The Coast Guard
April 22, 2005 9:41 AM   Subscribe

Depending on how my remaining job leads pan out, I'm considering joining the United States Coast Guard. Unfortunately, I don't know anyone who has ever served in the Coast Guard. So I'm wondering if anyone has any personal experiences in the Coast Guard or advice on how to make the most of joining?
posted by drezdn to Law & Government (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Currently I couldn't leave until September at the earliest, so I have plenty of time to get ready for training.
posted by drezdn at 9:43 AM on April 22, 2005

I considered being a puddle pirate for awhile... but most of the guys I know in the USGC complain that there's very little of the glory (S&R) and it's really just floating federal police work.
posted by trinarian at 11:47 AM on April 22, 2005

General advice for joining any of the uniformed services - if you don't get a promise in writing - be that schooling, or a first or second assignment, or whatever - it probably isn't worth anything at all. Recruiters are evaluated based on the number of people that they sign up - so as much as they may want to give you a square deal, they also have to consider what it will take for them to get a positive annual evaluation. [One or more bad evaluations equals (a) no promotion and (b) possible early discharge from service.]

So talk a recruiter - or several different ones, for that matter, but also try to do the intern/shadow thing for a day (on a boat, at a base, whatever) - the Coast Guard operates on weekends too. If the recruiter won't help you meet other actual Coast Guard folks (yes, it's worth a cheap airline ticket or a long drive to you to get a glimpse of what you might be doing for several years), then take that as a sign.

[Personally, if I were considering joining a uniformed service, all other things being equal, I'd pick the Air Force, which tends to be centralized, more technical, and safer - but you may like boating, or not want to go overseas, or feel being in the Coast Guard isn't really like being in the military - so obviously YMMV.]

Good luck!
posted by WestCoaster at 12:23 PM on April 22, 2005

I've worked with members of both the USCG and the Canadian CG. They certainly are seen as the junior services of both countries' armed forces, but they dol get to do interesting work, depending on your turn of mind.

My understanding of the USCG guys is that they do spend a lot of time on coastal patrol, mainly looking for smugglers of one sort or another, but that they do get mobbed frequently for disaster relief, usually a ship in trouble. I work with the guys who do oil spill clean-up, which can be about as technical and difficult as anything. Their jobs seem to be somewhere between police and firefighters.

A career in public service is frequently lower pay than the private sector, and sometimes you'll get the eye-rolls conservatives give to anyone in the government, but you do get the satisfaction of knowing that what you do can make a difference.
posted by bonehead at 1:08 PM on April 22, 2005

I have a good friend here in Hawaii who works for the Coast Guard. He's been with them for 12 years or so and really likes it. I don't know much about what he does on a day to day basis but I do know they move him every couple of years. It's my understanding that in addition to his pay he has a stipend/allowance/? to cover his monthly rent that increases as you move up rank (it also varies depending on where he's sent). He's now pretty high up so he's able to live very comfortably wherever they send him. The downside is he'll never be able to buy a permanent home but I don't think he wants that anyway - he likes being mobile and exploring new cities. I e-mailed him your question and he replied, "Tell the guy to call the Coast Guard Base in Milwaukee and arrange to work with them for a few days or so. We did that in Cleveland for a few folks and all of them joined." If you have a more specific question, post it here and I'll try to get you an answer. I hope this helps. Best of luck.
posted by snez at 3:23 PM on April 22, 2005

sometimes you'll get the eye-rolls conservatives give to anyone in the government

Conservatives tend to love police/fire and military types. It's the bureaucrats and social services people they can't stand. For me, it's mostly the bureaucrats.
posted by kindall at 3:36 PM on April 22, 2005

I'm in the AF, but was briefly stationed with and lived next to some Coasties...they seemed to really enjoy their work, and to my mind, it is very honorable work. Get all the info you can -- websites of every type, both official USCG sites and "fan" sites -- and best wishes on your decision.
posted by davidmsc at 6:15 PM on April 22, 2005

you may like boating, or not want to go overseas

Red Alert! The Coast Guard has been going overseas regularly since the Quasi-War with France (1797-1801)
posted by IndigoJones at 6:25 PM on April 22, 2005 [1 favorite]

My friend just called and suggested you also check out Fred's Place. He called it the 'Metafilter for Coasties.'
posted by snez at 11:29 PM on April 22, 2005 [1 favorite]

Everyone, thanks for the tips. I'm going to meet with a Milwaukee recruiter (depending on how things go with my other job prospects) and ask to job shadow.
posted by drezdn at 8:33 AM on April 23, 2005

I actually work for a Coast Guard recruiting office. I don't know the guys in Milwaukee, but if you have any questions about the recruiting process or the jobs and programs they're offering, drop me an email. I'm sure that your recruiters will answer any questions that you have, but if you feel like they're not being completely forthcoming, I can probably get good information on almost anything.

As a side note, you are much less likely to be jerked around by a Coast Guard recruiter than any of the other services; if only because the Coast Guard is so small. Also, the numbers are way, way down this year because the USCG lost a lot of it's budget in the transition to Homeland Security.

For anyone else interested, the Coast Guard is a branch of the military. So they get all the same benefits, including the Montgomery GI Bill (college money) and BAH and COLA (they pay your entire rent as well as a cost of living allowance when you're in an expensive place like Kodiak, AK).

Basic training is eight weeks long. It's actually more like seven weeks and four days, but eight weeks is an nice round number that includes travel and days that you do paperwork. It's probably tough, but we've never had an applicant held back for even a week, let alone kicked out of boot camp entirely for anything but a medical problem.

As far as the mission of the Coast Guard, it's mostly search and rescue, aids to navigation, and port security. Anywhere you find a navigable body of water there's probably a Coast Guard unit close by. That includes lakes like the Butler Chain in Florida, the Missisippi, the Great Lakes as well as the coasts of the US.
posted by Elsbet at 11:24 AM on April 25, 2005

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