Saturday, July 2, 2011

In The Beginning... There Was A Hypocrite.

When I was growing up, there were a lot of different careers I had considered pursuing when I reached that magical 'adult' status. Being a very creative child with an overly active imagination, I wanted to be everything from a jockey to the first female truck driver on the moon.

Yeah, something like that.
However, when I sadly grew too large for the former, and the outlook on the latter looked rather bleak (Darn NASA and not having a lunar colony yet!), I decided a more practical approach. So, I settled on a degree in Agriculture Communications with triple minors in Journalism, Equine Science, and Environmental Sciences so I could eventually become a journalist for National Geographic. Hey, go big or go home.

But there was always a common theme in my career decisions. I would never, ever, enlist in the military.


It simply was not an option for myself, or even my loved ones. I even distinctly remember telling my high school sweetheart that I would break up with him if he enlisted in the Marines. Getting shot at and/or shooting people had no appeal whatsoever to me. Neither did rucksack marches with an 80 pound pack on my back. In the desert. In 100+ degree weather. While getting shot at.

Did I mention I have a slight aversion to getting shot at? I did? Ok, good, because I really, really dislike getting shot at.

I look back at myself then, shake my head and laugh. Oh, if only 17 year old me knew...

After flunking out of two colleges, a horrific break up with my ex-fiance (who was ironically in the Army) that threw me into months of intensive therapy, and working three jobs at 60-80 hours a week, one's perception on the whole military thing starts to change.

I still remember when the idea hit me that enlisting may not be so bad after all. I was working at the Grand Haven Municipal Marina one rainy June day and watched the Coast Guard tear out of the small boat station down the channel. Watching them go out, I was struck by a strange thought...

The Coast Guard, you know, saves lives, right? But, they're military all the same... Hmm...

Hey! I know! I should enlist in the Coast Guard!

Who wouldn't want to look this bad ass?
 I'm still convinced to this day that those poor souls stationed at Small Boat Station Grand Haven thought they had someone staking them out. Every evolution and drill they did, I watched. Every boarding I could witness, I was there, eyes glued to the scene. Even when they loaded down the 25' small boat to come down and apprehend one of our slips at the marina to get ice cream at the Dairy Creme, I was watching. Helo ops, safety boardings, surf training, hosing down buoys, heaving line training, small boat maintenance... I was watching.

Creepy, right? Believe me, I'm well aware of it...

My friend Danielle, who also worked at the marina, urged me to go talk to one of them. Her older brother was in the Coast Guard as an Aviation Maintenance Technician and loved it. As much as I practically stalked the local Coasties, there was one thing I refused to do... Grow a pair and actually go up and talk to one of them about enlisting.

Now, I'm a naturally shy and insecure person. I hide it with a bit of a brash attitude for the most part, but it's all false confidence. One negative remark my way, I beat myself up about it for hours. Failure or rejection? Days. It's a fault, but hey, it's my nature. Going up to a Coastie and asking advice and to hear stories of what it's like to be enlisted? Never gonna happen.

You'd think by now in my life I'd realize the truism, 'Never say never,' applies greatly to my life, but hey, I rather enjoy my delusions that I know what's going to happen in my future.

My opportunity happened in July of 2009 during the famous (or infamous to the locals) Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival. Coasties from all over the United States come in to town to celebrate the Coast Guard's birthday with a parade, a massive fireworks show, demonstrations, concerts, a carnival and of course, tours of Coast Guard cutters.

After being mercilessly teased about 'checking out the boys in blue' by my coworkers, I finally managed to work up enough courage and tour the cutters. I went alone, a huge feat for my self confidence, and stared in rapt amazement at the beauty of the USCGC Mackinaw and the USCGC Bristol Bay.

The Mack was, of course, swamped, being the larger of the two cutters, so I was quite pleased when I discovered the Bristol Bay wasn't quite as swarmed as her larger counterpart. She wasn't as elegant, flashy, or impressive as her sister ship, but she drew me in in a way the Mack hadn't. She was a draft horse to the Mackinaw's finicky Thoroughbred, tough, sturdy, and above all, a working gal like myself.

The Bristol Bay in dress ship.
 Not to mention her crew was a whole heck of a lot more friendly than that of the Mack. As I stood on the deck of her barge, staring with rapt fascination at the pictures of their missions and evolutions, a large, slightly intimidating Coastie sauntered over and began pointing at the pictures on the board.

"That's us working a buoy. That's us breaking ice. That's us being awesome putting out a fire. That's me breaking rivets in the engine room. I'm a Machinery Technician."

"That's impressive," I replied quietly, trying to work up enough courage to talk to the guy who had obviously come over the flirt with the shy girl trying to catch someone's attention.

We chatted for a bit, his open, friendly (and flirtatious) manner relaxing me, finally giving me enough courage to say,
"Well, I'm, uh, considering enlisting, actually... That's why I'm here... Do you, uh, maybe have some advice you could give me? Maybe?"

His demeanor changed instantly. He quickly waved over another Coastie, a first class Boatswain's Mate who had been watching the flirtation with wry amusement, and told him I wanted to enlist. Soon, another Coastie, a third class Electrician's Mate who was off duty and in civvies, joined in on the discussion. Over a year later, I learned his name was Matt, and that he would once again make an appearance in my life.

We talked for over an hour about my options enlisting, what I needed to do, what I should say to the recruiter, what I would expect at basic training and in the fleet. They recommended going to a cutter first, to study hard for the ASVAB, and that choosing your rate literally meant choosing your fate. My head was soon swimming with information, and when I bid them farewell, I went home, sat on our porch swing, and digested it all.

The next day, I turned in my enlistment papers.

This begins the story of a twenty-something year old girl and her journey though the enlistment process, basic training, and her experiences in the fleet. I hope by reading about my life, the public, and especially those who are considering enlisting themselves, can better understand the Coast Guard and what we do on a daily basis. You will read about my hopes, my dreams. You will share my pain, dismay, joy, laughter, anger and passion I have for my chosen career path.

In short, these are the chronicles of a non-rate in the United States Coast Guard.

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