Question about career paths

Discussion in 'Coast Guard Academy - USCGA' started by 2020Intel, Aug 9, 2015.

  1. 2020Intel

    2020Intel Member

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    I am applying to USAFA but today I started doing some research on the Coast Guard and I have a few questions/comments..

    I am not sure what I exactly I want to do in the military but I have narrowed my interests down to a few things.

    -Intelligence Officer
    -Pilot (specifically helicopters)

    After one of my instructors told me about the high retention rates in the CG I figured it warranted a look. And the more I read about it and the academy, the more interested I became. So with that in mind:

    1. It looks like you can't be an Intelligence Officer right out of graduation but after the first tour how competitive is it.. IOW would I have a good chance of transitioning to that field if I work hard, have good scores, etc. Does anyone know how the numbers play out on that one?

    2. I read on the website that about 1/10 go into aviation out of the CGA. Does anyone know how many people apply for aviation? How competitive is it to get a slot? Does anyone know the breakdown of rotary wing to fixed wing pilots?

    3. Is it possible to try to branch aviation and after training and a tour or two, eventually end up as an Intelligence Officer? IOWs, would it be possible to do both at some point in my career? I read somewhere that there are a lot more possibilities for doing different career tracks than in the other branches, how valid is that?

    4. Is what my instructor says about retention true? In your opinion what makes the CG so appealing/attractive to stay in

    5. Do you think I have a better chance of being either an intel officer or helicopter pilot at CGA compared to USAFA?

    Thank you
     
  2. Jcc123

    Jcc123 Member

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    Given your interest in rotary wing aviation, I'm surprised Army isn't first on your list. They have, by far, the greatest number of helicopters. In addition to this, it's the only service (that I'm aware of - and someone will correct me if I'm wrong!) that allows pilots to train as intelligence officers a few years into their career. Google DA PAM 600-3 and look into career field 15C Aviation All Source Intelligence Officer. Essentially you branch aviation, train and fly as a pilot for the first few years, then attend MI training. From that point on, you're qualified as both an aviation officer and an intelligence officer and generally alternate assignments for the balance of your career.

    Keep in mind, aviation isn't the easiest branch to get, as it's popular and there are generally only 150-200 slots per year, but it's certainly doable out of either ROTC or USMA. Good luck to you!
     
  3. 2020Intel

    2020Intel Member

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    Wow thank you for your response, @Jcc123. I definitely need to do some more research.

    I have always leaned toward Air Force, probably because I am in AFJROTC at my school so I've had more exposure to it. But I want to do my due diligence when researching the other services. I recently read that in the army a lot of the flying gets done by warrant officers, not so much by officers. But in a perfect world I would get the opportunity to do both (fly helos and work in intel), so I am going to look into the army more.
     
  4. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006

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    I'll preface this with, I was never a pilot but I was an assistant intelligence officer on a cutter (which didn't mean much).

    1. You can't be an intelligence officer straight out, as your primary duty, but you'll have some opportunities at a sector or on a cutter to dabble in it. I think that experience helps with the process (and let's you know if being an intel officer is something you really want to do). If you show that you have some idea or experience with intel, it wouldn't hurt with assignment officers (this is true for any specialty).

    2. Flight school straight out of CGA is competitive. Before 2004 all cadets went to a cutter first tour. Now each year a certain number will be able to go to flight school. I don't know how many applied, but I know many who don't make flight school the first time apply after their first assignment. Three of the junior officers on my first cutter (two classmates, and one guy from the class ahead) applied to flight school. One was disqualified because of his eyes, but the other two were picked up for flight school. So, if you don't get flight school straight out of CGA, you can still apply later. The hel0 v. fixed wing is determined at flight school, so everyone starts the same and then focuses more on a specific kind of airframe.

    3. It's probably possible, but I'm not sure how likely. The Coast Guard will pay a lot to send you to flight school. Most pilots seem to alternate between flying billets and staff tours that are related to aviation. On the other side of that coin, intel officers have training requirements and need experience. It's hard to get that experience if you're flying all day.

    4. The Coast Guard is a much smaller and likely more personally service. CGA supplies the officer corps with 40% of the officers. Once you graduate you'll still have a pretty tight network of CGA graduates (the percentages are much lower in the other services). It probably doesn't hurt that you'll spend more time at home with the family. I think CGA also gives cadets a good feel for what opportunities are out there for junior officers, and generally everything is open to an officer.

    5. I think the intel officer track is much less sexy than many think it will be. I have no idea how much intel is a part of the Air Force. I'm sure the Air Force has more intel positions, but it also has more people competing for those positions. I think you will have more helo opportunities coming out of CGA than AFA or even the Army. Yes, there are more helos in the Army, but there are also many more pilots (or people who want to be pilots).
     
