As a Coastie, I have traveled the States for the past 20 years going from coast to coast and one amazing adventure to another.
Read on in this blog to hear stories about my experiences living the Coast Guard life, not only as a military officer but also as a small town Midwestern girl who left home to enlist in the United States Coast Guard.
I look forward to hearing what you have to say about... My Coast Guard Career.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Becoming a USCG Officer

Recently, I have received a few e-mails from people wanting to know how they can become USCG Officers.

One e-mail came from a very sweet young man who desperately wants two things in his life... his true love for a woman and to become a USCG Officer. A real Officer and a Gentleman story... The only problem is to be eligible for the USCG Academy, you cannot be married. The Academy has a very competitive and selective process because of the large number of candidates and limited number of cadet positions.

Another e-mail came from a young lady who is already attending college and wants to improve her chances of being selected for Officer Candidate School.

So, in addition to my posts on being Married in the Military and Age Limits, here are a few other options besides the USCG Academy for people who want to become a USCG Officer.

Each program has its own eligibility requirements, program requirements, and varies in the training required. Check out the links provided above for more information.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Lauren Got Accepted to OCS!

I know it has been quite a while since I last wrote a post. I have been very busy working on my comprehensive finals for graduate school as well as enjoying the holiday season. Sorry, I promise to write soon and answer some of the great e-mails I have been receiving.

I just wanted to let everyone know that Lauren (a guest blogger who applied for OCS) just found out she was accepted and will attend the January 2009 class!

Congratulations Lauren on a job well done! Now... get your stuff in order and prepare for a mentally and physically challenging four months in cold, snowy Connecticut!

Semper Paratus and good luck!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Revised - Age Limit to Join the Coast Guard

So, just a few days ago, the USCG sent out a message standardizing the age limits for some commissioning programs. Many of the age limits have been raised. Click here to read the message.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Military Benefits

The more I talk with people who are trying hard to get into the USCG, the more I appreciate my career. Besides offering probably the best job security in America, the military also provides several benefits to its members.

My post on military pay talks about the salary and other allowances the military provides but there are many more benefits. Typically what comes to mind when we think of military benefits are things like the GI Bill and maybe the free medical and dental care. Most people may not even think the free health care is a great “bennie,” but being able to go to the doctor anytime you have the slightest ache or pain and receiving prescriptions without paying a dime out of your own pocket is a definite perk. I wonder just how much I would have paid over the past 14 years in medical care…

Think about these additional benefits;

I recently took a short vacation to Key West, Florida where I stayed in an MWR facility. It was a three-bedroom townhouse about eight blocks from downtown with a washer/dryer, full kitchen, screened in porch, and cable television for only $90/night! Gosh, I love MWR.

I would say that being in the military definitely has its perks.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Social Media Sidenote...

I was recently selected as one of the eight UGA students to attend and participate in the 2008 UGA Connect Conference this Friday and Saturday, September 19 and 20. This event, sponsored by Porter Novelli, brings together public relations professionals and educators to advance the application of social media in public relations.

The eight students selected will conduct live coverage of the event on the UGA Connect blog, Twitter, and Flickr sites. Read this blog post to find out how you can follow the conference online and find out what's new in social media.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Age Limit to Join the U.S. Coast Guard

Over the past few weeks, I have gotten several e-mails (and even a phone call from my brother) about the age restrictions for joining the USCG. After conducting some research, it appears that the answer is not that simple. I can see why this is a frequent question.

I found some insightful information but I offer this disclaimer: Anyone wanting to join the USCG should seek the counsel of a USCG recruiter. Each person is a unique situation with many individual factors influencing whether or not s/he can join the USCG. With that said, here is what I found…

Currently, US Code Title 10 Chapter 31 Section 505 sets the minimum age to join the military at 17 and the maximum age at 42. However, each military service is allowed to set more strict standards. The USCG, in fact, does vary its age restrictions depending on whether you enlist or receive a commission, whether you go on active or reserve duty, and whether you have prior military service.

For active duty...

The maximum age to enlist is 27 or up to age 32 for those who attend advanced training school directly upon enlistment. Applicants with prior military service can be granted a waiver for these age limits. To become an officer, the maximum age depends on how you get your commission:

  • The CG Academy minimum age is 17 and maximum age is 22 years old.
  • The Officer Candidate School (OCS) minimum age is 21 and maximum age is 26 years old. However, applicants with prior active duty service in any military branch may exceed this age limit by the number of months of service (not to exceed age 31).
  • For a Direct Commission, the age limit will vary depending on the program. Aviators, medical officers, lawyers, engineers, and others have various age limits. Click here for more information.

For reserve duty...

The maximum age to enlist is age 39. For a reserve commission, the minimum age is 21 and maximum age is 36 years old; however, a waiver may be granted for applicants with prior military service (up to age 39).

