Life of a Junior Officer

Discussion in 'Life After the Academy' started by Full Metal Bulldog, Aug 22, 2014.

  1. Full Metal Bulldog

    Full Metal Bulldog Citadel Class of 2016

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    This forum is a plethora of info on some of the minute, nitty gritty details of being a JO, but there isn't too much about the typical daily grind of the life of one. Anyone care to share what's it like being a 2LT or an Ensign? When ya'll woke up in the morning or what you actually did at your desk? Was anything particularly difficult?

    College really does fly by fast, guys, and now I'm looking at what I'll actually be doing in the military on a day to day basis, and my questions are transitioning from "what sheets/shoe polish should I buy" to "what kind of vehicle should I purchase" or "where should I live".
     
  2. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006

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    It's going to be service-specific, and will largely vary within services depending on the operational community you're a part of.

    So here's what I'll try to tackle, first tour, junior officer of a U.S. Coast Guard cutter. I'm basing it on my experience.

    When thinking about your first tour on a Coast Guard cutter, think about it as life inport, and life underway.

    INPORT:

    Inport is a period to training. For the Coast Guard, as a junior officer on a cutter you will either be a deck watch officer (DWO) or an Engineering Officer in Training (EOIT). Independent of being a DWO or EOIT, in port you will learn about the ship, sign off different qualifications (such as learning about damage control), and you'll have the fun experience of tracing the fire main.

    You will also go to schools inport. Sometimes you may be at school for part of a patrol, but the goal for the command is to get you training while you're inport.

    In the Coast Guard you will go to a fire fighting/damage control school, where Navy squids will try to talk down to you and your shipmates until they find out you're smarter than them.

    You may go to Boarding Officer or Boarding Team member school at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Charleston, SC.

    I went to the Navy Electronic Key Management System (EKMS) manager school in Mayport, Fla., and the Coast Guard Public Affairs Course at the Defense Information School (DINFOS) at Ft. Meade, Md.

    EKMS was boring. DINFOS was fun.

    In addition to learning about the ship and your primary job as a DWO or EOIT, you also have to learn about your collateral duties (for instance, while I was in a DWO billet, my collateral duties, such as Assistant Operations Officer or Communications Officer are the jobs that allowed me to manage divisions. It was as the COMMO that I had petty officers under me. In that role, you also have to deal with administrative issues, your guys' jobs, leave, etc.

    And finally, in port, you will stand watches and work on different jobs to become inport (officer of the day or officer of the deck) OOD qualified. Until you get qualified, you are, in a way, taking up space. They want you in that duty rotation.


    UNDERWAY:

    Underway you also have things to learn. As a DWO you want to become underway OOD qualified. There will be other things to learn, such as the "rules of the road" for driving a ship, maritime law enforcement, how to use a sextant. When you first get there you'll "break in" under someone who is already qualified. They still have the responsiblity, but you'll be able to get your feet wet under their guidance. As your experience grows you'll take a more active role.

    You also have drills on board, ranging from "man overboard drills" to "abandoning ship". You'll have gun shoots. Maybe you'll work with a helicopter, landing and taking off on your flightdeck (if you have one). Maybe you'll work on small boat lowering/raising drills. When there's time, you may have a "swim call" where you get to swim next to the ship.

    You still have collateral duties. Underway, when I wasn't on the bridge on watch, I was in my folks' work area, seeing what they were doing, signing stuff off, talking about issues or projects, etc. As a leader you want to set your folks up for success, so making sure they're getting qualified or training or resting or working is important.

    My guys dealt with the navigation of the ship, communications equipment, classified material, the systems and electronics and operations. I was usually with the bridge BMs, in the ET shop, or in Combat Information Center/Radio Room.

    When I wasn't doing that, I was working on other collateral duties (such as public affairs officer, morale officer, etc.) in my stateroom. A lot of work also gets done in the wardroom.

    Underway, when you aren't doing those administrative things, other things are going on. Honestly, often other things are more important and you try to find the time to fit in your other responsibilities. Those other things depend on what you're doing. "Down south" we were doing migrant and drug interdiction. Funny thing was, migrants didn't really care about our schedules, so at any time, even while your plate is stacked high with all of you administrative duties, you have to stop 200 Haitians or 30 Cubans who don't really want to be picked up. In the north, it's a non-stop schedule of fisheries boardings. And no matter where you are, a search and rescue case is always a possibility.