  5. AlexT

    AlexT Banned

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    2020Intel,

    I believe you are correct in your assessment regarding warrant officers flying helicopters in the Army. Over the past few years, I have become aware of more than one Army officer flying helicopters that has been attempting to transfer to the CG through the Coast Guard's DCO program because they weren't getting enough flying time in the Army. Whether their experience is typical or not, I can't say.
     
  6. Usnavy2019

    Usnavy2019 Member

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    I have heard that helicopters are also a hard get from the USAF side. I believe there are very few drops (1-3) for Helos at UPT. A larger number go to T-38 (Fighter Jets) and the vast majority of UPT graduates go to the T-1 (Tankers, C-130, C-5, C-17, etc.). Pima would be a good person to talk to about UPT if you want. You can find Pima usually on the USAFA , ROTC, or DoDMERB forums.
     
  7. 2020Intel

    2020Intel Member

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    Thanks for all the responses everyone! So this post turned out way longer than I thought, but I just want to list what I am getting from this so far, please correct me if I am wrong. Also I realized after I typed it that I have asked some specific questions about the different branches, so I might modify this post and start a thread in the other forums..

    AFA:
    -Helo opportunities are limited due to the small # of people selected per each UPT class. I assume each year the competitiveness varies depending on how many people seek helos, but there are definitely lower amounts of available slots when compared to Coast Guard and Army.
    -Intel opportunities (looked at an old thread and it looks like there are about 40-60 per year, give or take).
    -AF has a pretty good lifestyle, corporate-like compared to other branches
    -Very unlikely chance of doing both flying and intel, though I have read about intel officers being apart of aircrews (terminology?). Unless there is a program similar to the army's (but I haven't read anything about that so far)?

    CGA:
    -Flight school is competitive right out of the academy (1/10 selected according to the website). So that would be like what, about 20-30. But there are opportunities to reapply during first tour(s?) so chances are pretty good that eventually (assuming medically qualified which I don't know, but don't see why I wouldn't be as of now) I can go.
    -Intel opportunities (not directly out of the academy but can have a chance to experience parts of it).
    -Good branch for a family, lots of time spent at home base (does anyone feel like comparing AF with CG in terms of deployments/lifestyle?)
    -Close knit, more so than the other branches
    -Unlikely to be able to do both flying and intel (different fields that require different experiences, probably similar reasoning for AF as well)

    MA:
    -Helo opportunities are competitive (150-200) slots per year. I assume aviation is probably a sought after branch though probably not as much as infantry or armor..
    -Intel opportunities (I believe I read online, will go back and fact-check, that there were about 40-60 as well) are similar to Air Force. From the DA PAM 600-3 it looks like there are a lot of different intel officer roles/types. I have not seen any information about the Air Force on this; would it be safe to assume that there are a comparable number of slots but more diversity in career options in the Army (not to say that there wouldn't be any in the Air Force).
    -It looks like this is the only branch that has a direct career path for a helo pilot to eventually become an intel officer. Does anyone have experience with that or with how the process works for trying to do an intel assignment at the Captain level?
    -However, one poster said that they know a lot of army pilots trying to switch over to coast guard in order to fly more..
    -Does anyone know the time commitment of attending flight school (is it 10 years after pinning, like in AF)? What about Coast Guard?

    So I think it is safe to say that if I want to do both at some point in my career, then Army is the way. But since I am only a high school senior, I know priorities/ambitions change. If I want to be an Intel officer through and through, then probably Army or Air Force since I can go to that route directly out of the academy, though Coast Guard could be a possibility. If I want to be a straight up helicopter pilot it looks like either Army or Coast Guard. Army pilots potentially fly less, but that is probably a combination of warrant officers and those additional duties/roles (like being involved in intel). And if I end up doing a complete 180 and don't want any of those career fields, then idk. This thread is interesting/eye opening because my original first choice (Air Force) seems to be the one that provides the least amount of options for what I currently want.. The only thing it has going for it (for me) is my initial bias/interest and the lifestyle. It looks like Army might be a safe bet assuming that my intended career choices stay the same. Coast Guard is less known (to me at least) but the more I read about it the more interested I become. It seems like everyone has enjoyed their time in it. So does anyone have a negative experience with the coast guard? I particularly like its mission which in my eyes is a lot more defense/law enforcement oriented than war-winning (I don't want to debate this, I know CG is military, I am just saying that the missions appear different and I like the CG mission slightly more, the more I read into it).