Besides age limits, there are other restrictions to joining the military such as your family size (number of dependents), financial responsibility, education, criminal record, health, and height/weight. Many of these restrictions can be waived but will depend on each individual situation. For more information, I encourage you to talk to a recruiter.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Applying for Officer Candidate School

Over the past month, I have been exchanging e-mails with Lauren Swanson, a civilian applying for USCG Officer Candidate School (OCS), who found my blog during her research. She recently completed and submitted her application and is waiting to hear the board’s selections. I invited her to guest blog about the experience. This is what she has to say…

From one hopeful Coastie to another, I know the OCS application process can seem stressful, vague, and endless. However, I am here to say that you CAN get through it! Recently, I completed the process and am now waiting for a panel to make a decision that could change my life forever. Joining the USCG as an officer is something I have wanted for a long time, and applying was half the battle. I made it through with flying colors, according to my OCS interview board members, and I am here to offer some helpful tips so you can too!

1. Prepare, prepare, prepare.
Preparation is essential to ensure your application package is completed properly and in accordance with USCG expectations. The paperwork is only a part of the overall process. A formal interview is the last step before the final package is submitted. Preparation is key and will pay off in your interview. My panel was very impressed with my knowledge of the Coast Guard and my studies helped me answer their questions effortlessly.

There are many avenues to explore to prepare for the process. Books about the Coast Guard, leadership, and job application processes are a great source to start with. Also, research on websites and blogs, ask everyone you know if they know a Coastie, and don’t be afraid to ask questions so you know what you are getting into! Your OCS panel wants to know that you are well aware of the responsibility and life style of the Coast Guard. Don’t forget about the Coast Guard Personnel Manual, it has great information about CG history and protocol- info critical to know about any company you are interviewing for. The book I found most helpful is Character in Action: The US Coast Guard on Leadership. I used information I read in this book several times during my interview. Also, go to your local base and ask about touring a cutter so that you can get a first hand look at CG life!

2. Go back to the basics on resumes’ and interviewing.
Two books that the Coast Guard recommends you read before applying are What Color Is Your Parachute? and 10 Insider Secrets to a Winning Job Search. Both books are great sources for how to conduct a flawless interview and how to make a solid resume. The information in these books is priceless and helped me tremendously! They teach you everything school forgot to mention…

3. Do not rely solely on your recruiter.
While recruiters are wonderful sources of information, seek information from other places as well. By networking and asking questions (such as on the OCS foundation’s website and connecting with bloggers like Connie), I found a tremendous amount of useful information my recruiter didn’t even know I needed to know! I found many other people asking the same questions and getting help from Coasties and other applicants. Remember recruiters are very busy people, and if you are feeling a little neglected by your recruiter, do not take it to heart! They are also there to weed you out, so try to be a little self-sufficient and explore all avenues of information!

4. Read what they read and know what they know.
As obvious as it sounds, people often forget to read Chapter 1.B.9 of the Coast Guard Personnel Manual. It outlines the guidelines for conducting an OCS panel interview. This interview is the only ‘face time’ you will get and the only chance you have to make a lasting impression. Also, study the form they complete during the interview so you know how they are grading you.

5. Finally, look sharp for the interview. Appearance is everything.
Some of the best advice given to me during this process was to look the part of an officer. You should always look the part for whatever job you are applying for and this is certainly no exception! An officer is confident, comfortable in his/her own skin, and needs to be an effective communicator. The board members notice EVERY detail, and they may comment on it! Posture and eye contact are very important during your interview- make sure you look at all the officers while you are answering their questions, not just the one who directed the question to you! Check out this site for interviewing tips.

Good luck!

Stay tuned to hear if Lauren is selected to attend OCS!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Married in the Military

I continue to get wonderful e-mails from people who have questions about being in the Coast Guard. The latest e-mail came from a couple that wants to join the Coast Guard together and is concerned about collocation.

Chapter 4 (Section A.8) of the Coast Guard Personnel Manual outlines some nitty-gritty details about married active duty members, but basically the service will try to keep joint spouses together. Although I am not married, I know many couples that deal with collocation issues and have been very satisfied. From what I hear, the Coast Guard does a good job but there are NO GUARANTEES. Typically, if they cannot station you together then they at least try to put you within 100 miles of each other.

So, here is my take on collocation... It is highly possible, but there are some considerations.

First, it may limit your job options a bit. The Coast Guard is much smaller than other services (in fact, we are only roughly 2% of the entire armed forces) and may not have as many opportunities for married couples to be collocated. The cities with a large Coast Guard shore-based unit or multiple different Coast Guard units are your best option. This would include any city with a Coast Guard Area, District, ISC (Integrated Support Command), Sector office, or any city with a shore-based unit and a Coast Guard Cutter. The location of various Coast Guard units can be found on the Coast Guard’s homepage.

Second, consider your specialty. Simply put, enlisted members receive in-depth training for their selected specialty and then stay in that specialty throughout their careers. The various enlisted specialties can be found here. Coast Guard Officers usually have two different specialties and they alternate jobs between the two specialties. The specialties are Aviation, C4IT, Engineering, Finance, Human Resources, Intelligence, Legal, Management, Medical, Operations Afloat, Operations Ashore-Prevention, Operations Ashore-Response. This document can provide more information on Coast Guard Officer careers.

