When people asked me this question when I was younger, I never would have imagined that I’d be transiting across the Pacific Ocean, inspecting buoy chains and shackles, or exploring small tropical islands and atolls. Whoa! And I’m fortunate to know what I’ll be doing for the first five years after graduating from college…or at least, I know that I’ll be part of the Coast Guard. I can’t say that I have a definite answer to the “what do you wanna do…” question beyond that.
The training objective for this summer is to provide us with an opportunity to serve in the role of a junior officer at a Coast Guard unit, in my case, aboard a cutter. I feel that this summer has done a fairly decent job of doing that. As my past blogs from this summer have shown, I’ve been busy working on many different project and qualifications at one time. Thankfully, since the cutter and crew returned to home port last weekend, this past week has been our stand-down period, meaning that most days are off, which provided me a chance to explore Guam a little more (how about those evening farmers markets and Japanese supermarkets!) While I still want to get out and do some hiking (“boonie stomping,” as it’s called here), this week has been great for catching up on some much needed rest. As always, this means that I spent quite a bit of time thinking about my future in the Coast Guard. What am I going to do when I graduate?
That question has been posed to Andy and me many times this summer. At this point, I don’t know what I’d like to do. I can see myself going to any platform of cutter or even going to a sector to do prevention (marine inspections). From what I’ve been told, going to certain platforms upon graduation can limit one’s career path in the Coast Guard. I would like to make service in the Coast Guard a career, so I’ve been spending a lot of time considering what I’d like to actually do long term. As I begin to figure that out, I can better decide which platform upon graduation would be best for preparing for that long-term specialty. Many Coasties have said that the best thing to do upon graduation is to go to a large cutter, and that is certainly an option, but I’m not planning to be a cutterman—that’s not why I joined the Coast Guard. I’ve been told that an ensign tour on a cutter is very valuable for young officers, but I am not fond of the idea of waiting two additional years before locking onto a specific career path just for a “valuable learning opportunity.” If I make the most of my first assignment, can’t I get the most valuable learning experience that will best prepare me for that career path? It’s not that I absolutely will not go to a cutter; in fact, I’d be happy with a buoy tender like Sequoia.
Of course the next question is, what is this specific career path that I want? I’ve changed my answer to this question many times, or rather, added answers to this question. The nice thing about having a career in the Coast Guard is that I can develop a specialty and then a subspecialty. I haven’t quite nailed down a subspecialty yet (but that’s mostly because I don’t really know what’s out there); I do think I’ve determined my desired specialty: organizational improvement. As I look back at my life, I’ve always been excited about taking whatever group that I’m part of—school, church youth group—to the next level of efficacy and efficiency. I love developing ideas for improving the way we do things. How can it be better for our people? How can we provide a better product or service? I can’t stand for status quo.
Over the next few months before we put in our dream sheets for our first billet, I’m going to be talking to officers at the Academy and elsewhere about how I put my drive to improve to work for the Coast Guard. From my experience talking with officers so far, everyone has their own opinion, so I’ll have to take these comments and this advice and synthesize it before making my decision. That analysis has already begun this summer, and I am glad that I’ve had these past two months to begin to understand where I fit into the Coast Guard.
Ok, this is a long (and maybe somewhat rambling) blog, so I’ll pause here. I have two weeks left in Guam. Let’s hope that there aren’t any tropical storms that threaten the island. If that’s the case, we may have to get underway again to avoid the storm! We actually went offshore for about 30 hours this past weekend for a storm. Hopefully next week I’ll have some exciting Guam exploration stories to share!
More about Justin.