    Now for the inevitable: exit opportunities. I don't know how long I intend to serve, but I know it will be between 5-25 years :) . AFA and MA seem to have a lot more recognition than CGA (in terms of academies and services themselves) in the civilians. For example my family is non-military and we did not even know about the CGA until recently, or the scope of its mission. What is your experience with your employers? I intend to continue serving in the public sector or maybe some activist/think tank group so I hope each will be treated to a high degree.

    This might make me seem wishy-washy and like I am overcomplicating things. But as of Friday I was only applying to AFA. Now I live in a competitive state with early nomination deadlines (sept) and only one academy can be written on the applications. I intended on mailing in my application this week to get it in early, but I want to get some stuff straight, because I think it is now in my best interests to change one of my applications to USMA instead of USAFA.

    If you read this far then you sir/ma'am are a champ. Thanks for any insight/advice you may have.
     
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  8. AlexT

    AlexT Banned

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    Just to clarify, I don't think anybody said that "they know a lot of Army pilots trying to switch over to coast guard in order to fly more." I said I was aware of more than one. I can't recall the exact number that I have encountered, but it certainly was not "a lot" and small enough to be counted on one hand. The reasons they cited, however, were as indicated.
     
  9. Usnavy2019

    Usnavy2019 Member

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    Intel2020,

    Great job laying everything out! It is a good way to narrow down your choices. Flight School out of CGA is not as hard as you think. While I do not attend CGA (I attend Mass. Maritime Academy), I have talked to a lot of CGA cadets and I actually sailed on EAGLE for a week. Keep in mind that not everyone at CGA wants to be a pilot. A lot of people go because they love the sea, service, law enforcement, search and rescue, etc. I have heard that around 40 ultimately apply for it. There are many interested applicants, but usually the Flight Physical gets them. You see more than one person get the dreaded "but the eyes." However, like you figured out, that is not the end of the road. You can go to a ship or shore unit, be a kick butt Junior Officer, and put in a package. You can get corrective eye surgery in to meet the vision regs while in the CG, if necessary. I have heard people say more than once that if you want to be a pilot in the CG, you have a good chance of being one. People usually get picked up on their 1-3rd try out of their commissioning source. Just keep at it!

    For West Point, you are correct in saying that Aviation is a popular branch, but not the most popular. A lot of people go to West Point to be in Combat Arms. One way to ensure Aviation out of WP is a branch selection called ADSO. ADSO stands for Active Duty Service Obligation. This is a deal that gives you your #1 Branch Choice (Aviation for you) in exchange for years added to your minimum service obligation. This allows the Army to keep you and this allows you to have a job you enjoy and when you are happy, you tend to perform better. Just be sure that you look up the Army flight regulations. You may know you incur extra years for attending flight school. The ADSO will be added on to your obligation after you get your wings.

    I have not heard any negative experiences about being in the CG. Sure, it has its rough days, but everything does. I think people do like the change in mission (Search and Rescue/Law Enforcement vs. War Fighting) and I have heard that they enjoy the fact that the CG has an everyday mission. They conduct law enforcement ops and SAR cases every day. The USCGC Stratton just landed a $181 million cocaine bust a few days ago.

    Just a couple of caveats:

    1. These five words will control your life in the military: "The needs of the service." The branches try and work with you so they can find something mutually agreeable, but the needs of the service trumps all. CGA might need you to go a cutter before flight school or the Army will assign you to a small fixed-wing aircraft (slim, but still possible). People are sometimes initially disappointed, but most people end of up loving what they do, even if it wasn't their first choice to begin with.

    2. Most officers start flying desks at O-4 (Major/Lieutenant Commander). You still will fly as every aviator has a minimum amount of hours, but it won't be as frequent as Junior Officers.

    I also encourage you to apply to CGA as it is the only service academy to not require a nomination to get an appointment. Best of luck!
     
  10. Hurricane12

    Hurricane12 USNA 2012

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    I'll just point out that the other two services that haven't been mentioned yet also have helicopters and intelligence officers.

    There's the chance you could fly dirty half-breed plopters (Ospreys), but generally the odds are very in your favor in both the Navy and USMC if you want to fly helicopters.
     
  11. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006

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    I guess the other thing that should be mentioned is related to missions. While a time without war seems like a distant memory, it's good to remember that your primary Coast Guard missions, especially as a pilot, are the same in war time and peace. In the past the rallying cry was "we spend most of our time actually doing our job, not just training for it."