Third, consider your rotation cycle. Married couple will need to try and align their relocations to be at the same time. This can be a challenge since tour length depends on the assignment.

In a nut shell, as long as you can find a location that offers a position in both your specialties AND there is an opening that needs to be filled AND you are both due for reassignment, then you will most likely be stationed together.

As you can start to see, it does take some research and creative thinking by the married couple. It may sound difficult and nearly impossible, but I promise you it isn’t. I know many married couples who have had great success and a long, happy career.

I know the answer isn't simple, but I hope these resources prove helpful. I am always open to answering any questions, so let me know if you are still scratching your head...

Here are a few other resources I found that may help:
* FAQs about being joint spouses
* Information about being a Coast Guard Officer
* Information about joining the military

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

My Officer Candidate School Tips and Advice

Recently, more potential Coasties have reached out to me about joining the Coast Guard. One person in particular is about to leave to start Officer Candidate School (OCS) and asked for some advice. Although I don’t want to ruin any of the “fun” he is about to experience, I will share a few tricks that helped me get through the 17 weeks of training.

Of course, the Coast Guard’s Leadership Development Center Web site has some general information on what to bring and how to prepare but it surely isn’t going to give away any of the dirty details. Since it has been almost seven years since I went to OCS, I not only don’t remember the dirty details but they have likely changed since I was there. Those exciting details are for the OC (Officer Candidate) to have fun figuring out! Sorry…

Here are a few simple tips that I would offer as you start your OCS adventure.

1) Remember that only the best of the best get into OCS. You will be in a very challenging program with between 50 and 100 other overachieving, bright, and educated people. Everyone wants to lead and nobody wants to follow. My tip… be ready to pick your battles and approach every situation with an open, calm, and composed frame of mind.

2) Memorization is key because information overload is a given. My tip… try to read or hear things once and commit it to memory. This will be particularly true for those who have not had prior military experience. They will have to learn the ranks, ratings, uniform appearance, unit types, maritime lingo, and much, much more. Make friends with a prior service member. One of your strengths will be one of their weaknesses. Work together and you can absolutely achieve more than if you try to do it all on your own (see #3).

3) It’s all about teamwork. Teamwork, teamwork, teamwork. I can’t say that enough. Within the first few days of training, your mental and physical strength will be pushed to the limits. If you work alone, you won’t make it. You must work as a team… all 100 of you in your OCS class. You may think a push up is done one way, but if you don’t ALL do it exactly the same way and with the same pace, it isn’t right. You may think you are folding your t-shirts right, but if you ALL aren’t folding them the same, it isn’t right. Do you get my drift? My tip… figure who is great at doing what and divide and conquer the work. This goes for cleaning, moving rooms, doing laundry, studying, uniform maintenance, and so on. One person may be the best at ironing while someone else is best at folding t-shirts or cleaning the bathroom.

4) The days are long and it can be tough to stay focused and strong for 16 hours straight. My tip… live for each meal. I know that seems odd, but the meals are the best part of the day. No, it’s not because the food is good (but, it’s not bad), it’s because the meals are your chance to re-group and think on your own for a few minutes. In the beginning, the meals won’t be fun (I don’t want to spoil any of the “fun” so I won’t tell you what I mean) but your stomach will get full and you will feel better. Also, you will get three full meals a day with each meal about four hours apart. That means you only have to get through four hours at a time instead of all 16 hours in the day.

With all this said, as I mention in my post on Bootcamp and OCS there is a point to all the training. You may not realize it while you are in it, but it is all about discipline and it will all make sense when you are finished. The pride you will feel your final weeks of training is amazing. Try to make lasting friendships because your classmates will follow you in your career. You may need to call on them from time to time and you will surely run into one or more of them along your journey.

Best of luck in training, Semper Paratus, and welcome to the Coast Guard!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


It has been a while since my last post. I had not had much inspiration to blog over the past few months and had decided to just relax and wait for revived inspiration. Well, today I received an e-mail from a young man who wrote, "I enjoyed reading your blog; I am seriously considering joining the Coast Guard, and it has really helped my decision-making process to hear about CG life in folks' own words." Now, that is what I call inspiration!

His questions made me think about the questions that I had when I was considering joining. I was so concerned about the change, the risk, and the unknown. As the decision to join was consuming my every thought, I heard a song that truly enlightened my judgment – “The River” by Garth Brooks. Yah, corny, I know, but the words really hit home. I took the words to heart and have not regretted one decision I have made since then.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Using Social Media Ethically

As I have done before, I digress from the Coast Guard to talk about social media. Being in graduate school, I am doing a lot of research and writing papers. Lately, I am doing research on using social media ethically in public relations and have found some interesting information. This list is by no means all-inclusive but I wanted to boil it all down to some simple, usable guidelines. I would like to hear what you think about these basic principles and if you feel there are other things to consider that I have not included.

