LITS confession

Discussion in 'Coast Guard Academy - USCGA' started by LineInTheSand, Nov 14, 2013.

  1. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006 5-Year Member

    Nov 25, 2007
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    I was tempted not to call it a confession but I wasn't sure exactly how to title this. I've been watching the back and forth on "Advice from a Midshipman" thread on USNA's area here and it touches on something I've seen before. I'm not sure the poster there has "owned" her mistakes and poor choices. I think it's easy to point fingers at everyone else for their involvement or influence.

    Leaving a service academy is almost always hard to explain. Either the reason you're leaving is "bad" or "not bad", but whichever reason it is, it will take plenty of explaining.

    Eventually those explanations morph into some kind of identity for the event. I worked with a civilian member of the Coast Guard who would have graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in 1995, had he not left. His first explanation was, he was a wild child and was going to go down for something, but resigned before he was going to be Masted. That's NOT a good reason for leaving. Eventually, as he explained to non-CGA folks, his reason for leaving was "the academy needed to cut numbers and offered to let him leave." Others will leave because it's tough, and later you'll hear "I left because I didn't want to kill people." Fair enough, but I don't buy that all the time.

    Still others will have an excuse "the academy didn't like me" or "my grades were bad because I was hazed."

    So now for me.... LITS.

    I graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in 2006. My first assignment was on a 210' ship. I got the "exciting" job of communications officer (aka I found myself in the radio/CIC space often). I was also the morale officer (and anyone who has been a morale officer knows morale officers have the lowest morale because of the frequent, but not always constructive feedback).

    I got through my first year on my 210', and things started to go downhill for me. My micromanaging Ops boss left and the new Ops boss was a "hands-off" kind of guy. I prefer "hands-off" but I didn't adapt and waited for his suggestions or orders (which is how you'd typically deal witha micromanager).

    I started to hate what I was doing and my work really suffered. I wasn't leading my guys the way I should have. I wasn't getting stuff done at the rate I should have. I hated my life on that ship, and I have no doubt it showed.

    And eventually that poor performance lead to a very poor "officer evaluation report" or OER (like a report card for officers).

    I tried to turn things around after the real wake-up call, but at that point I had probably lost too much ground. My next OER was much much better and my boss recognized it.

    I went to my next job, made my boss aware of the past poor OER.

    And then I excelled. I did really well. My OERs were great. I enjoyed what I was doing. My O-6 appreciate it, gave me great marks and did what he could to better my position.

    BUT..... JO OERs follow you, and eventually my promotion board came up, and good planner I was, the Coast Guard was starting to tighten its belt.

    I was passed over for promotion. That is the kiss-of-death for officer careers. Generally promotion boards at that level aren't blood-baths, but that year there were a higher number of "past-over" officers that had been alotted for.

    And then a year later, as usually happens, the second pass-over game, and at five years I left with an honorable discharge.

    Most JOs who aren't promoted got in trouble. A DUI, lost ammo, lost classified material, fraternization, etc. I wasn't passed over, because I did not do well in my first tour as a JO.

    Now, I'm not going to play dumb. I knew then that JO OERs stick with you for awhile. I knew that my bad OER might come back to haunt me. I know that it was in my power to do a better job. I knew that as miserable as I was, I could have worked through it. But I didn't, in 2007, and in 2010 that came back to bite me and in 2011 I left.

    I'm embarrassed by that. But it is a fact of life. After four years at an academy and five years as an officer, my life had to more in a different direction. I had other classmates who had to make the same choice. Some decided to join the reserves, but I figured, the Coast Guard was done with me, I would be done with it.

    But like cadets or midshipmen who leave their academies, it doesn't end there. The "why did you leave" or "why did you get out" questions come. Often I answer with "it was time." And then there were the "when are you going to make..." from fellow officers.

    I guess I find comfort in the fact that I didn't break rules or laws to leave. No, I didn't leave the way I wanted to, but it could have been worse. I could have been worse.

