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Military Services:  Coast Guard Officer
Photo: collage of five coast guards on the beach, a female guard, patrolling helicopter and boat, and the Coast Guard logo.


Applicants for enlistment in the Coast Guard must be physically qualified, possess high moral character, and make at least the minimum required scores on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). Coast Guard regular enlistments are for two, three, four or six years of active duty. Provided openings are available, qualified enlistees may be guaranteed an assignment to a geographical region (not an individual unit). Guaranteed geographic assignments cannot be used in conjunction with a guaranteed school. Qualified applicants may also enlist up to 12 months prior to beginning active duty. Coast Guard recruits must be at least 17 years old and must not have reached their 28th birthday on the day of enlistment.

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There are approximately 8,000 Coast Guard Reservists. For those without prior service, enlistment into the Coast Guard Reserve is for a period of eight years. The Coast Guard has four programs for individuals with no prior service experience. Three of the programs are for individuals who are at least 17 and who have not reached their 28th birthday. The other program is for individuals who are at least 26 but have not reached their 36th birthday. The programs all include a period of basic training and Class A school or on-the-job training and then release from initial active duty for training. Upon completion, these reservists return to their home and drill with their Reserve units monthly. One of the four programs is a direct petty officer program for persons who possess specialized civilian skills and can convert these skills to the various ratings in the Coast Guard Reserve. Reservists augment the regular Coast Guard component on a regular basis, keeping the spirit of the "One Coast Guard Family."

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Two types of training are provided to Coast Guard recruits: recruit training and job training.

Recruit Training

After completing the enlistment process, all Coast Guard recruits attend recruit training, or "boot camp," at Cape May, New Jersey. Boot camp lasts approximately eight weeks; it is designed to provide a transition from civilian life to that of service with the Coast Guard. The course is demanding, both physically and mentally. Coast Guard recruit training instills in each trainee a sense of teamwork and discipline. Coast Guard history, missions, customs, and basic discipline are all part of the training course. Boot camp includes physical training, classroom work, and practical application of the subjects studied.

Job Training

The Coast Guard maintains basic petty officer (Class A) schools for formal training in specific occupational specialties. Courses of study in these Class A schools vary from 8 to 42 weeks, depending on the rating or specialty area taught. Each school provides a course of study that leads to advancement to the Petty Officer Third Class level. Specialty schools in the other services can be used by Coast Guard personnel in addition to, or in place of, Coast Guard schools for training in certain ratings. Upon successful completion of Class A school, the graduate becomes a qualified specialist and can expect assignment to a field unit for duty and further on-the-job training in his or her specialty.

Opportunities for additional professional training are available to qualified, career-oriented personnel in the form of advanced petty officer (class B) and special (class C) schools. These advanced schools range in length from a few weeks to several months, depending on the skills taught. Senior enlisted personnel in certain ratings are also eligible to compete for assignment to special degree programs within their occupational specialty areas.

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The Coast Guard enlisted rating structure consists of paths of advancement from pay grade E-1 through E-9. Two general apprenticeships are available within pay grades E-1 through E-3: Fireman (FN) and Seaman (SN). Approximately 25 occupational fields, called ratings, exist in pay grades E-4 through E-9.

Every job in the Coast Guard has a career path leading to increased pay and responsibility-with well-defined promotion criteria. A Coast Guard Seaman Recruit (E-1) is promoted to Seaman Apprentice (E-2) upon completion of basic training. Eligibility for promotion to Seaman or Fireman (E-3) is based on four requirements: adequate time-in-grade, successful demonstration of military and professional qualifications, recommendation of the commanding officer, and completion of correspondence courses.

To earn petty officer ratings (E-4 through E-9), an individual must, in addition to the requirements above, pass the Coast Guard-wide competitive examination for the rating.

A Coast Guard enlisted member can expect to spend the majority of his or her career within the 48 contiguous states, primarily on the East, West, or Gulf Coast. The Coast Guard also has a number of units on the Great Lakes and along the Midwest's river system. At some point in his or her career, a Coast Guard member should expect to serve one or more tours of duty in an overseas assignment. Tour lengths vary from one to four years, depending upon the location of the assignment and the nature of the duty. The amount of sea duty varies according to the individual's rating and might range from a slight majority to a small fraction of the career. The Coast Guard, the smallest of the military forces, prides itself on its ability to give personal consideration to the needs of its members in the personnel assignment process.

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The Coast Guard believes strongly in the continued education of its members. The Coast Guard offers several education assistance programs, including a Tuition Assistance Program, the Physician's Assistant Program, and the Pre-Commissioning Program for Enlisted Personnel (PPEP).

Tuition Assistance Program

The Coast Guard sponsors a tuition assistance program for off-duty education within the limits of available funds. This program allows Coast Guard members, both officer and enlisted, to enroll in off-duty courses at accredited colleges, universities, junior colleges, high schools, and commercial schools. Seventy-five percent of the tuition is paid by the Coast Guard for all courses not in excess of six credits per semester (or quarter) or for any course not extending beyond one semester or a maximum of 17 weeks, whichever is longer.

Physician's Assistant Program

The Physician's Assistant Program is a two-year, full-time course of study at Sheppard AFB, Wichita Falls, Texas, offered to warrant officers in the medical specialty. The program includes 12 months of study and 12 months of clinical rotation at an Air Force hospital. Upon successful completion, Coast Guard graduates receive their certificates as physician's assistants and promotion to lieutenant (O-3). Completion of the program results in a bachelor's degree in Health Science.

Pre-commissioning Program for Enlisted Personnel (PPEP)

The Pre-commissioning Program for Enlisted Personnel enables selected enlisted personnel to attend college on a full-time basis for up to two years, receive a bachelor's degree, attend Officer Candidate School (OCS), and upon graduation from OCS, receive a commission. The program provides an upward mobility mechanism for qualified enlisted personnel to become commissioned officers. The number of PPEP selections made annually will be determined at the time of selection.

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