The seven Seafarers who recently completed bosun recertification training at the SIU-affiliated school in Piney Point, Maryland, had no shortage of interesting insights when they delivered graduation speeches Oct. 3.
Completing the Paul Hall Center’s (PHC) top curriculum for deck department mariners were Neftali Erausquin, Richard Molina Blackman, Ronald Poole Sr., Carlos Gibbons, Larry Dizon, James Hall and Nasser Hafid. The two-week course covered numerous topics including leadership, teamwork, social responsibilities and safe workplaces, contracts, benefits plans, politics as it pertains to the maritime industry, simulator training, vessel operations and more. Most of it took place on the PHC’s southern Maryland campus, though the class also included a day at the union’s headquarters building, located in Camp Springs, Maryland.
Following are some highlights of the respective graduation remarks, given during the monthly membership meeting at the PHC.
A Seafarer since 2003, Erausquin said his overall experience during the class was “amazing. All of the content was useful, and my eyes were opened to things I’d never known about. The school itself also looks great. I’m proud to be an SIU member.”
He thanked SIU officials, PHC personnel, and everyone who works at the Jersey City, New Jersey, hall for their guidance and efforts, and also credited his family for being supportive.
After encouraging fellow Seafarers to support the union’s voluntary political action fund (SPAD), Erausquin urged the apprentices to “upgrade and stay focused. The sky is the limit for you.”
Richard Molina Blackman
Previously a member of the National Maritime Union (NMU), Blackman became a Seafarer when the NMU merged into the SIU in 2001.
“It has been a great experience,” he said. “I came to the school in 2004 to upgrade for my AB ticket, and have sailed as a bosun since 2012. Finally, after 21 years as an SIU member, through hard work and dedication I am a recertified bosun. It means a lot to me.”
He thanked all of the personnel at the Houston hiring hall along with the staff and instructors at the PHC.
Blackman continued, “I thank all the union officials for your good leadership and hard work, fighting every day for all of us. Without you, we wouldn’t be here.”
He said the SIU remains “a fundamental part of my life. It has given me many opportunities to provide a great living for me and my family.”
Addressing the apprentices, he concluded, “You are the future of this great union. Learn and listen to your instructors; work hard and upgrade.”
Ronald Poole Sr.
Poole joined the SIU in Mobile, Alabama, in 1999. He said his most recent experience at the PHC was “outstanding,” and that he particularly appreciated learning about the various components of the Seafarers Plans.
He described becoming a recertified bosun as the culmination of a career-long dream.
“With hard work and dedication, each and every one of you out there (in the auditorium) can be on this stage, too,” he said to his fellow members and apprentices. “The sky is the limit for you – all you have to do is want it.”
Poole, who still sails from Mobile, wrapped up his speech by saying, “Life in the union has been good for me and my family. I have two daughters in college and one more to go.”
Like has classmates, Gibbons, an SIU member since 2001, said that completing recertification carried great significance.
“I feel overwhelmed with pride, and I am very thankful and blessed for this wonderful achievement,” he said. “It wouldn’t have been possible without the help and support from the officials in New Jersey, and I thank them.”
He said that the combination of union membership and clear chances for career advancement have served him well “in many aspects of my life – too many to mention in this short speech. But the most important one is the opportunities to continually upgrade. I’m grateful for that. It has helped me improve my skills and also helped me financially, there’s no doubt about it.”
After thanking the union’s officials for their work in protecting members’ job security, Gibbons told the apprentices, “When you are at sea, listen to your superiors. Follow orders and always do your best. Always show up with a positive attitude, and don’t hesitate to ask questions.”
With his wife and two daughters in the audience, Dizon said the recertification class helped him “gain more knowledge about leadership and the operations and benefits the SIU offers us.”
He said that when he joined the union in 2005 in Norfolk, Virginia, “it changed my life. Opportunities came my way. I developed and enhanced my skills and was able to travel to many places. I experienced different cultures and met people from all walks of life.”
He continued, “The SIU gave my family a better life…. I’m so grateful to be part of the Brotherhood of the Sea.”
He thanked the instructors, encouraged support of SPAD, and said the school made him feel at home.
Shortly after finishing his enlistment in the Navy in 2000, Hall “realized how much I missed going to sea,” he said. Before the year ended, he’d enrolled in the apprentice program.
Since then, he stated, “While my friends back home were discovering the world wide web, I got to see the whole wide world: all seven continents, both while employed aboard ships and during my vacation time. I’ve earned good wages and benefits for me and my family, while funding my retirement plan.”
Hall thanked his family, PHC personnel, and SIU officials and staff at headquarters, in New Orleans and in Houston for their efforts and supportiveness. He said of the union’s top officials: “They are uniquely well-versed in the intricacies of all facets governing our livelihood. Their combined experience, knowledge and established relationships are not easily replicated. It is incumbent on us to donate to SPAD so that they can continue this vital work on our behalf.” Lastly, he said to the apprentices, “When you get to sea, make yourselves part of the team. Ask questions and don’t become complacent. This is your best shot at a bright future.”
A frequent upgrader and a Seafarer since 1994, Hafid said he would “go a different route” with his graduation speech – and he delivered with a captivating, firsthand account that illustrated why he holds the union in high regard.
“Only a few people know what happened,” said Hafid (who is readily amenable to the details being published). “There’s always a day in your life that you never forget, and that day is Feb. 23, 2013 for me. I was overseas, visiting my family (in Yemen) after a long trip. I was driving along, and had my mother and cousin (in the vehicle). A bullet came through the car door, into the side of my chest, went all the way through and lodged into my right bicep…. It hurt, but I did not cry. I’m a bosun.”
All indications are that he hadn’t been specifically targeted, but survival wasn’t certain. Nevertheless, he recovered enough to return to the U.S., where he visited the hiring hall in Tacoma, Washington.
“I got to the counter and started telling the patrolman what had happened,” Hafid said. “He stopped me and we went to talk in the back. He got the port agent, the other patrolman and the secretary…. I was requesting to see a doctor. When I was telling them what happened to me, you could see the empathy in their eyes. They dropped everything they were doing and focused on me. They treated me like their family member, and not just a member of a union.”
He then noted that when “headquarters found out, you know what they said? ‘Get that man whatever he needs.’ Like a bosun would say to his deck department, just get it done. The SIU was there when I needed them the most.”