Hehe, well first the link you provided is a concept drawling of a cutter that has already been built. The National Security Cutter is my avatar. One of my shipmates here will be the first 1LT onboard.
But to your question.
Way back when, I thought that the military MUST be for idiots, I mean, why would anyone want lower pay and to be away from family. This was my thought through middle school into high school. My junior year I attended Tennessee Boys' State, and had a great Army captain as a group leader. I didn't know anything about the military, except for my subscription to the Air Force Association magazine and the Smithsonian's Air and Space magazines.
In the course of a week, we learned to march, and many times learned about the US Armed Forces. One day before a class some of the guys were just sitting around talking to the captain, Cpt. Shane Curtis, an Apache pilot, when they began to ask about different branches. Eventually someone brought up the Coast Guard, which I had NO image for. I didn't have a Coast Guard racing stripe in the back of my mind, nothing...Cpt. Curtis was very complimentary of the Coast Guard, said it was hard to get into. He said they had ball caps for covers (which the Navy does too).
That was the summer of 2001.
I got home and was really thinking US Army, but I thought my parents would consider that a poor option. I was happy to discover otherwise. My dad almost joint in the 70's to pay for medical school. As I looked more and more at it, I shifted my gaze from land to sea. I've always been landlocked, however I had been to the beach, but never on a ship. While I had originally been shooting for Wash U., I turned my focus to a newly discovered college...the federal service academy, and maybe because I had never been to sea, I focused in the sea services, and the academies associated with them. I applied to the US Coast Guard Academy, US Naval Academy, and US Merchant Marine Academy, and received LOAs to USNA and USMMA.
In the fall and event happened that I will never forget, I can remember the course of that day like it was yesterday. Tuesday, second period Honors English. Sept. 11, 2001.
That sealed the deal. On the inside of my CGA class ring is "Never Forget".
I had to decide between USCGA, USNA, and USMMA. At that point I knew what they Navy did, who didn't? Looking a little deeper, I discovered I would have more responsibility earlier in my career if I went Coast Guard. I appreciate both the defense side and the humanitarian side. I also saw the Coast Guard as an underappreciated, little known service. I liked the idea of doing your job, without constant nation thanksgiving, but with the pride to know you and your shipmates are working around the clock, in rough seas, without the glory or a national spotlight. The Coast Guard was still under the Dept. of Transportation at the time, but that would soon change.
Because of it's size and culture, the Coast Guard is a "people" organization, valuing it's members above cost cutting. We don't have huge bases, great golfing facilities, our ships are smaller, our budget is much smaller, but I think we have a great deal of pride in what we do.
Since I've joined we moved from Dept. of Transportation to the Dept. of Homeland Security, have responded to various natural disasters.
Some people will argue that Coasties are wusses (a PG-13 word, replaced the R-rated one) because it's not constant combat. The fact that the Coast Guard is operating even during peace time with it's primary missions is attractive to me. While many branches are 90% training and 10% operations (during peace time), the Coast Guard is generally 90% mission. I have friends in the Gulf, and I have classmates going soon.
We have 95,000 miles of coast line to patrol, as well as being deployed overseas, and we are smaller than the NYC police department. The VAST majority of commerce is conducted through ports, through shipping. While it is a branch of the military, the Coast Guard must work with federal, state and local entities and have the ability to speak "military" one second, and work well with civilian agencies and the US public the next.
I am happy to be a member of this branch, I find satisfaction in my mission, and I am able to work with some of the finest people this great country has to offer.