As a suburban kid who grew up pretending to be a soldier and spending weekends watching action thrillers set during wartime, I always had a healthy respect for the real-life heroes who served in the armed forces. I also admittedly had a pretty vague sense of what it meant to be an actual member of the U.S. military. Having grown up in the land-locked Midwest, the Coast Guard — the military branch most associated with the nation’s coastlines and waterways — seemed especially mysterious to me.
I still remember some of the earliest rumors about serving in the Coast Guard that I heard as a kid: members must be expert-level swimmers and divers, able to hold their breath for five full minutes under water, and recruits have to withstand tear-gassing at basic training for as long as possible before putting on their gas masks. While some part of me must have known that these were exaggerations, they did contribute to my sense that a career in the Coast Guard was beyond the grasp of an ordinary person.
Today, adult-to-adult, I’m happy to report that these wild notions could not be further from the truth. While serving in the U.S. Coast Guard is a big responsibility requiring strong character, mental and physical fitness, and a real sense of commitment, it doesn’t actually require superhero strength. To dispel these rumors and give readers an idea of what it’s actually like to serve, Bustle teamed up with the U.S. Coast Guard to bust the biggest myths surrounding the organization.
Keep reading to get the facts straight once and for all.
Myth 1: There’s A Two-Year Waiting List To Join The Coast Guard.
False! In fact, the Coast Guard is always hiring, and members typically arrive at basic training just a few short months after starting the enrollment process. And bonus: Immediately upon enlisting, members receive a good starting salary, allowances for meals and housing, and comprehensive medical and dental plans at no charge.
Myth 2: Coast Guard Members Don’t Get To Choose Their Job.
Another common misconception is that enlistees are given an aptitude assessment and then automatically assigned a career path. This is simply not true. Coast Guard members are encouraged to try out every job function available to them within the service so they can make an informed decision about which path to pursue. The large variety of jobs available to members include roles like rescue swimmer, health services technician, equipment repair person, and operations specialist.
Myth 3: The Coast Guard Isn’t A Real Branch Of The Military.
This is an easy one to debunk. The Coast Guard was established in 1790, making it among the oldest organizations in the federal government. One interesting distinction that does sometimes cause confusion is that the Coast Guard is not part of the Department of Defense but is instead part of the Department of Homeland Security, granting it unique law enforcement authority on the high seas.
Myth 4: There Aren’t Great Roles For Women In The Coast Guard.
Women have served in the Coast Guard since the 1970s, and female service members currently occupy nearly every active-duty role the service has to offer, including top-ranking leadership positions. Women were first integrated into the Coast Guard in 1973, and they immediately began to transform the organization. The number of women enlisted in the Coast Guard continues to grow each year; currently, over 5,800 women serve.
Myth 5: You Have To Be A Rescue Swimmer To Join The Coast Guard.
While possessing the special training it takes to be a rescue swimmer would undoubtedly be of interest to a Coast Guard recruiter, rescue swimmers actually make up a very small percentage of active-duty members. There is a swim test included in basic training, which consists of jumping off a six-foot platform, swimming 100 meters unassisted, and treading water for five minutes. But if swimming isn’t your strong suit, don’t give up hope: There’s extra training available for those who are unable to pass this test on their first try.
Myth 6: New Coast Guard Recruits Are Not Needed For Domestic Service & Will Be Sent Overseas.
A common misconception is that Coast Guard members are being re-appropriated for service overseas, especially in the Middle East. And while the Coast Guard does have a presence there, being stationed in the Middle East is completely voluntary. In fact, placement in this region is highly competitive among Coast Guard members because there are numerous benefits associated with those special assignments.
Myth 7: You Have To Get Gassed At Basic Training.
This age-old myth started on a playground somewhere — I heard it myself as a kid — and it has managed to persist. Basic Training in the Coast Guard consists of many fitness tests and challenges, but being tear gassed isn’t one of them. The only seed of truth to this gassing myth is that Coast Guard members interested in becoming part of the boarding team may receive pepper spray training at their field units.
Now that these common myths about careers in the US Coast Guard have been debunked, I’ll leave with you some impressive truths. The Coast Guard is responsible for protecting and defending 100,000 miles of coastline and inland waterways. It safeguards the largest Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the world, encompassing 4.5 million square miles from the arctic to south of the equator. And, in addition to its role as an Armed Service, the Coast Guard is a first responder and humanitarian service that provides essential resources and assistance to victims of natural and man-made disasters at sea and on land. So next time you hear a myth about one of our oldest and greatest military forces, do your part by counteracting it with one of these amazing facts!