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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.


The United States Coast Guard regularly performs many functions vital to maritime safety. The Coast Guard’s most visible job is saving lives and property in and around American waters. The Coast Guard also enforces customs and fishing laws, protects marine wildlife, fights pollution on our lakes and along the coastline, and conducts the International Ice Patrol. The Coast Guard is also responsible for monitoring traffic in major harbors, keeping shipping lanes open on ice-bound lakes, and maintaining lighthouses and other navigation aids.

The Coast Guard is a part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. In time of war it may be placed under the command of the Navy, which operates within the Department of Defense. A vital part of the Armed Services, the Coast Guard has participated in every major American military campaign. The Coast Guard is the smallest of the armed services. Currently there are over 5,580 commissioned officers and 1,490 warrant officers. Coast Guard officers perform in many different occupations to support the mission of the Coast Guard. Each year, the Coast Guard has openings for about 300 new officers (in addition to Academy) in a wide range of challenging careers.

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Whether you’re graduating college, leaving a civilian job or already in the armed services, one of the fastest ways to make it to the top is by becoming an officer in the U.S. Coast Guard. In the Coast Guard, everything we do is in support of our nation’s peacetime security. That’s why, after receiving your commission, you’ll get opportunities unmatched by any offered by an entry-level civilian job—like protection - law enforcement, taking charge of life-saving search and rescue missions, protecting the environment from oil and chemical spills, or stopping illegal drug shipments. And because the Coast Guard is the smallest armed service, you’ll never have to worry about getting lost in the crowd. Every mission you lead can earn you recognition, reward and satisfaction.

Of course, there’s more to becoming an officer in the U.S. Coast Guard than real missions and real responsibility. There are great benefits, such as:

  • A competitive salary
  • 30 days paid vacation per year
  • Valuable skills and training in leadership, management, law enforcement, navigation, and marine science
  • Life Insurance
  • Free health, dental and eye care
  • Monthly housing and food allowances
  • Tuition assistance and the Montgomery GI Bill
  • Competitive selection for fully-funded post graduate school
  • Building a retirement
  • Shopping privileges at military commissaries/exchanges/PX

The Coast Guard offers several paths to a commission. No matter which you choose, you’ll earn the kind of responsibility that can get you to the top fast. It can all be yours as an officer in the U.S. Coast Guard. For more information on any of the following career choices, eligibility requirements and application process, visit the corresponding link or call 1-877-NOW-USCG and ask to speak to your local recruiter.

The U.S. Coast Guard Academy

The U.S. Coast Guard Academy, located in New London, Connecticut, accepts about 250 young men and women into its program each year. The four-year academic program leads to a bachelor of science degree in a variety of majors. Approximately 75 percent of the academy graduates earn degrees in technical areas such as engineering, sciences, and mathematics.

Each major provides a sound undergraduate education in a field of interest to the Coast Guard and prepares the cadet to assume initial duty as a junior officer. Upon graduation, the cadet is commissioned as an Ensign in the Coast Guard.

Appointment as a cadet is based solely on an annual nationwide competition. It is not necessary to obtain a nomination from a Senator or Representative. The competition includes either the College Board Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or the American College Testing Assessment (ACT), high school rank in class, community service, and leadership qualities. Interested students should apply during the fall of their senior year in high school.

Blue21 Flight Training Initiative

The BLUE 21 Guaranteed Flight Training Initiative was established May 9th, 2003, to address the need for greater minority representation within the Coast Guard aviation corps. Recruiting for the program is conducted at colleges and universities that meet the 25% minority population of U.S. citizen guidelines associated with the College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative. Visit Blue21 Flight Training Initiative web site

College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative (CSPI)

The College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative (CSPI) is a full scholarship program for students who have completed at least two years of college and who are attending four-year Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and other approved four-year institutions with a significant minority population. The objective of the program is to increase the representation of minorities and women within the U.S. Coast Guard officer corps. Upon acceptance, selectees are enlisted in the Coast Guard at the pay grade of E-3 and complete Recruit Basic Training as Officer Trainees. Selectees will then return to their college or university to complete their degree program. After graduation, Officer Trainees complete Officer Candidate School and are commissioned as ensigns in the Coast Guard Reserve with a three-year active duty obligation. Visit College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative (CSPI) web site.