An article in Strategic Communications Management pointed me to a great source, the Chartered Institute for Public Relations (CIPR) in the U.K. The site offers three guiding principles:

1. Integrity - honesty, transparency, full disclosure, and acting with regard to public interest
2. Competence - only discuss topics for which you are qualified
3. Confidentiality – do not disclose confidential or “insider” information of any kind. A general rule of thumb is to not say anything that is not already publicly available.

The CIPR guidelines also point out important legal concerns for using social media including:

1. Intellectual property - obtain permission before using any material protected with a copyright, trademark, or patent including music on a podcast, image on a blog, quoted material from another Web site, and linking to information on another site. Always cite sources and references.
2. Defamation – do not make any oral or written statements that could harm a reputation. Ensure your content is accurate, true, and not harmful to anyone or anything.
3. Invasion of privacy – do not use or disclose personal information without permission.

Additionally, various articles in recent trade publications including PR Week and Public Relations Tactics and The Strategist highlight general tips for using social media including:

*Be honest, legitimate, and transparent
*Create dialogue - get involved in the conversations and they will get involved in yours
*Focus on the message, not the tool - offer a distinct and credible point of view that engages readers
*Make friends - spend time building personal relationships with online contacts
*Don’t go overboard with brand promotion and corporate messaging or people will tune you out
*Use keywords to help improve search results for your site(s)
*Use an informal, conversational writing style

With the rise in online chatter, many organizations are publishing policy on appropriate online behavior to guide employees. Some of the ones I found through a quick online search include Edelman, Hill & Knowlton, Yahoo!, IBM, BBC, Feedster, Plaxo, and Toronto District School Board.

So, what do you think about these tips for using social media? Is there anything else to consider? What do you think about corporations providing guidelines to employees?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

My Alaska Experiment

As I watch The Alaska Experiment on the Discovery Channel, I reflect back on when I was stationed at an isolated unit in Shoal Cove, Alaska. No, I was not left to my own devices to survive off the land, but it sure did feel like it to a 22 year old. I was at the peak of my legal prime, so to speak, and was eager to explore the boundaries of this great age. However, a LORAN station up in the mountains of southern Alaska is not exactly a place to experience new things socially. I guess if you call living out in the middle of nowhere with the same three or four people on and off for about a year and a half social, then that is your prerogative.

I, on the other hand, wanted more.

Sure, it was great to be able to watch Friends two or three times in different time zones and various languages (thanks to satellite television) but that is only fun for so long. Oh, and yes it was great to have wonderful meals prepared for us by a Coast Guard cook, but once I started to pack on the pounds I realized I was only getting further away from successfully experiencing this wonderful age.

After a while, I found other things to do to pass the time. I started to play cards… uh, with myself. It kept me busy and was sort of fun, but at times I wondered if I might be bordering on multiple personalities (especially when I would jump from side to side acting like I was actually playing another person… whoa!). I guess you do what you have to do to stay busy.

I also taught myself to basket weave, knit, and make jewelry. However, that didn’t go very well when my baskets unraveled themselves, my first pair of mittens could only fit one or maybe two fingers, and nobody (not even my Mom) would wear my jewelry. In some ways, I thank goodness that I was up in the middle of nowhere so nobody could judge the exploration of my creative side. I sure did make a few people laugh though.

It was not all bad, but it was hard for me to focus on the good. I often wished that I would just enjoy all the beauty around me, and not pity the fact that I am 22 years old and wanting to just be with my friends. When I had time, I did head out and explore as much as I safely could. I fell in love with our unit mascot, a three-legged Labrador mix named Coco, who loved to chase deer and bear. We kept bells on her collar so the noise would keep the bears away from her (and from us).

I also found the salmon breeding season fascinating (sure that could have been my age too). Hundreds upon hundreds of salmon desperately swimming up stream to lay their eggs to the point you could just reach out and grab them. It is an amazing sight to see.

Alaska also offered me the opportunity to experience things I probably would not have ever done on my own. Just the way we got to and from work on a weekly basis was a journey. A USCG small boat would take us out to a dock in the middle of nowhere and then we would drive a large truck 20 minutes up the mountain (see the picture on this link). We would have to take all the food and supplies we needed for the seven days. The typical rotation was seven days on and then 5 days off in the quiet and tiny city of Ketchikan.

Not the greatest life for a 22 year old but looking back, it was a great opportunity and a chance to explore the Alaska terrain.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Military Pay

Sure, the military isn’t know for its substantial salary or lucrative bonus packages but I think it gets a far worse rap then it should. The standard military pay charts only show what they call “Basic Pay Rates”. That is base pay without considering all the additional pay and tax benefits like housing allowances (BAH), food allowance (BAS), additional income for dependents (i.e. wife/husband and children), and other potential income including special pay and bonus’.

This site will factor in many of these allowances to calculate actual military pay. According to this site, a single E-3 right out of bootcamp with less than one year in the service would make approximately $36,340.87. If this member were married with one child, he/she would receive approximately $38,082.18. After spending a few years in the service and advancing to the rank of Petty Officer, this same member would make $40,407.04 ($42,997.58 married with one child). Take this up another couple of years and a few promotions and this same member would make approximately $52,027.57 ($54,724.40 married with one child). That sure isn’t bad considering a person making $10/hour, 40 hours per week only makes about $19,200.