    I remember the long days of waking up at 2- 2:30 a.m. to get ready for watch, doing on a round of the ship, checking in with engineering and CIC, and heading to the bridge around 2:45 a.m. or 3 a.m., getting my bearings, getting my night vision, talking to the off-going OOD and relieving the watch. I would then have a four hour watch, and that 4-8 a.m. watch was just not fun. So many things had to happen. Often stuff was going to happen in the morning, such as starting boardings or heading to a migrant boat. You could putze around all night, but by that 4-8 a.m. watch, at some point the captain or OPS was going to be there with directions to start off the day. You'd get off watch around 7:15-7:30 a.m., head down to grab a bite in the wardroom, and then start the work day. And if you were on "Double 4-8s" this routine would happen again until around 7:30 p.m. at which time you'd have some more administrative work to do (since 8 hours of the day were spent on watch), and then, after evening reports, you'd try to get a shower and be in your rack for 5-6 hours until your next round of watches.

    Double 4-8s was a hellish schedule, alone. But adding it the other duties you had, and then onboarding migrants or conducting a SAR case, could really beat down your reserves.

    Keep in mind, while you're doing this work, your "home" is moving. Nothing like being 30' above the water line in a 210' in 25' seas to try your nerves. The hope was for the first week you would ease into the rough stuff. I'll take 6-10' seas that first week. The motion made me tired. After that first week, throw 25-30' seas and we'll deal. The thing we didn't want to think about was hitting big seas the first week out before you have good sea legs.

    Now, in addition to your main job as a DWO or EOIT, and your collateral duties like being a COMMO or PAO, you'll also have weird jobs now and then we lumped into our SLJOs box. SLJO stands for "$hitty Little Jobs Officer". Being the preliminary investigation officer (PIO) for an investigation or planning and MCing a change of command or retirement ceremony would fall under SLJO.


    You will fail as a JO. You may fail often. You may start out as a crappy JO. Learn from your mistakes. Learn from and trust the people around you. Let every failure be a lesson for the future and you'll get better. Some jobs you'll love. Some jobs you'll hate. You'll have people working for you whose lives and future jobs depend on you doing the right thing. Praise people in public. Correct them in private. Don't be too hard or too easy on yourself.

    Long answer, but I hope it gives you SOME idea, already from the perspective of a first tour Coast Guard JO on a cutter.
     
  3. SamAca10

    SamAca10 Ensign - DWO

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    Super accurate to what I'm going through right now. "SLJO". I'm going to start using that term. They come up randomly and from time to time (like investigations), but they're important and need to get done...
     
  4. BR2011

    BR2011 USAFA Cadet

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    The first year you'll probably have a lot of schools to attend that are required to be a part of whatever specialty you're in. After that you're life will probably not be unlike someone your same age in the private sector. Go to work during the day, have nights and weekends off. More than likely your "day job" will be a lot of administrative tasks, supervising a division and other random tasking. Depending upon your branch of service you'll deploy or do exercises every so often. Outside of work you're free to be a young 20-something.
     
  5. NavyHoops

    NavyHoops Moderator

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    I was a Marine, so I can give you that perspective and will break it up by garrison vs field duty...

    Garrison duty is a mixed bag. More than likely as a new Lt in the Marines or Army you will be assigned a Platoon (or something similar to a platoon depending on language of service, unit, etc). If a platoon isn't open yet then they might stash you in a job like Assistant Ops Officer or training officer or some other amazing title. If you do get one of these jobs it tends to be a let down right off, but use the time to keep you eyes and ears open and mouth shut. You can learn a ton about how a Battalion or Squadron works. Also it will teach you how to support your platoon better.