    Last year I ran into my old CO who signed my bad OER. He told me he regretted the way he handled it, and wished he had done things differently. To some degree that helps, but I told him that I had a major part in that OER and that I could have dug deeper to do better there.

    The realization that that Coast Guard career would end, whether I wanted it to or not, in less than 20 years, motivated me (as did a commander from my office) to apply to and attend grad school.

    And now, two years (nearing three years) later, I'm happier where I am, I make a good paycheck and I have more control over things. I'm not sure if that would have been the case had I remained, but unfortunately that wasn't a choice I had to make. I have used that experience, my failure, my poor judgement and, for awhile, my poor leadership, as learning experiences for the second half of the Coast Guard career and on the outside.

    It's true there are things my command could have done to "guide me" better. But that doesn't change the fact that I didn't "own" my career, and that I felt it better to tread water and drown than swim to win the race.

    It's hard to admit when something didn't go the way you wanted it to. It's difficult to admit you've failed. It's hard to take ownership that you own a part of that failure. But it's harder to let that go.

    This may catch some by surprise. It may hurt my credibility. There may be people on SAF who think "ah, makes sense... that's why I didn't like LITS," but this is the truth. I have made mistakes, and I haven't always owned my future. I have tried to learn from those mistakes, and have used those lessons for my future. And I have become much more successful now than I would have been because I have owned it and I have grown.
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2013
  2. USNA02

    USNA02 Parent

    Oct 21, 2013
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    Thank you, LITS!

    Thank you for sharing your journey. It's a great message and definitely timely given the other thread you mentioned. I will make sure DS reads this. You remain a valuable contributor on this site. Keep up the great work.
  3. grevar

    grevar CGA Admissions Partner

    Mar 5, 2013
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    From someone who has a son about to embark on a CG career, thank you! Your honesty and ability to "own your future" and your mistakes is refreshing.

    Since I've been reading these boards, you have been a valuable source of information and encouragement, not only to the CGA hopefuls, but all of the SA's

    I for one am very grateful that you can get real with the past, and educate others that things can go wrong for whatever the reason, and it is how we deal with that that will define who we are.

    LITS, hat's off to you friend.
  4. MedB

    MedB Parent

    Dec 26, 2012
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    Bravo for sharing.

    And inteded or not, your story WILL help someone else.

    NOTE: I still reserve the right to disagree with some of the stances you take on issues! :)
  5. Maplerock

    Maplerock Proud to be an American

    Jan 31, 2013
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    Well done LITS

    That's why you are uniquely qualified to address so many questions here. Your honesty is much appreciated.:thumb:
  6. kinnem

    kinnem Moderator 5-Year Member

    Oct 21, 2010
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    LITS, you certainly know how to grab people's attention with a subject line! How could I skip this thread! And then your heartfelt and interesting tale. Very valuable. I think, military or not, we all have something similar we can share. I certainly had a few failures in my 38 years at IBM and had to fight my way back to a position of respect and leadership. One can always "claw" their way back as you certainly did, whether with the same organization or another. Like we often say to kids on here, it's what you make of it. True of every endeavor. Thanks for sharing. My respect for you has shot even higher.
  7. Packer

    Packer 5-Year Member

    Feb 11, 2011
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    :thumb:The good and the bad experiences and how we deal with both are what make us who we are.
  8. haleym

    haleym 5-Year Member

    Mar 1, 2011
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    Thanks for the info and advice. I think many of us (cadets, mids, newly commissioned officers) forget that we will make mistakes. Many (myself included) have an issue with taking ownership of their situation and will often just push the blame on others. Making mistakes is not the issue. If one of my leaders, whoever it may be, messed up somewhere and simply blew it off, all of my respect would be lost. However, if the same person came forward and took responsibility, paid the price for their actions, and promised to do better next time, well- I couldn't ask any more of them.
    This does not discredit you in any way in my opinion. Actually, it makes me respect you more.
  9. Stevewar2