Since the Coast Guard is a branch of the military, its members receive the same pay and benefits as the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. For a better understanding of pay specific to the U.S. Coast Guard, check out this site.

So, if you are one of those people who thinks the military doesn't pay well, maybe you will change your mind and realize its not so bad (and actually pretty darn good!).

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Coast Guard Sea Story

Listen to this interview with LT Sue Kerver to find out about life on a Coast Guard cutter. She was stationed on the USCGC Steadfast out of Astoria, Oregon. She talks about life at sea and some of the incredible opportunities that came along with it.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Working with the Canadian Coast Guard

A few fellow Coasties have asked me what the yellow helicopter is in the picture at the top of my blog. They know it doesn't look like a U.S. Coast Guard helo since ours are usually orange or white. Well, they are right. It is a Canadian Air Force CH-149 Cormorant search and rescue aircraft.

While I was stationed in Maine as the Sector Command Center Chief (although this is a description of Miami’s Sector Command Center, all of the USCG Command Centers are basically the same), I worked with the Canadian Coast Guard quite a bit handling cross-border search and rescue. We held several exercises to practice and test our interoperability and joint efforts in search and rescue.

The picture at the top of my blog and these other pictures were taken during a two-day training session where we practiced using each other’s equipment during simulated search and rescue scenarios. We conducted man-overboard drills; we used the different types of water pumps to de-water a flooding boat; and we simulated transferring a person from a small boat to a helicopter. In the picture at the top of my blog, a USCG 47-foot Motor Life Boat is simulating a passenger transfer from the boat to the Canadian Comorant.

I really enjoyed working with both the Canadian Coast Guard and the Canadian Air Force while stationed up in Maine. The U.S. Coast Guard has an excellent relationship with the two forces and I look forward to working with them again in the future.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

One of my First Jobs in the Coast Guard

Speaking of the Coast Guard Channel’s videos about Coast Guard Bootcamp, this video shows a bit about my first job in the Coast Guard. I was assigned as a Physical Fitness Instructor for recruit training… I was like Scuba Steve in the video!

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Coast Guard Channel

Thanks to another Coast Guard blogger who posted about the Coast Guard Channel. This is an inspirational site for us Coasties. Sure does make me proud.

One of their latest productions, It’s Just Eight Weeks, details life in Coast Guard Bootcamp. These videos tell the story like no words can. Oh boy, the memories….

Here is the first video in a series of nine. Getting off that bus is exactly like they show it!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Coast Guard Retirement

No, not me (I wish), but a long time mentor and friend of mine. I can honestly say that I would not be where I am in the Coast Guard (heck, I probably wouldn’t even still be in the Coast Guard) if it wasn’t for him. His guidance and leadership early on in my career greatly changed my path in life. He saw potential in me that I didn’t see myself. He fostered my talent and motivation, showing me ways to channel my energy and focus my life. I can only hope to continue his example as I carry on my career and he finishes his.

So, after nearly 30 years of service, he is finishing the final chapter of a long rewarding and successful military career. He recently sent me, and some of his other colleagues, an e-mail. I asked him for permission to publish it because I really think it captures the essence of a Coast Guard career and the sacrifices it brings.

Farewell and following seas Bill. Remember, you can take all the credit for all that I have become in the good ole USCG.

As the Jim Stafford song goes, "All good things gotta come to an end..."

Well, my time has come. Friday, April 18th will be my last day in the office. After that, I will be on terminal leave until June 30th and will then officially retire on July 1st.

This all started in July, 1978, when I left Birmingham, Alabama, on a young man's great adventure. It was actually an escape...but the results are the same. I did just under 4 years in the Coast Guard and then got out in May, 1982 to return to college. Looking for adventure outside the classroom, I joined the Alabama Army National Guard. They took me in as a Specialist-5 (E5), gave me a little spending money, and for about a year and a half I got paid to go camping and play on tanks. Getting bored again, I returned to the Coast Guard in October, 1983 and have been here ever since.

Along the way I promoted a few times, got married, added a couple of kids, finished college, and got to see a lot of the U.S. and some of Europe.

My daughter is now a senior at Auburn University studying education and will graduate in 2009. My son is a senior in high school and after graduating this June will report to Paris Island for boot camp. Following boot camp he hopes to join his sister at Auburn while the Marines pay for his college. So in addition to all the names you know me as, or have called me, "Marine Dad" will soon be added to that list.

As many of you know (and experienced yourself), for the past 23 years, My wife has tagged along behind me; starting and stopping jobs, packing up, moving, unpacking, and keeping the family focused. The kids have also tagged along; changing schools every few years, leaving friends and having to make new ones. This was compounded by me volunteering for new jobs every few years, some with short notice, and several short tours. They made tremendous sacrifices, for my career, and I cannot thank them enough. I am the person you know today because of them.

We will be in Virginia until my wife finishes out teaching the school year. We plan on spending the month of July in our RV traveling back to Alaska where we will settle.