    Day to day your job will be a mix of PT, pushing paper, dealing with good and bad Marines/soldiers, meetings, collateral jobs. Pushing paper is a mix of things. Writing awards, processing requests, writing evals, etc. Sometimes you might be writing ops orders, leading training (sometimes this is Service kind of stuff and others it might be MOS specific). Other times you may be setting up training evolutions for the entire platoon for things like ranges, gas chamber, etc. We also did smaller field things in garrison to practice patrolling, weapons handling, hikes, etc. Some of these require very little support so they can be done spur of the moment where a hike would require support. I had a technical MOS that required quals once we got out to the fleet. So we had a great deal of classes and qualifications we had to obtain. You also might have duty 1-2 times a month. Sometimes at Battalion level and sometimes a level up or base duty depending on Service and policies.

    You NCOs and SNCOs will mostly be doing alot of the inspections, PT, formations and general handling of the platoon. In the Marine Corps I think as a Platoon Commander I PT'd once a week with my Marines. I then let the Plt Sgt decide how it was broken up for other days. Its a great chance for small unit leadership. The other days I PT'd on my own or with other Lts. Just a note, once you get to the fleet/operating forces no one will hold your hand to work out. You must make time for it and stay on top of it.

    Now collateral jobs... oh the fun. You might be assigned to a slew of jobs within your unit such as education officer, casualty officer, legal officer, SORTS, CMC, etc. Some of these are time consuming, others are less so. Some of these jobs will require you to attend short schools. Then there are other things that are not collateral jobs but fall into the sh!tty little projects pile. These are things like leading command investigations, planning unit functions (such picnics, parties, dining ins), assisting with writing policies, orders, etc.

    Also you will probably have PME or other training to attend. In the USMC we have PME that is required to get promoted. Alot of these classes are held at night. There is also reading lists and other things. No one is going to make you do these, they will advise and suggest. But as an officer its your responsibility to seek out opportunities and ensure you are ready for promotion. This includes annual quals like rifle/pistol range, PT tests, tests, etc.

    Field/deployment times - This is probably where you will spend much more time actually doing your job. Leading patrols, setting up security, doing your MOS. Leading troops in the field. Yes this is much more fun and what we envision in school. But in order to get here and be successful you will have to have spent the time in garrison writing op orders, ensuring supplies, vehicles, chow, training areas are secured and all completed accurately. In the meantime you will have to have kept up on your own MOS proficiency while pushing paper.

    There are also other TAD opportunities. Generally they are for a few weeks and for a variety of things. Some are looking for additional staff for exercises, war games, simulations. Sometimes they need support for red cells or white cells. Also things like testing of new gear and user evaluations will bring in members from all over.

    I found a 1stLt who had just was about 6 months shy of Capt when I arrived. I picked his brain alot when I got there. We also had a handful of Warrant Officers in my unit. They were a great resource who I could talk to openly and they had years of experience and suggestions. Great question that was asked and hopefully this provides a tiny bit of info.
     
  6. raimius

    raimius USAFA Alumnus

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    In the aviation side, things vary quite a bit as well. In my unit, there are a couple different sets of shifts that must be filled, so you might work daytime hours, 24hr, 48hr, 72hr shifts, or as needed. Other days will be pure office work, and others still a mix of training flights and office work. No week is exactly the same as the last. Every officer also has additional duties. These may be simple or complex, and you might end up with a couple. Voting rep, safety officer, flight scheduler, maps and pubs officer, etc. As you go, you'll get put in charge of various shops, like training, scheduling, stan/eval, etc. New Lts will get pegged for the "SLJO" (I like it!) type stuff. It gives them a chance to get exposure and prove their capabilities without huge risks if they don't get it quite right. In the AF, fast movers often get jobs as executive officers for the commander (basically secretary/scheduler/projects officer), and are groomed for further advancement. As an AF pilot, there is a good chance that your "additional duties" will take up a majority of your time at home station.
     
  7. Spud

    Spud BGO

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    In his own inimitable way, Line in the Sand pretty well sums up a Navy JO's day aboard a destroyer too.
     
  8. USMCGrunt

    USMCGrunt Member

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    Great question and great responses thus far.

    I was a Marine Infantry Officer and wanted to tag onto NavyHoops' response.

    As a 2nd LT, it seemed we pulled "Officer of the Day" duty quite a bit. NavyHoops said 1-2 times, my experience was more than that. This is where you are in charge of the area/ unit while everyone else went home. You gain a lot of interesting experiences and leadership opportunities on duty like that.