Officer Candidate School (OCS)

At Coast Guard Officer Candidate School (OCS), you’ll have a combination of intensive classroom study and hands-on training in leadership theory, nautical science, piloting and navigation, firefighting, law enforcement, and Coast Guard history and organization. OCS Graduates may be assigned to a cutter, flight training, a staff job, or to an operations ashore position. The selection process to gain an appointment to OCS is very competitive. Graduates of the 17-week OCS program are commissioned as ensigns in the Coast Guard Reserve, and incur a three-year active duty obligation upon commissioning. Visit Officer Candidate School (OCS) web site.

Direct Commissions

The Coast Guard has direct commission programs available for professional lawyers, aviators, engineers, environmental managers, maritime academy graduates and former military officers. You can become a Coast Guard officer from the outset. No boot camp. No OCS. Just a short, four-week orientation course earns you a commission as an ensign, lieutenant junior grade or lieutenant, depending on your education and experience. You may qualify for a direct commission through one of the following programs:

  • Direct Commission Aviator (DCA) Program

    The Direct Commission Aviator (DCA) Program is a channel through which the Coast Guard obtains prior-military trained pilots. Direct Commission Aviators fly the Coast Guard’s inventory of 200-plus fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. They may find themselves operating in any mission area, including performing search and rescue missions, hunting smugglers on the high seas, monitoring fisheries’ boundaries or tracking massive oil spills–and more. Upon acceptance, prior-military aviators in the rank of CWO, O-1 or O-2, are commissioned as ensigns in the Coast Guard Reserve. Commissioned officers, O-3 or higher, are commissioned as Lieutenant Junior Grade in the Coast Guard Reserve. Selectees attend four weeks of Direct Commission Officer School at the Coast Guard Academy (CGA) in New London, CT, and six to seven weeks of airframe transition training in Mobile, AL. DCAs incur a five-year active duty obligation upon commissioning.

  • Direct Commission Engineer (DCE) (Reserve Commission) Program

    The Direct Commission Engineer (DCE) Program provides major supervisory responsibilities and hands-on experience for engineers and technologists. Depending on a DCEs specialty, selected applicants could be in charge of overseeing the design, construction and maintenance of Coast Guard vessels, merchant vessels or shore facilities, designing systems to prevent oil spills, maintaining aids to navigation such as lighthouses, designing and maintaining electronics, communication, or information systems and much more. Selection to gain an appointment as a Direct Commission Engineer is very competitive. Selectees attend Direct Commission Officer training at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT as a commissioned Ensign, Lieutenant Junior Grade, or Lieutenant, depending upon the level at which they meet Reserve and eligibility criteria, and Coast Guard needs. DCEs incur a three-year active duty obligation.

  • Direct Commission Intelligence Officer (DCIO) Program

    As a member of the U.S. Intelligence Community since 2001, the Coast Guard has cultivated extensive relationships and partnerships with other elements of the national intelligence community to provide timely, tailored support in a wide range of Coast Guard and national missions. For example, Direct Commission Intelligence Officers perform duties in support of port security, search and rescue, maritime safety, counter-narcotics, alien migration interdiction, and living, marine-resources protection. The Coast Guard intelligence element is unique in that it is the only intelligence community member whose parent agency is both an armed, military force and a service organization with broad enforcement authorities. Working within our nation’s legal framework, the Coast Guard’s broad authorities have allowed Direct Commission Intelligence Officers to develop extensive experience in asymmetric operations that enhance our nation’s maritime posture and security.

