It’s been an exciting week for us with regards to our return to the Coast Guard. On Sunday, we rented a car and re-provisioned the boat for the week while we have easy access to all the shopping in Puerto Rico. We also found out where we will be living and working for the next several years.
On Monday, the fun started…we drove to San Juan and met with the Coast Guard Recruiter for Puerto Rico. We had submitted a lot of our paperwork ahead of time, so thankfully all was in order and we only had a few minor items to take care of.
While meeting with the recruiter, he told us that we were projected for a medical exam the very next day (we had been thinking it would be next week), and that he had booked us a room in San Juan for the night (a great surprise – free hot water and a real bed!).
So we trekked over to the hotel and got settled in. We spent the entire night (until midnight) working on our electronic security clearance paperwork. In the best of times, the online system is a real pain in the butt…for instance you have to provide all your personal information and write down where you lived for the past 10 years, along with the names, addresses, and phone numbers of people who knew you while you were there. Ostensibly, this is so the intelligence people can make sure that you are not a spy or have too much debt or anything.
The hard part for us was that they also ask if you’ve completed any foreign travel in the past 7 years. This is to ensure that you haven’t been recruited by a foreign intelligence agency or anything. However, as you can imagine, our passports are completely full, and entering the details and dates for over 30 countries that we’ve been to was a real joy! But despite the pain, I wouldn’t change a thing – this has been an amazing journey.
At 0340 the next day, we met down in the hotel lobby with about 50 other recruits from all the different services. It was crazy to imagine that some of them will be soldiers, sailors, marines, coasties, aviators…some will work on submarines, or fly in crazy aircraft, or jump out of those aircraft. A great patriotic moment, however we were definitely the oldest people there!
After a quick breakfast, we took a bus to the medical facility (we entered through the cargo entrance), and formed up into some lines. Apparently the medical staff had heard about our special case, because they quickly picked us out and asked us how old we were. Kellee stuttered, so I said “I’m 33 and she is 40.” They were not amused.
However, the medical exam was painless – for prior service personnel, we were able to move quickly through the exam stations: hearing, vision, height/weight, medical history, blood testing, urine testing, fingerprinting etc etc. No new thing for us.
So with the early start, we were actually out of there by noon! Pretty easy. We are on standby for the next couple weeks in case anything comes up or there are papers we need to sign, but otherwise we should be good to go for returning to the service…hooray!
As I mentioned earlier, we also found out our new assignments (a completely separate process, it just happened to occur during the same week).
The Coast Guard officer assignment process can be tricky to navigate. In a nutshell, the Coast Guard assignment officers in Arlington, Virginia, assign officers to jobs every 2-3 years in a kind of nebulous way.
Although we are able to ask for jobs, we get assigned to jobs based on the needs of the service. So although I would love to remain skipper of a patrol boat for the rest of my career, the Coast Guard needs to give that opportunity to other people as well, and since we’ve recently advanced, they need to give us the experiences of working managerial positions in the greater organization.
From the assignment officer’s perspective, it is all about grooming Coast Guard senior officers…so by the time we reach 18-20 years of service, we should have experience in a variety of Coast Guard missions, have some geographic diversity in assignments, and have a proven record of exceptional service.
The first 10 years of our careers were based on building operational experience and getting a sense of how the organization works from the deckplate level. Even still, Kellee and I lucked out with a few more awesome jobs than most people get. For instance the typical sea to shore duty ratio after 10 years is 4 years at sea and 6 years ashore…however we average 7 years at sea and 3 years ashore…can’t complain!
But going into this sabbatical, we knew the tide was changing. As mid-grade officers going forward, we are expected to advance our education, serve in staff positions, and eventually command larger, major cutters….no more patrol boats!
So by disappearing on sabbatical, we were able to delay the inevitable staff job that we were both (over)due for. Nevertheless, we were still nervous about what we were going to get or if we would even be together!
So we asked for staff positions in Seattle, San Francisco, Honolulu, Boston, and Washington DC based on trying to get a diversity of experience and location under our career belts for later. We hoped for something on the west coast, but we were ready for anything they could throw at us. I think our quoted request to the assignment officers was “Please put us together in jobs that are useful and challenging, somewhere in the Pacific Area.” That all happened in August. Then there was a long wait….
Office assignments are made top-down. So all the Admirals get to find out where they are going in November. Then they can influence the decisions on everyone below them. Captains find out around Christmas, and Commanders find out in early January. Once they were all notified, it was our turn! So we anxiously waited a phone call or email, while we simultaneously found out some of our friends were getting assigned to this or that billet. Some of our dream picks disappeared, so we were constantly talking about the likelihood of this or that job as the power balance changed.
Finally, this week the assignment officer emailed us to set up a call. Being a “dual-military” situation, sometimes our case is even more challenging for the assignment officers – in our first 10 years, we were assigned together for 5, and apart for 5. So we didn’t know what to expect, especially coming off our sabbatical…would we end up with bottom of the barrel jobs? Would we end up together or 12 hours apart?
Eventually the phone call came and we held our breath. We were both assigned to Pacific Area command staff, in Alameda, California, just like we hoped.