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Specialist Groups

Suppose you have chosen to attend school after boot camp. There are many specialist ratings or classifications open to you in four groupings:

  • Deck and Ordnance Group: boatswain's mate, quartermaster, radarman, sonar technician, gunner's mate, fire control technician.

  • Hull and Engineering Group: damage controlman, machinery technician, electronics technician, telephone technician, electrician's mate.

  • Aviation Group: aviation machinist mate, aviation survival-man, aviation electronics technician, aviation electrician's mate, aviation structural mechanic.

  • Administration and Scientific Group: marine science technician, yeoman, storekeeper, radioman, subsistence specialist, port securityman, health services technician, public affairs specialist.
Following are descriptions of just a few of these ratings picked at random:

Boatswain's Mate: This is the master seaman, a person skilled in all phases of seamanship and in handling deck force personnel. This person frequently acts as officer in charge of patrol boats, tugs, small craft, port security teams, and small shore units. The boatswain's mate is also capable of performing almost any task in connection with the operation of small boats, navigation, entering or leaving port, storing cargo, and handling ropes and lines.

Boatswain's mates must be leaders, physically strong with good hearing and vision. They should possess a high degree of manual dexterity. School courses in algebra, geometry, and shop are helpful. Previous experience handling small boats is extremely valuable. Training is achieved either through ten weeks of intensive study at the Coast Guard Reserve Training Center in Yorktown, Virginia, or by training on the job under the guidance of experienced personnel and studying appropriate manuals and publications.

Related civilian jobs include pier superintendent, tugboat crewman, heavy equipment operator, ship pilot, and marina supervisor.

Radarman: No one knows how many ships have avoided collisions or bad weather or how many distressed vessels have been located because of a highly skilled radarman. This person operates all types of radar equipment to search for, locate, and track the movement of ships, aircraft, and other surface objects.

Radarmen should be able to use numbers in practical problems, have good vision, normal hearing, and a clear voice. Background in mathematics and shop courses in both radio and electricity are helpful, as is experience in operating ham radio systems. Training begins with either seventeen weeks at Navy Operations Specialist School at Dam Neck, Virginia, or on the job being guided by experienced personnel while studying appropriate manuals and publications.

Related civilian jobs include radio operator, controlroom manager, air traffic controller, and missile tracking specialist.

Damage Controlman: This specialist is responsible for preserving the safety and survival devices on all Coast Guard vessels. Duties include, among other things, welding, firefighting, pipefitting, and woodworking. Training begins with either thirteen weeks of specialized study at the Coast Guard Reserve Training Center in Yorktown, Virginia, or by performing on-the-job training and studying training course manuals and other publications.

Related civilian jobs include fire fighter, carpenter, construction foreman, safety engineer, building superintendent, and machinist.

Aviation Electronics Technician:
This man or woman is responsible for the operational condition of all radio, radar, and other electronic devices which are used for rapid communications, controlled landing approaches, detection of distressed vessels, and efficient navigation. You should be proficient in solving practical mathematical problems and have a high degree of electrical and mechanical aptitude. School courses in algebra, trigonometry, physics, electricity, and mechanics are useful. Also helpful is practical experience in the electrical trades. Training begins with twenty-four weeks of intensive training at the Coast Guard Aviation Technical Training Center in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Related civilian jobs include aircraft electrician, aircraft communications specialist, radio and radar repairman, computer technician, and radio operator.

Yeoman: Efficient administration depends on the efficient performance of a highly trained clerical staff. The yeoman fills that need as he or she prepares, records, and keeps the Coast Guard's vast number of letters, messages, and reports flowing smoothly. Yeomen also operate a variety of automated data and word processing equipment. Qualifications for this position are similar to those of secretaries, stenographers, and typists in private industry. Yeomen should possess a degree of manual dexterity and be able to work harmoniously with others in an office. Courses in English and in business subjects such as typing and filing are very useful. Training begins either with ten weeks instruction at the Coast Guard Training Center in Petaluma, California, or by performing on-the-job duties under the direction of an experienced yeoman while studying specially designed manuals.

