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My Turning Point

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Courtney Gilliam

The Coast Guard Academy’s Academy Introduction Mission or AIM program provided me with clarity – it was my turning point. There are some people who have known they have wanted to come to the Coast Guard Academy since they were little, others who have a personal family connection or experience with the Coast Guard, or some who have just always known the military was the life for them. I was not one of those people. Going into my senior year of high school, I still had no idea where I wanted to go, and the military was nowhere on my radar. I applied to a lot of regular colleges in state and out of state and I struggled over pro and con lists trying to figure out where I fit. But then that all changed when my guidance counselor told my family about the Coast Guard Academy and its many opportunities, which I immediately said “no” to. To be honest, growing up in Georgia I had personally never really heard much about the Coast Guard or its mission and I just assumed it wasn’t for me. But looking back, thankfully, that was not the end of the story. Begrudgingly, I agreed to give it a chance and explore all my options, so I applied for the AIM program and got in, which made me more nervous than happy because I had no idea what to expect but prepared to hate every minute of it. But life is funny like that sometimes and, when you least expect it, an experience can end up surprising you and putting you on a path you never could have imagined.

The first couple of days of AIM involved a lot of instruction and screaming, we ran everywhere, and I remember thinking, “What have I gotten myself into?” But I also remember a lot of laughter and a feeling of unity and family with people I had only just met; together we were all a little lost just trying to figure it out and help one another. We became a team. The people I met during AIM I remain friends with even today, whether they came to the Academy or not. I can still tell you the names of every single one of my cadre from AIM. That week I left feeling accomplished and surprised – a rush of confusion overtook me because I never expected to enjoy myself that much and it wasn’t a part of the plan in my head. But I came home unable to deny that it was the first college visit I had made where I felt at home and that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I waited to feel that way again with the other colleges I visited, but nothing. It was then that I decided to apply to the Academy; it was the only service academy I applied to and it changed my life. AIM was my turning point, it gave me a moment of clarity, a feeling of pride and satisfaction, and if you are like me who was very much on the fence, or even if you’re not, I highly recommend applying for the AIM program – it could make all the difference.

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