Attached is an invitation to my ceremony. No color guard, dancing bears, or the like...but a gathering of those who have been friends, mentors, coaches, and inspirations to me along the way.

In closing thank you for helping make my adventure so much fun.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Coast Guard has a Blog!

Well, okay, they call it the Coast Guard Journal but none-the-less its online commentary from members of the Coast Guard about rescues, news, and activities displayed in reverse chronological order. Sounds like a blog, right? The only thing its basically missing is the ability for people to leave comments and links for the various terms, equipment, and documents referenced in the posts.

It is a recent addition to the revised U.S. Coast Guard homepage, which now has front-page links to RSS feeds, multimedia, and press releases.

Go Coast Guard!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Social Media

I digress from the Coast Guard for a moment to reflect on a hot topic right now in the world of communication - the use of social media to build relationships, hold conversations and foster interaction. As a communications graduate student at the University of Georgia where social media is actively being taught, I am beginning to understand and break ground in this vast topic.

Social media (or new media, digital media, Web 2.0, or whatever you want to call it) is the use of online collaborative multimedia to share a message. Social media is not just about blogs and Facebook but any sort of microblogging, wiki, social bookmarking, social networking, aggregator, slide sharing, video sharing, photo sharing, and podcasting tool.

Social media has empowered word-of-mouth communication. The Internet has opened up a new world for communications giving voice to the individual and reducing the control of organizations and traditional media. It is no longer about one way communications through press releases and news broadcasts but about two way communication through listening, interacting and engaging in the conversation.

Using social media requires a shift in perspective away from how traditional media is handled. Social media focuses on…

- Dialogue instead of monologue
- Community instead of audience
- Conversation instead of messages
- Transparency instead of spin
- Reputation instead of position power
- Participation instead of regulation

Published in 1999, the Cluetrain Manifesto is a 190-page book detailing how the Internet is changing business. It has some great points that can be easily and quickly reviewed using this slide presentation.

A much more enjoyable and lighter read is David Meerman Scott’s book, The New Rules of Marketing and PR. It really opened my eyes to the power and possibilities of social media.

I look forward to continuing my journey, exploring the new world of social media. It can be a bit intimidating but also very rewarding.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

U.S. Coast Guard Jobs

When most people think of the Coast Guard they think of search and rescue and swimmers jumping out of helicopters to rescue people in the water. Ever since the movie The Guardian came out, people have been asking me if the Coast Guard is really like the movie. Well, the movie is a fictional and dramatic Hollywood movie and is not based on a real event or person, but if you want to know if the Coast Guard sends rescue personnel out to sea and puts trained swimmers into the water to perform search and rescue in extreme conditions, then the answer is yes. Like firefighters, police officers and other emergency services personnel, the men and women of the Coast Guard perform heroic duties in the line of duty to serve the people of the United States.

Check out this video to see a real rescue take place.

Although search and rescue is probably the most acclaimed and well-known job the Coast Guard performs it is only one among many other responsibilities. Here is a short summary of the different missions and responsibilities of the Coast Guard (see the Coast Guard's Web site for more detailed information).

Maritime Safety
- Search and Rescue
- Recreational Boating Safety
- Passenger Vessel Safety
- Port Security

Maritime Security
- Maritime Law Enforcement
- Drug Interdiction
- Migrant Interdiction

Maritime Mobility
- Aids to Navigation
- Icebreaking
- Bridge Administration
- Vessel Traffic/Waterways Management

National Defense
- Homeland Security
- Port and Waterway Security

Protection of Natural Resources
- Marine and Environmental Science
- Living Marine Resource Protection
- Marine Pollution Education, Prevention, Response, and Enforcement

Like any business or service, there are many other “behind the scenes” jobs going on as well. Beyond these missions and responsibilities, the Coast Guard has personnel handling human resource needs, maintenance, training and other logistical needs.

One of the best things about the Coast Guard is the opportunity to get involved in many different jobs within the service and not be stuck in one career path. Throughout my service, I have had jobs in recruit training, electronics maintenance, search and rescue, maritime homeland security, disaster recovery, marine environmental response and public affairs.

My experience in the Coast Guard has given me an invaluable opportunity to learn new things and serve my country. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Firsts and Lasts

As a Coastie, I have gone through many “firsts” and “lasts”. Since I move around every couple of years, you would think I would be used to starting fresh and to saying goodbye. Saying goodbye has definitely gotten much easier but starting fresh has seemed to get harder.

Starting fresh used to be really exciting and liberating. However, after the first five moves, the novelty wore off. Just as I would start to get used to a new town and to feel comfortable, I would have to pack up, leave and start all over again someplace new. Although it is typical in the military to be able to stay in one place for three to four years, I have relocated on average every 1.5 years because of promotions and opportunities (I have moved nine times in the past 14 years). This has probably played a significant role in my anxiety towards future relocations. Now, I long for geographic stability and a closet that desperately needs cleaning out… for the coffee shop where people know my name and I know theirs… or the chance to take a long walk with my Mom every night.