    Graduates of regionally accredited graduate and undergraduate programs in intelligence and with experience in the intelligence field may be commissioned in the Coast Guard Reserve as a Lieutenant, Lieutenant Junior Grade, or Ensign. The selection panel will determine rank based upon the applicant’s education and experience level, and selectees will be given a four-year extended active duty contract upon commissioning.

  • Direct Commission Lawyer (DCL) Program

    Because of its expansive role in the country’s national defense and maritime interests, the Coast Guard has a continuing need for military attorneys. Direct Commission Lawyers serve as Judge Advocates and are frequently involved in such diverse areas as Criminal Law/Military Justice, Legal counsel in Operational mission areas, International Activities, Civil Advocacy, Claims and Litigation, International Organizational Law, Contract Law, Environmental Law, Regulations and Administrative Law, Legislative Support, and Legal Assistance, among other areas. Selectees are commissioned as lieutenants in the Coast Guard Reserve, and receive four-year contracts to serve on active duty as a Coast Guard officer. Direct Commission Lawyers receive extensive training throughout their Coast Guard career including a five-week Direct Commission Officer course at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT, and two weeks of familiarization training at a Coast Guard operational unit, which is followed by a 10-week course at the Naval Justice School.

  • Direct Commission Maritime Academy Graduate (MARGRAD) Program

    The Direct Commission Maritime Academy Graduate Program is available to individuals who hold a degree from a qualifying state or federal Maritime Academy and hold a Third Mate or Third assistant Engineering license, or a degree major in Marine Environmental Protection. Maritime Academy Graduates have education and training that enhances the Coast Guard’s ability to carry out its operational missions. Individuals selected will serve as a Coast Guard Reserve Officer on full-time active duty and incur a three-year active duty obligation upon commissioning.

    As a Coast Guard Officer, you will join a growing team of marine safety specialists enforcing U.S. and International laws and regulations. You will inspect commercial ships and port facilities, investigate marine casualties, check for dangerous or illegal cargo, conduct harbor safety patrols and license and certify marine personnel. Later, you may be able to serve in other mission areas of the Coast Guard to broaden your experience.

Selected Reserve Direct Commission (SRDC) Program

The Selected Reserve Direct Commission (SRDC) Program is designed for individuals wanting to serve part-time in the Coast Guard Reserve. As citizen-sailors, Selected Reserve (SELRES) officers continue in their civilian employment while serving an average of two days a month and two weeks a year on military duty.Selectees attend Reserve Officer Candidate Indoctrination (ROCI), a three-week course convened twice each summer at the Coast Guard Academy (CGA) in New London, CT. Commissions are contingent upon acceptance of an assigned position.

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Newly commissioned officers are offered a wide variety of mission opportunities for their first assignment. This duty will be in one of the Coast Guard’s primary missions, such as search and rescue, marine law enforcement, drug interdiction, or aids to navigation. All officers are encouraged to apply for postgraduate education or specialized training. The Coast Guard provides training in a range of career areas. Coast Guard pilot training is available to selected graduates of the Coast Guard Academy or Officer Candidate School. Pilot trainees attend 14 months of basic and advanced flight training at naval air stations in Pensacola, Florida, Mobile, Alabama, or Corpus Christi, Texas. Many other courses are provided to instruct officers in specific skills needed for a particular assignment. In addition, there are opportunities to participate in professional military education at schools such as the Armed Forces Staff College, the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, or one of the colleges run by another branch of the service.

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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 the Tuition Assistance Program, the Physician’s Assistant Program, and the Post-graduate Education Program.

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 to enroll in off-duty courses at accredited colleges and universities. 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.

Postgraduate Education Program

The Coast Guard offers qualified officers an opportunity to obtain advanced education on a full-time basis at the Coast Guard’s expense. Each year, approximately 125 officers are selected for this program. They attend various colleges and universities in over 30 major curriculum areas. Entry into this program is competitive, and only the best qualified officers are selected.

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