A Day in the Life of a Coast Guard-Officer

The United States Coast Guard does not typically fight our wars, but they are vital to national security. In their own words, the Coast Guard "prevents spills, clears waterways, and keeps narcotics off our shores." In fact, the Coast Guard is under the authority of the Department of Transportation, not Defense. While this list of responsibilities may seem short, the number of jobs included in those three categories is staggering. The Coast Guard is responsible for Bridge Administration over some waterways, maintaining an International Ice Patrol, assisting in the navigation of American vessels at sea (since 1790), seizing drugs that come into the country through waterways, rescuing vessels in distress, monitoring illegal immigration into the U.S. by sea, and more. One might classify the Coast Guard (if it is possible to classify an organization that performs so many diverging services) as a law-enforcement, environmental and military agency. They board ships every day to inspect the cargo, and, when the need arises, impound enormous amounts of drugs or other contraband.

Paying Your Dues

To become an officer, you must be between the ages of 17 and 27 and have a High School diploma. 17 year-olds require written parental consent. You must also be either a citizen or resident alien. Unlike other branches of the armed forces, all of the jobs in the Coast Guard (including combat roles) are open to women. There are numerous ways to become an officer in the Coast Guard. Graduates of the Coast Guard Academy (CGA) and Officer Candidate School (OCS) are eligible, as are those who pass through one of many direct commissioning programs. The CGA, located in New London, Connecticut, has been actively training cadets since 1877. Most cadets, who are accepted to the academy after high school, graduate after four years with degrees in mathematics, engineering or other science-related courses. OCS (for college graduates interested in a career as an officer) is 17 weeks of training designed to promote leadership abilities. If you graduate, you will be given the rank of ensign and receive an obligation to serve three years of active duty. Officers are the ones who fly in the Coast Guard as well, or you must have been a flyer in a branch of the Armed Services. Commissioned Coast Guard officers may apply for flight school. Those with prior training may apply for Direct Commissioned Aviator status.

Present and Future

The Coast Guard was founded in 1790 and was recognized as a vital protector of U.S. shores in ensuing years spent patrolling shipping lanes in dispute with France. In the War of 1812, when British Marines invaded and burned Washington D.C., the Coast Guard was caught unprepared in the midst of enforcing slave-trade restriction and fighting piracy. In World War Two, the Coast Guard inspected merchant ships for the allies, and in 1970 the Coast Guard's authority to protect water life was broadened with the passage of the Water Quality Improvement Act. Today, the Coast Guard protect vital national security interests such as the prevent of illegal immigration and narcotics trafficking.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

Once in active duty, you join the 38,000 active duty men and women, 8,000 reserves and 35,000 auxiliaries under the Coast Guard’s command. On an average day, the Coast Guard saves 14 lives. There are nine districts covered by the Coast Guard: the districts numbered 1,5,7,8 and 9 are all classified as Atlantic, and districts numbered 11,13,14 and 17 are all Pacific (these include Hawaii and Alaska). So the good news is that no matter where you are sent to work, you will be somewhere in the United States. The bad news, depending on your point of view, is that you may still be very far away from your home state. There are several landlocked offices of the Coast Guard, and if you want to work for Coast Guard public relations or mechanical repair, you might not need to see water, except for basic training. But if you suffer from aquaphobia, you need not apply.

FIVE YEARS OUT

Leadership in the Coast Guard (as in all of the armed forces) is a sought-after commodity and those with talent can rise in rank very rapidly. As responsibility increases, pay and privileges increase as well.

TEN YEARS OUT

The sky's the limit for officers of demonstrated talent, ability and leadership. Their pay goes way up, at this point, and after ten years as an officer, they might even command their own ship.