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.

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.