Friday, February 14, 2014

Five awesome facts about the Coast Guard

I used to be in the Coast Guard, and I’d always get a lot of questions whenever I’d walk around in uniform. Questions like “How long have you been in the Air Force?” and “What time does my train leave?” These were all important questions, of course, but I rarely had the answers.


Sometimes, though, people would realize I was in the Coast Guard, and they’d ask me questions about that. Most of them were pretty basic – “Is the Coast Guard like the National Guard?” “Is it really a part of the military?” Others were more complex. “Do you deploy to Iraq?” “Do you literally just stand there and guard the coast all day?”

Much like how the Air Force is literally just a force of air.

To answer (some of) these questions, I decided to put together a quick list:


Sunday, February 2, 2014

My College Wouldn't Let Me Look At My Food

When I was 18, I joined the U.S. Coast Guard Academy (yes, that’s a thing). It’s similar to the Naval Academy or West Point in that it’s one of the four federal military academies. You go there, train for four years, and enter the service when you graduate.

I won’t lie – none of these Academies are a cake walk (okay, maybe Air Force), but I'm convinced the Coast Guard Academy's rules are the toughest to deal with. Why? Because it’s the smallest of the four – only a thousand cadets – meaning you get a LOT more scrutiny on any given day.

Ranks at the Academy work like tiers on an airline. First class is highest (seniors), second class is next (juniors), then third class (sophomores), and finally fourth class (freshman). You get new priviliges as you move up in rank, each time restoring some of your basic human freedoms: firsties get to drive cars and can leave base most often. Second class can wear normal clothes, third class can wear suits and ties when they go out instead of a uniform. As for fourth class...well, how do I explain this?

Imagine flying something called ‘fourth class’ on an airplane. Would you take that ticket? Being a fourth class at the Academy feels just like that. ALL THE TIME.

Fourth class only get a few hours every weekend where they’re actually allowed to leave base - and then, only in uniform. They’re responsible for cleaning up after everyone, for memorizing long strings of traditional jargon, and even for entertaining upperclass at mealtimes. They can't have Facebook, can't use instant messaging, and can't be friends with anyone of higher rank. They’re at everyone else’s beck and call, and have to do it all while handling a 21-credit-hour course load, taking part in a sport, and keeping their uniform neat, pressed, and shiny.

But why make things easy?

They're also not allowed to stand, move, eat, or even direct their eyeballs like a normal human being. Fourth class have to walk like they’re marching, stay in the center of the hallway at all times, and keep their heads and eyes pointed straight ahead whenever they’re not in their rooms.

Encountering another fourth class while running down the invisible lane in the middle of the hall meant making a convoluted series of maneuvers to get around each other.

Meanwhile, encountering an upperclass in your path meant slamming to a halt and asking permission to go around. They didn’t always grant it without first making you answer a ridiculous set of questions from the bank of things you had to keep memorized. For instance, you always had to know what was on the menu for the next three meals. Each meal usually included about six or seven items a piece, and after a while they sort of ran together.

(We call our dining hall a ‘wardroom’ after the place where officers eat on a ship. We also had to use terms like 'deck,' 'bulkhead,' and 'passageway' in place of ‘floor,’ ‘wall,’ and ‘hallway.’ All nautical-like.)

Meals themselves were their own ordeal. We ate most of them family-style with other members of our company, so upperclass were always watching you and asking you questions. As a fourth class, you had to sit up straight on the front three inches of your chair and move your fork at 90-degree angles. You couldn't talk unless you were addressing someone senior, and then only for a good reason. The eye-rules applied here, too: you couldn’t look down at your plate, except on the rare occasion that you needed to cut something. This usually left you stabbing at things without actually knowing what you were eating.

Of course, once you got to be an upperclass, your perspective was a little different. Fourth class sitting across the table from you looked like zombies, staring blankly in your direction. But at least zombies have some personality.

I shouldn't be too hard on the Academy, though. All of those crazy rules were there for a reason: to make you more disciplined, more confident, and ultimately more capable than you ever thought you could be. Oh, and they also made you a lot more willing to put up with ridiculous crap.

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Or, check out my other posts:

   Five Awesome Facts About The Coast Guard

    Different Eras Of Our Lives
    Don't Get Pepper Sprayed (It Sucks)

    Is It A Mountain? (A Guide 
     For People Who Aren't From the Northwest)

      How We Laugh