The downside of learning to say goodbye is the challenge of staying in touch and maintaining the friendships that I started. I miss so many of the wonderful people I have met along my journey and wish it were easier to keep them in my life. Even with all this great technology, if you can’t be physically near the ones you care about it is way to easy to fall out of touch.

So, as I say goodbye to another “last” (I am on the last Spring Break of my life) and get ready for another “first” (as I near graduation, another relocation and the start of a new career path), here is a shout-out to all those I care about but have lost touch with (that is if you are actually reading my blog…). I think about you all very often and wish we were still able to meet up for beers, card games, pool parties, holiday dinners, or whatever it is that we so enjoyed doing together. Even though I stink at staying in touch, you still mean the world to me.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Edelman Digital Bootcamp

One of my classes this semester is Public Relations Campaigns. Our campaign assignment was to plan and host the first Edelman Digital Bootcamp to provide students and educators hands-on skills and training about the professional use of new media. What a tall order and amazing challenge!

With only 46 days to plan every detail of the event, the team of 13 students has been working hard. From conducting initial research on student knowledge and use of social media tools to the creation of a program and agenda to target those needs and from the development of an
event Web site to publicizing the event to Southeastern college and university public relations departments and clubs, we have been moving at what feels like the speed of light.

I am very proud to say that it has all come together. The event is sold out and the students and educators are on their way into town. Tomorrow is the big day and I am ready to see all our hard work pay off.

As the assigned Team Leader, I could not have done any of it without the talents and energy of the other 12 members of my team. For more information about the team, check out this blog post.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Adjusting to Coast Guard Life

The first year of any new job is always a struggle, but joining the military was a particularly difficult adjustment. I would say it took me about three years to figure out how to be good at being in the military. Why?

First, your boss is always changing. Transfers, promotions and reassignments are constantly restructuring the chain of command. Even though I would be in a job for a couple of years, I usually would work for two to three different bosses.

Second, the rank and rate structure. The complex system of ranks and ratings and the proper way to “read” a uniform takes years to perfect. Matter of fact, after 14 years I still don’t think I have it mastered. Figuring out who to salute, who is senior to who, and what job everybody does just by looking at their uniform is very intimidating. Sure, they put me though a crash course in bootcamp, but under the stress and pressure of bootcamp I am lucky I could remember my name let alone the complex rate and rank structure.

Third, the promotion system. In the Coast Guard, enlisted members must complete a series of requirements before they are eligible for promotion. Here is the short version of what is required. First, “Performance Qualifications” have to be signed off. Performance Qualifications are job skill requirements needed to be successful at the next higher rank and rate. These must be performed under the supervision of someone senior and then signed off. Next, members take two computerized exams called “Correspondence Courses” to test their skills and knowledge of the next higher rate and rank. If they pass these exams, they are able to participate in the written “Servicewide Exam” where they compete against their peers for a spot on the promotion list. The better you do on the Servicewide Exam, the higher your name is on the promotion list. Once your name comes up on the list, you are promoted. Believe it or not, this is the simplified version of promotion but you get the point. I am sure you can see how this would be intimidating for a 19 year old.

The Fourth reason why adjusting to military life is a challenge is the ability to simply reply with a “Yes Ma’am” or “Yes Sir”. This was by far the hardest lesson to learn of all, especially for a hard-headed, independent person like me. You can’t talk back. You can’t disagree. You can’t ignore the order. You just have to do it. Well, I guess you can do those things but it usually doesn’t get you anywhere but into trouble. Following the chain of command, respecting the senior member and following orders is not an option in the military.

I would say I am now an old pro at most of these things. I guess I would not be where I am today if I didn’t adjust well, but now I fondly refer to these things using a phrase a mentor of mine uses, “Just smile and nod.”

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Bootcamp and Officer Candidate School

Initially, my Coast Guard career started with eight weeks of bootcamp as a Seaman Recruit. Seven years later, lucky (or unlucky) as I am, I was promoted to an Officer (the lucky part) and had to attend 17 weeks of training at Officer Candidate School (the unlucky part).

These two training schools are often feared by the masses and produce great anxiety in most people. Let me tell you, they are not by any means easy but they are completely manageable and truly necessary.

I didn’t understand it when I was in the midst of the training, but in the end I understood why they put me through such misery and stress. They took away my individual rights and broke me down into one person among many just like me. Although we differed in sex, color, religion, age and other demographics, they wanted us all to become united. Our clothes, haircuts, beds, meals and daily routine became exactly the same, making a group of 80 individuals into one team. In just one week (or more if we had difficulty adjusting) the Company Commanders defeated our individualities and developed one cohesive and obedient team. We became a team that could save a life in danger, keep a ship from sinking and juggle the challenges of being at sea. All are lessons critical to the realities of being in the U.S. Coast Guard.

If you can realize the end goal through the clouds of anger, frustration, stress and paranoia, 8 to 17 weeks of training is definitely manageable.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Ice Breaking... Yes, it’s a job in the U.S. Coast Guard

The only job in the Coast Guard where it is acceptable to actually run into something with a boat is ice breaking. Ice breaking is one of the many missions of the U.S. Coast Guard but it often goes unnoticed to the average person.

