February 06, 2020
When I was a Non-Rate fresh out of boot camp in the fall of 2011, I had a supervisor give me a great piece of advice. Before getting into it, let me fill you in on what a Coast Guard non-rate is! When you graduate USCG Boot Camp, you are either an E-2 or E-3. This is the designated non-rate ranks and you do not advance to E-4 until you’ve completed A-school or the equivalent training. As a non-rate in the Coast Guard, your job is to work alongside rated members and do the jobs that they don’t want to do or don’t have the time to do. This largely means you’ll be doing a lot of cleaning, mess cooking, boat inspections, painting, lawn mowing, etc. The trade-off is you get to work at various units and see what the daily life of each particular job is.
One morning, I got to work and one of my supervisors told me that the non-rates were going to clean all of the unit’s bathrooms. Understandably, I wasn’t too excited to get going, but I proceeded to get all of the supplies needed to start. About an hour into my work, the units BM1 stopped by to see what we were up to. I had only been at the unit for a couple months, so I wasn’t too familiar with him. We got into a conversation about my future plans and he asked me what A-School list I wanted to put my name on. I told him I wanted to be a rescue swimmer, he gave me a quick smirk and just stood there for a second. He then proceeded to tell me that he had never had a non-rate that worked for him make it through swimmer school. This was pretty shocking to hear, as BM’s work regularly with non-rates and he had been in the Coast Guard for well over 10 years. Shortly after telling me this, he gave me a great piece of advice.
Note this is an approximation of what he said, as it’s been about nine years since I received this advice! “If you really want to be a rescue swimmer. You’re going to have to prove it every day. Every job you do, needs to be done at 100% effort and you need to show everyone that you are a diligent worker who doesn’t cut corners.” Now this could have just been a motivational effort to get the most out of my cleaning abilities or as I suspect, it was his honest advice. Either way I took what he said to heart. While I was a non-rate at my small boat station I was regularly regarded as one of the hardest working non-rates and I fully believe the extra effort I put into my seemingly meaningless work gave me the tools needed to be a rescue swimmer.
This is a story I talked about in my podcast, The Rescue Swimmer Mindset. If you want a little more detail about my time as a non-rate, go listen to the episode titled Non-Rate Life and Nutrition. The next time you are just going through the motions in your job or workout. Take a second and think about what you are subconsciously communicating to yourself and the people around you. Don’t cut corners.