    Stevewar2 Member

    Oct 7, 2013
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    JO Issues

    Great thread. I am sending it to my soon to be 1LT son. He is a great person and a decent officer, but is sometimes not quick to accept his part in bad situations.
  10. burnerafter16

    burnerafter16 Member

    Mar 31, 2012
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    Having spent a considerable time reading through threads, varied views and arguments have definitely helped a lot especially when all we had was what the colorful brochure and the sales pitch of admissions. Having gone through the experience of application and acceptance to USCGA and other SAs, we were told of a retention rate of over 80% at USCG. It was touted as one of the highest of all the branches of service. It must have been quite a blow to get out under the circumstances you were dealt with regret but sharing your personal details does illuminate the reality of what other outcomes there are besides staying on as a lifer and living happily ever after commisioning. This is an excellent case study that future applicants,cadets,midshipmen and even newly minted JOs can learn from.
  11. runslikeajohndeere

    runslikeajohndeere 5-Year Member

    Feb 6, 2012
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    Will share with DS. Quite insightful from many perspectives, and a heartfelt thanks for sharing.

    Not being military like most of my family, I often wonder about boundaries of following orders and giving orders independently. DS, MSI, follows the letter of the law and asks good questions. I can only hope that course of action will take him through any rough waters ahead.

    Thanks much LITS,

    A father

    Sent using the Service Academy Forums® mobile app
  12. USMCGrunt

    USMCGrunt 5-Year Member

    Dec 13, 2010
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    I truly appreciate the candid and honest accounting of your experiences while on active duty. There were some tough lessons learned the hard way.

    Taking full accountability for your actions is an important quality to embrace in any walk of life. Learning from your mistakes is even more important. You have clearly done both and succeeded as a result.

    As you note, "I have used that experience, my failure, my poor judgement and, for awhile, my poor leadership, as learning experiences for the second half of the Coast Guard career and on the outside." We are all the sum of our successes and failures. Its a good lesson.

    I would like to focus on one particular aspect of your story : taking personal accountability for your career.

    Many of us spend a great deal of time on this forum trying to guide applicants for the academies or ROTC scholarships. We even provide guidance on branching, schools and other matters prior to commissioning . We don't often share sea stories like yours about life as a commissioned officer. Lets be honest: A military career as an officer (whether five years or thirty) is full of wonderful moments. But it also comes with some pretty bad ones. Some of these are in your control; others are not. There are great assignments and bad ones. Fantastic units and bad ones. Inspirational leaders and poor ones. Injustices and favoritism are balanced with high expectations and rewarding challenges. You get the point.

    What passed for a "learning moment" in one era will get you passed over in the next. We go through periods of risk takers and others of risk avoidance. In your case, it sounds like one bad OER finished your career. That was a reality in a period of downsizing. Logic says the same would be true today.

    So I hope future readers of your story will realize that you are being judged every day - by your men and your commanding officer. Bring your "A" game and constantly challenge yourself to be better. Seek self improvement. Focus on what you can control rather than what you can't. Develop a support network of peers who watch out for each other and pick up those who are struggling. Take accountability for your actions and learn from your mistakes. As you stated: "own your career." There are no guarantees except you will be a better person for it.

    Thanks for sharing your story.
  13. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006 5-Year Member

    Nov 25, 2007
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    Thanks to the replies and support from everyone.

    I thought about this thread a little more, and it kind of dawned on me, what would have been helpful as a cadet.

    Each year the Coast Guard Academy had interesting panels with alumni who went out, did a good job, and were successful. For the most part, the success was in their roles as Coast Guard officers, but now and then, alumni who succeeded in their lives after the Coast Guard were also included.

    Our (uniformed) professors were all pretty successful officers, either from CGA or another commissioning source. They had varying experiences. Many had one or more master's degrees, Ph.D.s, JDs, etc.