    And a big downside to the Coast Guard is its budget. I think the Coast Guard brings some of this on itself. Instead of saying "we can do that…." it's constantly doing more with less….. well, eventually it will break. Yes, we can pretend that it's "honorable" but in reality, it's not a smart approach.
     
  12. CessnaMan

    CessnaMan Member

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    Not sure if your goal is civil aviation after the service but most employers (airlines, part 135 operators, etc) want fixed wing multi-engine turbine time. So, all that heli time may not position you for a flying job post military...

    On the other hand, the intel jobs might position you for a job with the CIA, FBI, Secret Service, DEA, etc.

    Howard
     
  13. 2020Intel

    2020Intel Member

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    Once again thanks for the new responses. I may have assumed too much when I read that some army pilots are trying to move over to coast guard. Also in regards to the other branches, I am not looking at Navy because intelligence is a restricted line career field (I hope I have the terminology correct). And I know the Marines have intel officers and helo pilots but I am not really interested in the branch.

    In terms of what I want to do when I get out, I would like to work in the public sector (so not really interested in flying outside of the military). I would be interested in working for the DOD, DHS, Department of State or Intelligence Community... I don't really have a firm ambition in that regard yet. I just know I want to continue working in the federal government.

    I have decided that I primarily want to be an intelligence officer. That has always been in my mind since I started my application. It was only recently that I looked into helo pilot opportunities. And I actually started looking more in depth because Coast Guard the search and rescue mission seemed so awesome and meaningful. I am aware that one of the roles of helo pilots in the Air Force is Combat Search and Rescue. Does anyone know if the Army has similar missions? If I was to be a helo pilot that would be my choice. Anyway the point is that my primary career goal is to be an intelligence officer because I want to learn analysis skills that can support the mission and decision-makers.

    With that in mind, I have continued doing more research into the different branches' missions. I find the Air Force and Coast Guard missions to be very appealing. I also find their lifestyles more appealing than the other branches. I liked the idea of being able to branch aviation in the Army and then eventually become an intelligence officer, but I don't feel as passionate about the branch/mission as I do with Air Force and Coast Guard. I don't know if it is just bias, but I don't think I would thrive under/enjoy the Army or its lifestyle (same with the Navy and Marines).

    So I think I will continue going all out for AFA and start my CGA application.

    -If any of you are government or operations research/computer analysis majors, how do you like them? Those are the two that I am interested in.
    -Also, I have heard that the CGA is the most strict/disciplined out of all the academies. True?
     
  14. F15DOC

    F15DOC Member

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    Great thread. Here is my little piece about USCGA and flying.
    As an ANG flight doc I occasionally fly with the local USCG air station (because I love their mission and I love helos) it is great flying and real missions every day.
    On my last flight, both of the pilots were very young, only out of flight school for about a year and both at their first station.
    Both were USCGA graduates, apparently it is exceedingly rare to become a USCG helo pilot if you did not also attend the USGCA. This was from their mouths, not mine.
    It is also exceedingly rare to go directly to flight school right out of the academy, it has recently changed on how they can achieve this.
    Previously it never occurred. All USCGA graduates had to first be on a boat, and then may apply to flight school after that.
    Now there are a precious few slots that may go aviation directly from the academy. One of the young pilots I flew with was one of those lucky few and he said that less than 5 were selected from his class to go directly from the academy to flight school.
    I have no insight into the Intel side of USCG.
    That's my piece, hope it helps.
     
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  15. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006

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    Flight school straight from CGA changed 11 years ago. Sometimes 10 cadets are picked up for flight school, sometimes 20... It really depends on the year. My year I believe 12 of my classmates went directly to flight school.
     
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  16. Physicsguru

    Physicsguru Member

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    I'm also impressed with your work, but please continue to do your research. For starters, restricted line does not mean restricted career. In the navy, there are unrestricted line officers, who are eligible for command of sea and shore units, and restricted line, where command is limited to that specific community. For example, an aviator (unrestricted line) can command an intelligence center, but an intel officer cannot command a squadron.

    Intel is a viable and important career in the navy. As an Ensign, intel officers process information and give combat briefings. As you go further up in your career, you can be in charge of the intelligence department aboard a carrier or a naval station, as well as work with intelligence officers from other services and countries at joint intellegence centers. The head of the Navy Intelligence community is the Director of Naval Intelligence, a three star Vice Admiral.

    In summary, you can find a strong career in intelligence in any of the services. If you choose to follow the intel path, I suggest you base your decision on the culture of the service, the location of centers, and mission more than which service has the best career path.

    Oh, and in the navy we have these things called SH 46, SH 53, SH 60, and V 22 :)

    One last item. Many intel officers were first line officers (avaition, surface, subs, SEAL). Once you get qualified in a warfare specialty, you can lateral transfer into any restricted line community, like intel, cryptology, information dominance, etc.

