I HAVE MOVED

After a lot of thought and consideration -- I have decided to retire One Foot in Reality and leave it as an Archive. I will still monitor it to keep the trolls at bay, but will not be posting here any longer.

If you are looking for my new posts, please go to www.haroldlshaw.com .

Thank you for all they years of following One Foot In Reality.

Harold

Sunday, February 28, 2016

20 Years Ago Today - I Swallowed the Anchor

This post was written for and first appeared on One Foot In Reality.

20 Years ago today - February 29, 1996 was my last day of Active Duty in the U.S. Coast Guard.


Yeah, I was a "Coastie" and professionally it was ALL that I knew on that day 20 years ago, since my professional life revolved around being in the Coast Guard.

It was and is one of the proudest things that I have done in my life.

But let's back up a little.

I had enlisted and headed off to Coast Guard Boot Camp 12 days after high school, as a 17 year old kid and then retired over 20 years later at the age of 38. Now I get to look back with a 58 year old's wisdom and experience.

A pretty damn good deal in my opinion.

When I headed off that that day in 1975 to begin this grand adventure, I believed that I had all the answers and was going to make a difference in this great big world or at least get out of Newport, Maine. My family's reputation and economic status sort of put a damper on what my options would be locally: the mills, local store clerk or laborer of some kind. I wanted more than that out of life and I found it.

The Coast Guard became my escape route to a better life.

Little did I know then that it would be much more than my employer for the next 20 years and yes I do believe that it gave me that better life that I was looking for. In spite of a few bumps and thumps along the way. 

The first four years were hit or miss, I needed to do a lot of growing up. Figure out where I belonged and when it came down to it, where I fit. 

Yeah, fit was a big deal, because I had been accepted to Thomas College in Waterville at the end of my first enlistment - way back in 1979, but...going from something I knew, to the college campus scene of the late 70's was  not somewhere that I would be successful...

so much freedom and the crash landing would have been a terrible thing to see. If I was having problems staying within the lines that the Coast Guard forced me to stay pretty close to, college would not have been a good thing. 

I wanted the security and yes, needed the forced "you can't do that" discipline and filter that the Coast Guard gave me.

I stuck around for over 16 more years. 

Which did change my life.

Over the years I advanced in rank pretty quickly, unfortunately, looking back I now know that I advanced in maturity at a much slower pace. Technically, I was fine, but the youthful arrogance that I had from being promoted at such young ages didn't do me all that much good - I didn't have a lot of sand in my pants to go along with the book learning that I had.

Not a good mixture.

However, I had found a lifestyle that fit who I was and was surrounded by others who seemed to be in the same boat as I was - so to speak. 

Some of the shit I used to say and do make me cringe to think of them now. 

The Memories.

Mistakes - yep I made my share and looking back there are many things that I would do differently with my 20/20 hindsight. 

However, at the time I was too busy living a very good life and having fun while I was doing what I dloved.

Unfortunately, just about the time I was coming up on 20 years, in the mid 90's Coast Guard was in the midst of becoming more and more like a big corporation with corporate attitudes towards it personnel - they became assets to be used, TQM became the big thing and all the management by objective buzzwords were creeping into the the daily vocabulary, the changing sense of camaraderie I was seeing, the overall lack of having one anothers back and from where I was sitting - doing the right thing for the right reason wasn't always the right answer - it wasn't good enough especially if it wasn't in the ever-narrowing confines of the damn book.

Why did I leave when I did? 

I was getting jaded and the journey had stopped being fun.

Perhaps I have always been a little too idealistic, but the reality was that with my growing cynicism, was out-weighing all the good things about being a Coastie. 

I guess what bothered me the most was mistakes that I and many others had made, that were once part of being a Coastie or part of learning life lessons the hard way, when I was coming up through the ranks were being met with little to no tolerance. It seemed as though there had become this narrow view and expectations of what a Coast Guard person should be and that being a Coastie wasn't good enough for the powers that be.

We needed to be the new "professionals". 

There were many reasons for this changing of attitudes, I know there were pressures from outside and inside the services driving the changes during this time. Whatever the true reasons were, they were well beyond my pay grade, but the Coast Guard that I had known, loved and grown-up in, was in the midst of considerable changes in attitudes towards it personnel. 

By the way I was a Chief Warrant Officer - Personnel Administration, so I was in a pretty good position to see many of the changes and knew the effects of the policies and procedures related to the people who were serving in the Coast Guard back then.

Could I have continued to serve - yeah, I was pretty damn good at my specialty, had a good reputation about getting things done, didn't have any issues with the people around me, the pay was decent and believed that I was adapting enough to the changes to be successful. 

Unfortunately, the more I thought about things on those long daily bus rides into Boston (my last duty station) that feeling of belonging, it was gone. 

Being a member of the Coast Guard had become a "job". 

Yes, I had some family issues that finished tipping the scale, but it turned out that those issues were not resolved by retiring - they usually are not.