    Physical training is a way of life. There is organized PT with your platoon, personal PT, intramurals, leagues, etc. I rode my bicycle 25 miles into and out of work each day. I had our platoon challenge any and all comers in tug-a-wars, relay races, rope climbing and virtually anything else (great way to build camaraderie).

    MBWA: "Manage by walking Around" - don't hide in an office or behind a desk. Get out there, set the example, observe your Marines and spend time getting to know them.

    Collateral jobs - NavyHoops was dead on. You would be surprised how often they need a LT to handle something.

    There will be lots of unplanned things that crop up for your Platoon - fighting fires, garbage pick up, etc. As NavyHoops stated, lots of planning but be prepared for changes.

    Time in the field was awesome and exactly as I had imagined (and trained for) it to be. In a way, most folks couldn't wait to get out of garrison and into the field so that they would have some of the mickey mouse stuff to do.

    One point regarding your first platoon/ unit: soak up every minute. Before you know it, you will transition to a new assignment and out of that direct leadership role.

    Like NavyHoops suggested: find that experienced 1st LT (mine was the XO of my company) who can offer advice and seek the input of your senior NCO's. That can really speed up the learning curve. The other thing I did was link up with fellow 2nd Lt's and compare notes. We would gather for a drinks, dinner or a BBQ and share the dumb things we did (and any smart ones - rare as that may be). Sharing learnings in a safe environment also helped speed up our learning curve.
     
  9. vampsoul

    vampsoul Candidate

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    As an Army 2LT, and I am sure it's the same for the other services, knowing the rules/regs that apply to you is crucial. The military is a big place, and it is easy to get lost in the system. Look up what monetary allowances you're entitled and keep an eye on your myPay for discrepancies, know what your specialty's key developmental positions are and set yourself up for success, and know what "right looks like" for your current position according to the FMs. Set up a meeting with your S1 and go over the propper format of things and where to find the right formats; this will keep your NCOERs, awards, ect from getting sent back a hundred times for errors and get your guys what they deserve in a timely fashion. Bottom line: read your manuals and doctrine. They exist for a reason.
     
  10. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006

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    My second Ops Boss used to ask, any time I came to him with something "did you look it up in the manual?"

    Sometimes the answer was no, so I've had to go back and look.

    After awhile I realized it was just his way to put off any kind of decision making. He had no idea what was in "the manual". It was his default response. Incidentally, he wasn't the best leader ever (oh and he was a prior Marine... which he liked to talk about). No fear, the Coast Guard promoted him.
     
  11. USMCGrunt

    USMCGrunt Member

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    Shoot! You have exposed the USMC program to ship our poor leaders to the USCG where they seem to excel! :shake:
     
  12. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006

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    My first experience witha prior Marine in the Coast Guard, was while I was a 3/c cadet. He was a DC2 on the Coast Guard Cutter Diligence. Nice guy. He had this GREAT scar across his face, from one corner to another (if faces had corners) that he got from a chainsaw accident. It was a very affective scar!

    That Ops Boss wasn't great, but he also followed a poor Ops Boss who also wasn't great. The first was a micro-manager, the second hands-off... it was a tough transition.
     
  13. USNA02

    USNA02 Parent

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    Good Question, Great Answers

    This is great stuff. I liked it so much I shared it with my Plebe at USNA and a slightly modified version with my sophomore at civilian college.

    Thanks, y'all!

    Email to my Plebe:

    There is an interesting thread on the SA Forum under the "Life after the Academy" heading called "Life of a Junior Officer".

    Several people post good information from various branches in response to the OP's question, what is it really like to be a JO. In fact, I love the OP's comment: "College really does fly by fast, guys, and now I'm looking at what I'll actually be doing in the military on a day to day basis, and my questions are transitioning from "what sheets/shoe polish should I buy" to "what kind of vehicle should I purchase" or "where should I live".

    It makes for interesting and, I think, important reading.

    Line in the Sand (LITS) is always one of my favorite posters, and his word carries a great deal of weight with me. I thought he laid it out pretty well.

