his fellow bosuns, saying, “You are all my friends. We have made this journey together. Master or bosun, mate or ordinary seamen, we have made this trek together. We are brothers, we are friends, we are seamen.”
After his Navy career, Grubbs joined the union in San Francisco in 1996. He opened by crediting the union for his success, saying, “I speak to you today as a member of the SIU. As a member, I have reached my goals. Everything that I have – my home, my family – I have gotten that through the union.”
A frequent upgrader, he remarked on the improvements to the facilities at Piney Point: “I have been very impressed with the upgrades to the school. I believe it will put the SIU ahead of the other training facilities.”
He then thanked the instructors and staff of the school for their hard work, and complimented the quality of the recertified bosun course.
Grubbs said he particularly benefited from the leadership training, which he is confident will bolster his performance when he returns to sea.
Addressing the apprentices, he stated, “I call upon you to look beyond the SIU as a job, and look at the union as a brotherhood and as a way of life…. We have a strong union that has allowed me to reach my goals in life, and for that I especially want to thank [SIU President] Mike Sacco. This union will allow you to get to the goals you set.”
Guiry took an unusual path to becoming a recertified bosun, taking a detour and becoming an SIU patrolman in Jacksonville from 2009 until 2014. He joined the union in 1999 in Jacksonville, and graduated from the school in PHC Apprentice Class 593.
“My first ship in phase two sailed around the world,” he said. “In that one trip, I learned that life didn’t always require a clear direction. It requires a framework to build off of. The SIU has given my life that framework.”
Eyeing the future, Guiry stated, “I recently completed the PHC AB to Mate program. From the education I received here at the Paul Hall Center, I passed the test and got the third mate’s license. It wasn’t easy, but thanks to the SIU, it was achievable. With the license, and now as a recertified bosun, I have so many more opportunities open to me. Once again, I don’t have a clear direction. But I have the strongest framework I could ever imagine to continue to build from.”
Reflecting on his time as a patrolman, Guiry recalled, “Being a part of the network of support that the union offers deepened my pride and appreciation for what we as the rank and file have in this organization. I learned the real importance of programs like SPAD. I saw firsthand how hard our officials and staff work to maintain our union. I am forever grateful for the experience, and I carry it with me every day aboard the ship when I am out there. I cannot thank you all enough for what you have done for myself, and for the rest of the membership.”
He concluded, “I extend a very special thank you to my wife, Ashley, my rock. I could not do what I do at sea without her support. To my parents, who gave me the most valuable gift in life – a strong work ethic. To (SIU Gulf Coast Vice President) Dean Corgey, for giving me the opportunity to work in Jacksonville, alongside the man who became my mentor, (retired Assistant Vice President) Archie Ware, and my partner at the counter, Port Agent Ashley Nelson. And to the current crew at the Jacksonville hall, (Patrolman) Adam Bucalo, (Patrolman) Eddie Pittman and (Safety Director) Joseph Koncul, who I am proud to call my union brothers.”
Love, who joined the union in Jacksonville in 2003, first related to the trainees in attendance by saying, “I’ve sat in these chairs, too, in Class 632. I joined the union not even knowing what a merchant seaman was.”
He continued, “I came to enjoy the job and the lifestyle that comes with it. Where else can you go to school and get free training, travel the world and get paid for it, and work when you want to work?”
Love credited those who have helped him in his career: “I want to thank the instructors for helping me and for giving me the tools and knowledge I needed to succeed in the industry. My classmate, Brian Guiry, who actually got me my first job as a bosun.” He then thanked the officials in Jacksonville before also expressing gratitude for his wife and kids.
“This experience has taught me a lot, as far as what goes on behind the scenes and all the hard work the executive board does to ensure the stability of not only the SIU, but the industry as a whole,” he concluded. “I now see why it’s so important to donate to SPAD. It gives our small population (as mariners) a chance to step in the door and be heard by lawmakers. To the trainees, just remember to be smart with your money, and take advantage of the [pension] plans. Enjoy life!”
Porchea got the audience’s attention when he pointed out he has sailed for 49 years as of Oct. 3. That tenure includes sailing as a bosun since 1976, and joining the SIU in 1997 (he sails from the port of Jacksonville).
He continued, “The union has been important in my life, as I have been able to provide a high quality of life for my family. I would like to thank the union leadership, as well as the staff of the school for providing us with the proper training and skills here at Piney Point. To my instructors, all that I can say is, ‘job well done.’ I have learned so much from each of you, and I surely will pass this knowledge along to the younger seamen.”
Porchea then said to the apprentices, “Please don’t forget our meeting (the bosuns met with them during class). The SIU is there for you, as it has been there for me. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to do the things I do today.”
He then thanked the union officials in Jacksonville and Houston.
Rivas opened by proclaiming, “This is the greatest day of my life!”
He joined the SIU in 2001, and now sails out of the port of Houston.
He remarked on the uniqueness of his job, saying, “After 60 days on the job, you get a vacation check. How much more could we want? Work when you want to, take off when you want to, and when you come back, you still have your job! How great is that?”
Regarding the recertification course and the school, he stated, “These past two weeks have been some of the most interesting weeks of training in my career. I have learned a lot more than I thought I would, and I will share all I have learned with my shipmates. I’ll also be able to better answer any questions they might have.”
He concluded, “I think the school is the best training facility in the U.S. I will always come back to the school to upgrade, because this is my home. Everything has been great: the instructors, the staff, and last but not least my bosun brothers. I know us deck people are a little crazy, but without us, the job doesn’t get done.”