My thinking that being in the Coast Guard had turned into "just a job", is the real reason I swallowed the anchor when I did and retired.

The reality is that

Now that it has been 20 years since I retired from Active Duty, I know that I tend to remember the good things, much more than I do the shit stuff, but some things will never change:

  1. I will always be a Coastie.
  2. I do miss putting the uniform on.
  3. The sense mission and camaraderie that being in the military had for me and has never been repeated in the civilian world.

All I know is that the Coast Guard I left in 1996 was vastly different than the Coast Guard that I had joined in 1975. Not everything was worse, but not everything was better either. It was evolving and when I retired, it was the right time for me to do so.

I am sure that it has changed even more in the time since I retired and I often wonder if I would have liked it as much as I did my first 20 years.

However, my core values haven't changed all that much - it seems that I the ones I learned when I was in boot camp way back when are still with me:

  • Semper Paratus 
  • Honor
  • Loyalty 
  • Respect
  • Devotion to Duty 

They are more than a random selection of words and believe it or not they do still apply in the civilian world, even if they might seem a bit old-fashioned at times and the definition might be a bit changed or challenged. 

Although, one of the core values seems to have lost its luster over the years, I wonder what happened to Loyalty in the grand scheme of things or if that is just one of the one's that I picked up and added to my own personal core values, without realizing it was not ever a Coast Guard core value - I really do not know anymore. I lost my Blue Jackets Manual a long, long time ago.

It has to be part of that memory thing - a least I hope it is.


I know that today's Coast Guard is still the finest Coast Guard in the world and that its members are still the best at what they do. Yes, I do still generally follow what is going on in the Coast Guard, but I do not live in the past, have moved on to another life and am immensely proud of and enjoying being a Retired Coast Guard Warrant Officer.

Oh yeah, did I have all the answers back in 1975 or even in 1996? 

Hell no - all I have done is keep adding more and more questions, with a few glimmers of truth here and there. 

In 2016, I still have a lot more questions than I do answers.

February 29, 1996 - 20 Years Ago is a lifetime ago and so many things have changed for me during those 20 years. A lot of memories were dredged up writing this one. Mostly good, which is a good thing.

And the world keeps on spinning round and round.

2 comments:

  1. Great post - and thank you for your years of service! Finding what is best for you is one of the hardest things each of us needs to do, and having to do it at 17/18 is just incredible as we look back ...

    It is not something that would ever have been the right fit for me ... I know that had the situation required me to serve I would have done so, but it wasn't something that was a general good fit.

    Loyalty is one of my personal core values, and I think that in many ways it is starting to make a comeback ... not as a campaign slogan, but as something people value. I remember entering college in fall of '84 seeing someone had spraypainted 'disposable society' on the main engineering building - and that was a big thing then. Since then we're gotten more and more into disposable everything, instant gratification, the loss of brand loyalty and reliability, and so on. But what I have noticed is that in spite of life via social media, more and more young people are looking for genuine connections with their parents, families and friends and realizing that doesn't happen with a text or a 'like'. Hopefully we will see a deep-seated loyalty return.

    I also think that over that time we have stopped allowing kids to be young and stupid ... and that is a real shame. Because kids ARE young and stupid, and putting a 14 year old kid in an adult jail for having a few joints doesn't help ANYONE. Same for all of the same stupid crap we all did in the 60s/70s/80s suddenly being things that will get you kicked out of school, lose a job, and so on.

    I'm not talking about stuff that actually hurts others - I think intolerance for abuse and discrimination is a good thing - I'm talking about just being a silly kid making mistakes and trying to grow up.

    Funny you bring up the whole thing about family issues and their not being resolved by retiring is too true ... through the years I've seen people marry, have babies, move states, and more in order to hopefully 'fix' these things ... and it never really works, because as you note, it wasn't the issue in the first place. Sad, really ... but it is what it is.

    I'm sure this was a great walk down memory lane, thanks for sharing :)

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Mike,

      I think that loyalty goes both ways and it is something that is conveniently pushed under the rug, when it comes to down to it. We all too often think of an employee's loyalty to a company and overlook that most companies have limited loyalty to their employees, subordinates and describe them as assets, not people - to minimize humanizing what all too often has occurred.

      Loyalty is something that in my world needs to be earned and it doesn't happen just because someone is in a higher position or pay grade or the institution/company that employs you. What have they done or what are they doing to earn that loyalty they so freely talk about being their due.

      When I was in the military we had a saying that we would always respect the uniform, but we did not have to respect the person - that is earned and so is the loyalty.

      Kids growing up, make mistakes and unfortunately in today's world the consequence often outweigh what actually happened. I believe in learning responsibility, but it sometimes a less overwhelming response would be in everyone's best interests.

      Yeah, it brought back many memories, some not that great, but others that I would love to go back and do again.

      Thanks again Mike

      Delete

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