    Good luck.
     
  17. 2020Intel

    2020Intel Member

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    Thank you @Physicsguru for the clarification regarding restricted line vs unrestricted line.

    I will continue to focus on this because ultimately I would happy doing anything in a branch that has the culture/lifestyle/mission that I like. Like you said the opportunity for a good career in intel is available in all branches. So I will see which branch aligns more with my preferences. Thanks
     
  18. cga82

    cga82 Banned

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    Right on F15DOC, It has always been very difficult to gain entrance into Naval Flight. It took me 3 times applying after my first tour(2yrs which entended to 3yrs u/w-back then a min of 2yrs at sea was required of Academy guys). It all comes down to the needs of the service to fill slots. The same is true with which Airframe you will be flying. Once, You get thru T6's (prior to completion acro/intermediate/x-country-forget which is last) and then the needs of service along with your grades will determine if you go helios opposite side of the field at whiting or fixed wing in Corpus Christi. Then at winging you'll find out which specific airframe you will transition to.
     
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2015
  19. Cidgrad130

    Cidgrad130 Member

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    To the OP, I'll weigh-in as recently retired USAF. The likelihood of some kind of hybrid intel/aviation career in today's AF is very slim. There is a path to move from a support officer position (like intel) to a rated officer position (pilot/nav/wso) - but the timing has to be right (in other words - very early in your career) and the needs of the AF determine how often/many slots are awarded. If you can pass a class 1 flight physical, your chances of a flight school slot are probably the best right out of USAFA (as opposed to the other service academies). You also have a great chance to get an intel slot out of USAFA - historically speaking, these slots are second/third choices for folks coming out of the zoo. The good news is you don't need to make a decision about career path at USAFA right away - so you will get to see a glimpse of most career fields before deciding for yourself (as you do at all the service academies).


    Now for the bad news about making your goals come true in the AF. As has already been said, there are very few slots for rotor wing out of UPT. What happens for most classes are zero rotor slots at the track selection drop (where you track communities). Here is a quick rundown of how the AF tracks at UPT. You will essentially get tracked twice - once into a community (fighter/bomber, tanker/transport, rotor) after initial in T-6s and then later (after intermediate phase in T-38s/T-1s/T-44s/Rotor) into a specific weapon system (F-16/F-35/B-1/B-52/C-17/C-130/KC-135/HH-60/CV-22/etc.). Your goal is to do as well as you can at UPT so you get to choose the available option that appeals to you the most. You (and the leadership at UPT) will have no way of knowing what will be available in the drop until it actually occurs (for a variety of reasons). There also remains some subjectivity to your rankings in the form of “flight commander rating.” So even if you ace all the academics, checkrides, and stand-ups – the flight commander rating can still drop you down the ranking.


    So a theoretical scenario would look like this: You start your UPT class with 20 eager students. Four of them fail out in primary – so will never track. You get pretty good grades and do well on your evaluations. Your whole class compares performance and you come up with an estimated class ranking of 6 out of 16. The day before your drop the flight commander briefs the slots – 10 Tanker/Transport, 5 Fighter/Bomber, 1 Rotor. You lucked out because it is early in the fiscal year and the personnel center projects the need for another rotor pilot. The drop happens and they begin to call each person to the front to claim their track. You might fall anywhere between 4-10 depending on the flight commander rating…if the rotor slot is still on the board when you get to select – you get to take it – if not, you succumb to the needs of the AF.


    It works out great if you are the 1 student in your class who wants to track rotor and the class gets at least 1 rotor slot at track selection...but that is rare. Surprises always seem to happen on drop night because students play their cards close to their chest or lose the slot they wanted to someone who is ranked higher, which then starts a domino effect. There are good things about all the communities - and you would be in the minority of students if you maintain your desire to track rotor (so you have that going for you). If you do get to track rotor after initial, you will go to Ft. Rucker and then track select to specific weapon system at the end of that phase.


    So, assuming that you can pass the flight physical, get a flight slot, get a rotor slot, and get your desired weapon system - the AF is not likely to transition you out of the cockpit until much later in your career for a staff position (not to be confused with a support position). Bottom line, the two careers (pilot vs. intel officer) are mutually exclusive – the best advice is to do whatever job you are in the best you can. If you follow that simple philosophy, you’ll have a good career in whichever of the branches you choose.
     
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  20. SueRI

    SueRI Member

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    So does this mean that the Coast Guard graduate gets paid less than a graduate of another Academy??
     

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