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I understand that this is an old thread, but it may apply to others who are considering a career in the Coast Guard, so I thought I would go ahead and answer the question. The Coast Guard is a branch of the military, as such, any applicant should consider the military requirements when deciding whether a career in the Coast Guard is right for them. There are a few different ways to enter the Coast Guard, which can be found on the website provided in the other answer to this post. For the sake of brevity, I will talk about the two ways which are most common--enlisting and OCS. As an enlisted member, your journey will begin with eight weeks of boot camp in Cape May, NJ; upon completion, you could be assigned anywhere in the Continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, or Puerto Rico. There are other world-wide assignments for Coast Guard personnel which are fewer, but still possible straight out of boot camp, but most of those go to people who really want them. Those with bachelor's degrees (or higher) who are accepted directly into Officer Candidate School will have a similar experience; however, they will attend a 17-week indoctrination course at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT. They will then go on to serve in various career paths which include but are not limited to: Operations Afloat, Operations Ashore, Prevention, Response, and Aviation.
At your first unit as an enlisted member you will have the opportunity to learn about the different ratings (specialties) in the Coast Guard, while actively participating in real-world missions. After advancing to E-3 and placing your name on school list for your chosen rating, you will attend that rating's "A" School. Usually anywhere from eight to 20 weeks, these schools teach you the basics of the specialty which you have chosen. You will then be assigned to a unit as a third class petty officer and conduct any of the Coast Guard's 11 statutory missions based on the unit to which you are assigned.
As a member of the Coast Guard, you will participate in Search and Rescue, Law Enforcement, Marine Environmental Response, Pollution, and even National Defense missions. These missions can take you anywhere in the world and require you to carry weapons in the commission of your official duties.
Being in the Coast Guard is great! It is the smallest service, and as such, provides more of a personal feel than some of the larger services are able to provide. If you have any specific questions, please feel free to contact me directly. Thanks!
Jason Molinari, LCDR, USCG
The website below offers some insight into the Coast Guard. I serve in the Air Force, so I cannot speak to quality of life in the Coast Guard. However, as a member of the military, I can tell you that it is one of the best decisions I have ever made. The military offers amazing benefits and sets you up for success. You receive free healthcare, tuition assistance for school, and excellent retirement benefits. Plus, you will get to travel to new places and meet new people.
The next link below is for a recruiter. Recruiters are your best source for information. Don't hesitate to call and discuss career options.