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.

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!