    As cadets we would read case studies "Cadet X did this.... was arrested" or "Petty Officer Y did this.... how would you handle it?"

    But what we never got was a panel of folks who could say "Hey, I was like you, here are my faults, and here's what you should guard against in your own affairs."

    That would have been an interesting panel. No doubt, Cadet LITS would have judged them. "Uh, slashmates... slackers.... couldn't cut it." A degree of that kind of thought is normal, expected.

    But it would have been valuable, to me, to hear from someone who could tell me "if you try to skate by, you may fall."

    Not so much a rallying cry to get out as a failure, or a "scared straight" session, but a reminder that not every graduate is going to walk in space or join the SEALs. Some will stumble. Why not hear from them, and try to avoid it in their future careers?

    Granted, the other side of that is, how does the Coast Guard ask its less stellar has-beens to come and speak about how they failed as officers?

    Regardless, I think it would be a valuable experience for cadets.
  14. Tigger

    Tigger 5-Year Member

    Apr 9, 2012
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    Okay, with the subject line of your post I had to read it! And I must say I was "blown away" and even "speechless"...I kid, I kid! :biggrin:

    Seriously, hands down best post I've ever read of yours. It takes maturity and caring for others to share so honestly what your experience was and how you learned from it.

    You are so not alone when it comes to this though. I often say I live my life as a warning to others:wink: I tell my kids that they will make mistakes and that if they can learn from it, then it has meaning and purpose and can become an interesting part of their story. That you did so and shared with others only increases your credibility. Does it mean I will agree with you more often now? Who knows! But I will certainly know where you are coming from and that is priceless.

    Thanks for sharing.
  15. bluenoseshellback

    bluenoseshellback 5-Year Member

    Oct 3, 2011
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    I'm a long time lurker and CGA grad. I was basically the complete opposite of LITS, a complete train wreck as a cadet who more or less cleaned up their act once they graduated.

    What they forget to mention at CGA is that the LT board since apparently the class of '06 until the class of '10 (last class that went for LT) has had a stated opportunity of selection at 88%, meaning that of all the people going for LT the first time they're going to choose 88% of them although the actual is lower due to them picking up people the 2nd time. (The promotion message for this year is online if you want to look it up.)

    So in 4 years we're going to cut say 15% of your class. Who are you going to cut? The people with DUIs and who have been masted are easy, but that probably won't fill up the 15%, who's next? Some of the names missing aren't all that surprising but some of them seriously make you wonder what they could possibly have done (and some of those don't have an obvious reason.)

    So how to avoid being one of the 15%? To quote a master chief I work with "It's not about not making mistakes as a JO it's about not exceeding your quota for mistakes." As an ENS you are pretty much guaranteed to do something stupid and it's expected but the key is to learn from it and not let yourself go into a downward spiral.

    Hopefully that wasn't too depressing, most of the people reading this will most likely be fine. Just go out there, work hard and don't forget to have fun. Seriously the Coast Guard can be incredibly fun, it's what you make of it.
  16. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006 5-Year Member

    Nov 25, 2007
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    Good points. If you think around 15% of a class won't get picked up for promotion to LT, in a class, that's about 30 classmates. Keep in mind, the promotion rates in the past have also been higher, and could be higher or lower in the future.

    I'm not sure if I agree with the master chief's idea of "not exceeding quota for mistakes." Not "getting it done" is less of a mistake and more of a state of being. Skating by won't meet your quota, but it may make you a prime pick for one of the 15% that didn't make a specific mistake.

    Another good point, the work you did or didn't do at the Academy will not be you "in the fleet." Bad cadet? Once you cross the state, who cares? You can define yourself as a fine officer. You will have classmates who you thought were great you aren't promoted and you'll have classmates who you thought were really not impressive at the Academy, but turn out to be really great leaders and officers.

    You will define your career. You have four years to define your Coast Guard Academy career. But once you graduate, you will have an opportunity to largely define your officer career.

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