Related civilian jobs include executive secretary, personnel manager, court reporter, and legal clerk.

Health Services Technician: This individual carries responsibility for the health of her or his shipmates. The health services technician also plays an important role in lifesaving. He or she learns human anatomy and physiology, chemistry, pharmacy, dentistry, preventive medicine, and medical administration. A corpsman should have a pleasing personality and a desire to help those in need of medical attention as well as be able to solve practical mathematical problems. School courses in hygiene, biology, physiology, chemistry, typing, and public speaking are definite assets. Experience in first aid groups is valuable. Training starts with twenty-four weeks of instruction and practical application at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.

Related civilian jobs include X-ray technician, medical technician, pharmaceutical salesperson, and physician's or dentist's assistant.

Port Securityman: This specialist supervises and controls the safe handling, transportation, and storage of explosives and other dangerous cargoes. He or she is well versed in the regulations and equipment and is responsible for the safety of vessels, harbors, and other waterfront facilities. This person is expert in the field of fire prevention and extinguishment. A port securityman should be average or above in general learning ability and have normal hearing and vision. School courses in practical mathematics, chemistry, and English are helpful. Any prior experience in law enforcement is extremely beneficial. Ten weeks of intensive training begins at the Coast Guard Reserve Training Center in York-town, Virginia.

Related civilian jobs include insurance investigator, fire fighter, pier superintendent, and warehouseman.

The port securityman rating is open only to members of the Coast Guard Reserve. The recruiting officer can give you latest information about joining the reserve.

If you want to enlist in the Coast Guard you must be a United States citizen and be between the ages of seventeen and twenty-six. You must meet certain physical, mental, and character standards, and a high school diploma is highly recommended.


Here is what the Coast Guard says about officer candidates:

Because the missions of the Coast Guard are so important and demanding, the service wants top-notch officers who won't wilt under pressure.

Many of these officers are obtained through officer candidate school. They are graduates of a highly specialized, 17-week course in leadership, seamanship, navigation, law enforcement, and military subjects. Classes convene about four times a year at the Coast Guard Reserve Training Center in Yorktown, Virginia. Graduates are commissioned as ensigns and serve on active duty for three years. Those who wish may apply for integration into the regular Coast Guard and, if accepted, continue to serve in a proud and challenging service.

While attending officer candidate school you may indicate the type of duty and location you prefer after graduation. Your wishes will be taken into consideration along with the needs of the service, your experience, and your educational background.

Not all of the jobs are ashore. Junior officers serve as under-way watch officers on ships ranging in size from 100 feet long to the 378-foot gas turbine-powered, high-endurance cutters.

It is here your training in seamanship, ship-handling, navigation, and leadership will be needed the most.

Coast guard ships operate from the tropics to the ice masses at both poles. Besides the satisfaction of serving at sea, there is the excitement of visiting new ports and making new friends.

Here are some of the duties graduates of officer candidate school might be assigned: industrial management, port safety/law enforcement, reserve administration, naval engineering, civil engineering, financial and supply management, military readiness, data processing, research and development, public affairs, search and rescue, aviation, environmental protection, personnel administration, communications management, boating safety, Coast Guard auxiliary liaison, intelligence, Merchant Marine safety, recruit training, personnel recruitment, civil rights.

Duty stations run the gamut from a small station in Alaska or Hawaii to port safety units in major ports. Many OCS graduates are assigned to bases, district offices, and at headquarters, where their prior experience and specialized educational background are immediately put to use.

Competition for the officer candidate school is stiff. You must be at least twenty-one years of age and under twenty-seven by a cutoff date established twice a year. You must be a citizen of the United States, of good moral character, and meet physical standards prescribed for original entry into the service. You must have a baccalaureate degree from an accredited college or university. Dentists and physicians serving in the Coast Guard are provided by the United States Public Health Service, and chaplains are assigned by the United States Navy. The Coast Guard also commissions a limited number of prior service aviators who are graduates of a United States military flight training program and have had civilian or military flying experience.


