|Official USCG PHOTO
WHY DO COAST GUARD COOKS NEED TWO TRIGGER FINGERS?
|Official USCG PHOTO
I was returning a computer at the Navy Exchange today when the young clerk behind the counter mentioned that he had been turned down by the Coast Guard for an enlistment. He was a clean cut bright kid who looked physically fit and I knew he had an Associate's degree in culinary arts from the local community college.He wanted to become a Coast Guard "cook" which we call a "Subsistence Specialists". He passed all of the background checks and general educational development exams but had a problem with the physical. After the problem was discovered he applied for a waiver. The waiver was refused. What was his disqualifying physical issue? His left index finger (or "trigger finger") had been broken when he was a small child and had not been set properly. It just couldn't curl in a normal fashion, highly desirable for operating firearm triggers. He is right handed and had hardly noticed or been inconvenienced by the affliction before. But the Coast Guard wouldn't budge, every Coast Guard member today must have two functional trigger fingers for an initial enlistment.
To the average non Coast Guard veteran American there are two things wrong with this picture.First why would a young person with a degree in Culinary arts want to be a Coast Guard cook? I have a simple answer for that; Coast Guard Petty Officers are trained in various crafts, technician positions, and artisan skill sets in what the service calls "A Schools". These "A schools" recently exposed in the Kevin Costner film The Guardian are, as the name implies, crackerjack examples of vocational technical education. Each Coast Guard Petty Officer must be a highly skilled specialists who provides a skilled service to a ship. But each is also a non commissioned officer of this special armed service. On the small ships of the Coast Guard any petty officer must be able to fulfill the duties of the rank of Petty Officer (3ird, 2nd, 1st class, Chief, Senior Chief, Master Chief) as well as be able to execute the skills of his "rating" (Boatswain's mate, Gunner;s mate, Subsistence Specialists, Yeoman, etc.). The skill set of a Subsistence Specialists are basically those of a cook through charge chef. The duties of any petty officer rank can and do involve serving on crew served larger weapons and carrying small arms.
On the 82 foot patrol boats that the Coast Guard fielded in Vietnam the Third Class "Cook" typically prepared a breakfast "breakout" so the crew could self serve for breakfast , did a second "breakout" and prepared one full meal a day. He had to keep his food preparation duties in line to allow for his petty officer duties which included serving as in port officer of the day, acting as ship's medic, and ship's gunner since no gunners mates were carried on these small ships.Any Coast Guard petty officer may serve in or lead a boarding party, that means carrying firearms and knowing how to use them including using alternate hands. People are so used to thinking of the Coast Guard as a search and rescue organization that they loose sight of it as a seagoing criminal law enforcement organization and important naval augmentation force. When the Coast Guard enters a war zone with the Navy they usually draw assignments that play to their particular strength and that very often involves board and search. The Coast Guard experience of combat over the last 200 and twelve years has rarely included sending guided missiles over the horizon to an unseen enemy. Of the various Coast Guardsmen who have died in combat between Vietnam and Second Iraq some looked into the eyes of the enemy who finally took their life.
So despite the present difficulties in enlisting quality young people for the service, history still teaches us that every Coast Guard member needs two trigger fingers in proper working condition. The young man I spoke to was so pained by the lost opportunity and I was so impressed by his character that I would gladly have re-broken his finger and reset it properly then and there, if I actually knew how to reset it. But being a retired Master Chief Boatswain's mate I am very skilled at breaking a finger or other body part when necessary but limited to simple sprints when it comes to repairing damages. It was probably a too simple splint that denied us the services of this excellent young recruit. If a Coast Guard Health Sciences Technician (Corpsman) had set that finger in the first place I assure you it could still curl a trigger properly.