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.

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.”

1 comment:

Coast Guard said...

Lt. Braesch,

My name is John Willis and I am the publisher of Coast Guard News, an online newspaper.

We are preparing a series of 5 question interviews with Coast Guard bloggers and would like to include yourself in the series.

If you are interested, please contact me at and I will send you the list of questions.

Thank you for your time and please feel free to delete this comment from your post since it doesn't really apply.

John Willis, publisher
Coast Guard News