One final gripping illustration of how the Coast Guard serves took place out on the west coast one stormy afternoon. The radio operator at the Yaquina Bay Coast Guard Station in Newport, Oregon, tensed as he listened to the skipper calling from a small pleasure craft.

"Just spotted an overturned trawler, seas running high, about twelve miles southwest of Newport."

"Any survivors?" the operator asked as he wrote 6:30 P.M. in his log.

"No, couldn't see them if they were there. Storm's getting worse."

Minutes later Coast Guard Rescue Helicopter 1353 was in the air heading for the vessel. Lt. Al Seidel, the pilot, soon spotted the keel of the Odyssey rocking violently in ten-foot seas. His companion. Commander Glenn Gunn, reported their discovery and position to the station. In no time, two Coast Guard motor lifeboats chugged toward them. By the time they arrived an hour later, it was dark, and the storm had worsened. Lieutenant Gunn radioed down to the lifeboats and told them there were no survivors but to put a man on the hull just to make certain.

"Nobody could live through this storm, even if they got out of there alive," one of the crewmen observed as the helicopter continued to hover over the motor boats. Suddenly, a hoisting line with a harness dropped to the deck, and Petty Officer Craig White seized it. He got into the harness and was swung over to the hull. He dropped and hit it with full force, then grabbed onto the keel. Using a small hammer he pounded on the steel, then put his ear to the metal and listened. Above the roar of the wind and waves, he heard distinct tapping in response. He waved his other arm to signal his discovery. Back at the Newport Station, the Coast Guard again went into action.

Since there were no professional divers among the Coast Guard personnel, officials contacted two local divers, who then volunteered for the rescue mission. As they were flying toward the vessel, the operations officer decided to take no chances. He called the co-owner of a commercial diving company.

"Two divers are on their way now," he explained. Then he asked if the partners would be available to help if necessary. "We'd like you and your partner to stand by in case we need help."

Two hours later Helicopter 1353 radioed that the divers did not dare to go down into the vessel.

"Let's go," Bill Shires told his partner Pat Miller when he heard the report. They ran toward the waiting helicopter. At 12:30 A.M. they were hovering over the Odyssey, peering down through blinding rain sheets with forty-five-mile-an-hour winds churning the sea and buffeting the aircraft.

"O.K. Let us down," Shires called above the howling wind. The two divers dropped down. Once they were on the keel, they slipped over the side and into the overturned ship. Eventually they found where the two men were trapped. Finally, they led them under water up to the surface-and safety. In recognition of their feat they were presented the Coast Guard's highest civilian award for valor. For the Coast Guard officers and crewmen, however, it was just another job in the line of duty.


The Coast Guard Reserve offers training in a variety of skills and specialties (called ratings) and is open to anyone age seven-teen through thirty-five who can meet the enlistment requirements. Those with prior military service are eligible up to age forty-two.

When you join the reserve you serve one weekend each month, usually Saturday and Sunday, and two weeks of active duty training every year. You can join the reserve without prior service, you can join while in high school or college and train during summers, or-if you are out of school and have been working at a trade for a few years, are age twenty-six through thirty-five and have a skill the Coast Guard can use-you can enter directly as a petty officer with the responsibility and pay that goes with it.

As a member of the reserve you get a monthly paycheck, can earn retirement benefits and money toward an education, attend Coast Guard technical schools to learn new skills or polish your old ones, and enjoy some privileges at military commissaries and exchanges. Best of all, you can continue your civilian life and regular career and serve only one weekend a month plus two weeks a year, unless called up for other duty. You must serve a minimum of eight years after joining, but depending upon the program you are in, it might be less.


You should know that the Coast Guard has traditionally performed two roles in wartime. The first has been to augment the navy with personnel and cutters. The second has been to undertake special missions for which peacetime experiences have prepared the service with unique skills. For example, during World War II, the Coast Guard manned landing craft in every major amphibious operation. Service craft rescued thousands of survivors of torpedo attacks and other marine disasters, patrolled beaches and docks, and sank enemy submarines. Over two thousand died during the conflict. In both the Korean and Vietnam wars, the Coast Guard was present, working side by side with the other military services, true to its slogan, semper paratus.
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