When I was stationed up in the Northeast, I had the privilege of taking a large group of reporters out on an ice breaking operation on the USCG Cutter Shackle (see video). It is the most amazing thing to be onboard a boat that is going full speed ahead slamming into the ice and then backs up and rams the ice again. These small 65-foot small harbor tugs are tough and rugged enough to withstand the battering.
Although it may not seem logical for the U.S. Coast Guard to break ice, it is an essential mission especially to those who live along the coast of a river packed with ice. As warmer weather begins to thaw the ice, up river will thaw faster than down river and cause severe flooding in coastal areas. Breaking up the ice will allow the ice to move freely down river and out to sea preventing coastal flooding.
Breaking ice on a boat is a startling and bone rattling evolution but thrilling and awe-inspiring at the same time!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Living the Island Life

In the Coast Guard, you often get “stuck” living in beautiful coastal resort cities. I was lucky enough to get stuck in both Key West and Honolulu.

I mean no puns when I say Key West is living Margaritaville and Honolulu is a constant honeymoon (even if you’re not married). In Key West, shredded jean shorts and a tank top (usually without the proper support if you know what I mean) is considered proper attire. In fact, you often get served first at the bars because you look local. In Honolulu, on the other hand, everyone is always in tasteful aloha attire. Girls’ wearing flowery dresses with a fresh orchid behind their ear and the guys in brightly colored Hawaiian shirts. A better contrast might be to say a cold beer in a plastic cup or a fancy Mai Tai with fresh pineapple on the rim.

Both are amazingly beautiful places but I could only find two things in common between them. One, nobody wears shoes. They all wear sandals or flip-flops or slippers as they call them in Hawaii. The days of tight dress shoes are gone and are replaced with liberated toes. Another, the people are all so friendly. They may come from two very different worlds but are all crazy happy and full of life. Who can blame them?

The only way to truly experience the lifestyle is to live there. Go get a job, find a rental, buy an “island car” and move. It is almost impossible to truly understand the miracle of these places by just visiting once in a while.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Joining the U.S. Coast Guard

As a Nebraskan girl, people often ask me how and why I joined the Coast Guard. The answer is easy, the recruiter was next door to my favorite restaurant and after a few too many cocktails, I thought joining the Coast Guard sounded like a great idea…

Well, that’s not exactly how it went but close. No drinks were involved but the recruiter was right next door to my favorite restaurant. Every time I went out to eat I would wonder what that “Coast Guard thing” was all about.

I was in college at the time but still very unsure of what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was aimlessly taking classes and pretty miserable at age 19. I was bored with Omaha and was ready for something new. One strong desire I had was to be closer to the ocean. As an athletic swimmer my entire life, I yearned to be closer to water. Being that Nebraska is not the best place for beaches, I looked into this thing called the “Coast Guard” (this is embarrassing to say but I honestly thought it might be like Bay Watch). I was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t Bay Watch but I sure was excited when I found out the Coast Guard is small, rather elite for a military service and did not send people overseas (at least not very often). I was even more fascinated to find out the service offered a Marine Science Technician rating. Closer to water and I can study the ocean?!

I was ready to sign up and ship off so that is exactly what I did. I thought it would be four years of my life and I would be back home with a clearer life goal and the GI Bill to back me up. But, that’s not exactly how that went either…

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Coast Guard Family

Geez, it feels like such a small world sometimes. One thing I love about the Coast Guard is it feels like a large, extended family. Seems like everywhere I go, I run into people I know or have met before. For example, I just found out that I have three long lost friends just hours from in Savannah, GA. Come to find out, a person I worked with up in Maine was someone I had met 10 years ago through an old roommate from Key West, FL. That person got me back in touch with my old roommate who put me back in touch with long lost Coastie friends who just happened to be a stones throw away in Savannah. Sure, that may sound confusing but its basically nothing more than an amazing network of contacts.

Why is it that the Coast Guard feels so small? Well, because it is. I just did some Google searches and found out the entire U.S. Coast Guard is about the same size as the NYPD and accounts for only about 1.5% of the total number of active duty members in the U.S. armed forces. ONLY 1.5%!

So, when you make it a career by moving around every few years, the Coast Guard isn't a bad family to be a part of.

Friday, January 18, 2008

You May Be Wondering...

Why it is that I just started this blog? Well, as you continue to read my postings, you will find out that the Coast Guard is full of amazing opportunities and I am in the midst of one... a full scholarship to attend graduate school.

The Coast Guard has many programs that offer advanced education with about 25 of those being the chance to attend graduate school. I was selected to attend the University of Georgia to get a masters degree in Public Relations. Sounds pretty good, huh? After I graduate, I will most likely be headed to Washington, D.C. as a Public Affairs Officer.

So, what does that have to do with a blog you ask? Well, I am learning how to use social media to develop an image (if you are reading this blog, you are probably well aware of the power of social networking). I am on an adventure to see how I can connect with others and develop an identity online. So, I am off like the tortoise!