Building an ‘Always Ready’ Coast Guard

  • A welcome sign greets military hopefuls at the entrance to the Boston Military Entrance Processing Station. (Photo: Petty Officer 2nd Class Cynthia Oldham)
    A welcome sign greets military hopefuls at the entrance to the Boston Military Entrance Processing Station. (Photo: Petty Officer 2nd Class Cynthia Oldham)
  • Petty Officer 2nd Class David Robey, Boston MEPS’s Coast Guard liaison, sits at his desk Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015. (Photo: Petty Officer 2nd Class Cynthia Oldham)
    Petty Officer 2nd Class David Robey, Boston MEPS’s Coast Guard liaison, sits at his desk Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015. (Photo: Petty Officer 2nd Class Cynthia Oldham)
  • Petty Officer 2nd Class David Robey, Boston MEPS’s Coast Guard liaison, sits at his desk Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015. (Photo: Petty Officer 2nd Class Cynthia Oldham)
    Petty Officer 2nd Class David Robey, Boston MEPS’s Coast Guard liaison, sits at his desk Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015. (Photo: Petty Officer 2nd Class Cynthia Oldham)

Whether saving lives at sea, stopping drug runners, or responding to oil spills, Coast Guard members are expected to be Always Ready. It’s their service motto.

More than a slogan, "Always Ready" personifies tenacity in Coast Guard members. It represents their mental and physical acuity critical to protecting our homeland.

In fact, extensive wellness assessments of every Coast Guard member begin long before they enlist.

The Boston Military Entrance Processing Station is one of 65 MEPS nationwide where about 500 Coast Guard applicants are processed each year. Although the Coast Guard is the smallest branch of the military, with about 3,400 people serving in the Northeast, the military entrance process is similar for each service.

At the Boston MEPS, applicants line up daily at 6 a.m. to be screened for military aptitude, physical and mental health, and receive a background evaluation before they swear-in to service.

Not everyone makes the cut.

Coast Guard petty officers assigned to the Boston MEPS staff serve as go-betweens for recruiters and aspirant Coast Guard members. They are mentors who answer questions, calm nerves and sometimes serve as bearers of bad news.

“One of the most difficult parts of my job is telling someone, whose dream is to join the Coast Guard, they don’t qualify,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class David Robey, Boston MEPS’s Coast Guard liaison.

Coast Guard members are entrusted to safeguard our nation’s borders and save lives at sea. Regardless of desire, some people do not harbor the mental and physical endurance to serve.

Robey, one of two Coast Guard petty officers assigned to Boston MEPS, said only about 21 percent of applicants make it through the Coast Guard entry process their first try and some never make it through at all.

Robey said his job is tough and incredibly rewarding.

“There is nothing abstract about what I do,” Robey said. “I help people begin Coast Guard careers.”

To assist applicants with the medical portion of their entrance process, Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Shoemaker works with a multi-service and civilian medical team to assess and examine each military applicant.

At the beginning of each exam, vital signs are taken and identifying information, like hair and eye color, is documented for service records.

Each applicant is examined for past injuries and receives a mental health screening.

Coast Guard men and women regularly work in harsh, unpredictable environments and must be emotionally ready to deploy by air or sea in a moment’s notice.

“The applicants are generally quiet, some are nervous,” said Shoemaker. “I talk them through what we are doing and build confidence about their choice to serve.”

He said when he works with an applicant headed into the Coast Guard, he inquires about their goals and what they are excited and nervous about. He answers a lot of questions about what it’s like to serve.

“What the applicants go through in MEPS is life-changing for them and their families,” said Coast Guard Lt. Steve Arguelles, the executive officer at MEPS who oversees the applicant process.

Arguelles said a lot of the applicants don’t comprehend the scope of what lies ahead of them.

“One of the men or women who process here soon could be the next soldier running across the battlefield or Coast Guardsman saving a life,” he said.

After a Coast Guard applicant completes requirements at the MEPS, and is deemed fit for duty, he or she will transition from Coast Guard applicant to recruit at Coast Guard basic training in Cape May, New Jersey. Here, recruits must demonstrate they are ready and able to save lives.

Through a plethora of difficult physical, mental and emotional tasks, recruits experience stressors parallel to what Coast Guardsmen defy daily.

Routine Coast Guard missions, like waking at 3 a.m. to save a fisherman aboard a sinking boat or searching days for a child who was swept out to sea in a rip current, require durable emotional and physical stamina.

These types of scenarios cannot be re-enacted in basic training, but day and night, different stressful scenarios test recruits’ emotional breaking points.

After proving resiliency, recruits receive long-awaited orders to join the fleet. Days after graduating basic training, new Coast Guard members are aboard rescue boats, underway on cutters and flying in aircraft immersed in Coast Guard missions.

To maintain healthful minds and bodies, and mission proficiency, Coast Guard members, new and seasoned, have a multitude of support available to them and their families. Through resources such as the Coast Guard’s health, safety, and work-life programs, chaplains and critical incident stress management professionals, Coast Guard men and women embody mission proficiency and live Always Ready.

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Basic Training/Boot Camp