At 18, I took my little plucky, know-it-all, wanderlust self over to the closest recruiter and, with little to no thought, signed the dotted line to ship off three short months later. While many of my classmates were heading off to university, I just wasn’t ready to sit through another four years of school. I considered a gap year, but instead, chose to give four years of my life to the little known military branch of the United States Coast Guard. The Coast Guard is a small agency (about the size of the New York City Police Department) with a big mission. It is the only military branch that serves under the Department of Homeland Security in times of peace, and moves to the Department of Defense (under the Navy) in times of war. While I would love to say at 18 I was drawn to the mission (search and rescue, drug interdiction, maritime safety, oil spillage response, and others) I don’t think I was that self-actualized at the time. I was just looking for an adventure and stumbled into an amazing one – luckiest decision of my life. Here are some of the benefits I took advantage of during my short Coast Guard stint of four years (many of these have had a lifetime impact):
- The GI Bill for education. I qualified for the Montgomery GI Bill benefit (which at the time I thought was very lucrative). Now, it’s even better. The Post 9/11 GI bill is an amazing benefit that should be explored fully by anyone interested in joining the Coast Guard. Under the lesser Montgomery GI Bill I was able to finish my MBA and still pocket about $1,200. A story for another day.
- VA Home Loan – think you need to save 20% to put it down on a house? Nope! If you are interested in home ownership the VA Home Loan will guarantee the loan to the lender and you won’t have to pay PMI.
- Gender ratio…. there is approximately 85% male to 15% female ratio in the United States Coast Guard. I’m not saying this is a reason to join or not, but as an 18 year old female, I’m sure this played somewhat into my decision…. This number is starting to climb – which is a great thing!
- The COAST Guard. Think about the name of the service for a moment…. where do you think the job openings are? Along the COAST! We lived in Cape Cod (in government housing, how could we afford it otherwise?) Point Judith, and the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. However, there’s a good chance you’ll be floating in the ocean somewhere on one of the Coast Guard cutters.
- The job experience I received in the Coast Guard is unmatched. I learned to accept direction, criticism, pride in my work, and grow exponentially in those short four years. Also, if interested in civilian service after military service, you’re able to buy back your time toward one of the last standing pensions, and you receive preferential hiring treatment under the VEOA.
Sure there was bootcamp, terrible days with an equally terrible boss as I mess cooked my way through another meal, bad boyfriends, hours and hours of painting and maintenance, bad hair (it was the 90s anyway), unflattering uniforms, overnight watch shifts, and the coldest weather I ever experienced in my life. But, the hard times were by far eclipsed by the opportunity to meet the love of my life, travel, meet a lot of great people from diverse backgrounds, benefits that helped set me up for this awesome life, and a safe place to really grow up. I can’t imagine doing it any other way. I walked out of the United States Coast Guard armed with a degree, a career path, a house, an amazing husband, and my MBA funded. This agency had a large impact on who I am today, and I’m proud to have served.
Semper Paratus – The United States Coast Guard motto – Always Ready.