    I know being a JO is a little ways off yet, but some of it applies even now:
    • It's not all fun and games and sometimes just plain sucks
    • Learn the term "SLJO" as that is what you, and everybody else, will be at first
    • You will fail as a JO. You may fail often. You may start out as a crappy JO. Learn from your mistakes. Learn from and trust the people around you. Let every failure be a lesson for the future and you'll get better.
    • Praise people in public, correct them in private
    • Some jobs you'll love. Some jobs you'll hate.
    • You'll have people working for you whose lives and future jobs depend on you doing the right thing.
    • Don't be too hard or too easy on yourself

    These are great points. Honestly, most of these apply to civilians as well as military folks and can be applicable any given day. These might be going up on my personal motivational board.

    IF you have a few spare minutes (I know, joke, right?!), read the thread.

    Love you,
    Mom
     
  14. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006

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    Awww, thanks for saying that!
     
  15. fencersmother

    fencersmother Founding Member

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    If you are USAF and at IFS then UPT, you can't expect it to be anything like what BR posted: Go to work during the day, have nights and weekends off.

    If you are lucky enough to get through IFS, your day at UPT will start at 3:30 and go till later in the afternoon. You'll then go home and study all night. Not much hitting the mall or going bowling.

    There are some days which are easier than others but mostly, it's the toughest year of your life.
     
  16. Jcleppe

    Jcleppe Member

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    As a JO there will be times when you just shake your head and roll your eyes....just don't do it when your CO can see you. Was sitting in a meeting once, the CO was in my mind a over zealous micro manager, but you deal with it. There was an 0-2 sitting next to me, the CO said something totally off the wall and the 0-2 rolled his eyes, the CO saw it and you can imagine the rest. Came time for his promotion board for 0-3 and he was passed over, the OER the CO wrote sunk him. Moral is keep your feelings deep inside.

    As a JO there will be opportunities to volunteer for things like planning the Ball, the golf tournament, and others, just remember that even though you volunteered there will be times your raked over the coals for something, all part of the game.

    One of the harder things to get used to is dealing with those that get into trouble, chaptering someone is never fun.

    The posters above have given some great advice, leaving school and going active can be a bit of a culture shock, just do your best, always keep learning, and learn to trust your NCO's
     
  17. USMCGrunt

    USMCGrunt Member

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    I believe you may have misread BR's post. The quote you used was what BR said happened after your initial schools.
     
  18. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006

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    BR2011 and fencermother are giving you a taste of how services are different.

    The Coast Guard and the Navy largely train folks at their units. Coast Guard and Navy JOs are "breaking in" watches to qualify as watchstanders. They're not only learning about their jobs and their units, but they're also "doing their jobs."

    What do I mean by that?

    Well, often soldiers, airmen and Marines go to schools after they receive their commissions. These aren't short one-week schools, but months and months. These schools teach them more about they "branches" within their service.

    In the Coast Guard, and I would venture to guess, the Navy, you WILL have schools, but these are specialty schools that last between a week and maybe a month or so. Most of the time you'll actually be doing what you joined to do (as opposed to going to school).

    Eventually in the Army, Marine Corps or Air Force, you'll finish those big long schools and go off to do the fun stuff. Your friends in the Coast Guard and Navy weren't at those big long school, they were learning in the school of hard knocks at their units.
     
  19. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006

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    Great advice, I'd like to add on to that. You will get angry and annoyed. There are things you will go through as JOs. Do NOT complain about it to the guys and gals who work for you. Do not belittle your supervisor, anyone in your chain of command, or anyone else's chain of command.... especially to the crew.

    Ships can feel like high school. The tone is set by the command.

    If we got angry or had to complain, it happened with a fellow JO in the privacy of our staterooms. That's fine. In fact, I think realizing others have the same issues as you can be healthy. Just make sure that the complaining and the cursing stays in that room.
     
  20. USMCGrunt

    USMCGrunt Member

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    Yep! Every Marine Officer goes to six months of TBS (The Basic School) and then on to another school to learn their particular MOS. In my case, another two months at Infantry Officer Course.

    I was on active duty for eight months before I finally hit the fleet and got my first platoon.
     

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