Twice a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “From the Homefront,” a column for Coast Guard spouses by Coast Guard spouse Shelley Kimball. Shelley has been married to Capt. Joe Kimball, chief of the office of aviation forces at Coast Guard headquarters, for 14 years. She currently serves as an advisor for the Military Family Advisory Network.
Written by Shelley Kimball
It can take time to adjust to the pitch and roll of Coast Guard life. Recognizing that, a Coastie spouse developed a manual to help new members adjust – calling it Sea Legs, a reference to gaining our footing in unsteady waters.
Nearly 10 years later, the manual was released in its second edition, updated for a whole new generation of Coast Guard families. Sea Legs is a personal reference manual for Coast Guard life, meant for new spouses and anyone else getting used to all aspects of this life.
Developing that first edition took months of writing and editing, for Janet Bowen, whose husband Charles “Skip” Bowen was the 10th master chief petty officer of the Coast Guard. Janet said she was originally inspired by a document developed by the Navy for new families. She asked the Navy ombudsman-at-large for permission to adapt it for Coastie families. Given the green light, she set to writing the manual.
Once it was done, the Coast Guard distributed it online through Work-Life and the MCPOCG’s website. Bowen even had 200 copies made and, with her husband’s help, stapled them together, boxed them up and delivered them to a meeting of new Coast Guard family members.
That meeting happened to be one of the early meetings of the Guardian Spouses program, which still welcomes new spouses, future spouses, and family members whose loved ones are just completing recruit training at Training Center Cape May, New Jersey.
That’s where Barb Wong came in. She had developed a proposal for the Guardian Spouses program with Bowen’s support, and the two saw that the Sea Legs manual would be a perfect fit. Eventually, they got enough funding to make 25,000 paper copies of the manual to distribute through the Guardian Spouses.
But it all started with the Bowens’ efforts, Wong said.
“They were really passionate people about helping the families,” Wong said. “She’s just an amazing woman. With Skip backing her up, they were a powerhouse team.”
Both Janet and Wong are gratified to see that the manual is still helping families.
“It’s a one-stop shop for anything you need,” Wong said. “Any question you might have, starting out in military life. If you want to learn some things about finances? You can find it in there. PCS? You can find it in there. It’s a really good starting place to look if you have a questions.”
The manual can also be helpful for new recruits who are trying to make sense of their new lives, Wong said.
“They are thrown into boot camp for eight weeks,” she said. “These guys, they are worried about their next unit, the next ship they’re going to. There’s a lot going on, and sometimes they don’t know all the details for family life.”
The manual provides information about the basics of the Coast Guard – the mission, the workforce, ranks and advancement. But it also gives step-by-step instructions for getting started as a dependent, navigating DEERS and Tricare. It also has sections we all hope we never need, like what to do in a variety of crises.
One of its best assets is its accuracy, Wong said.
“I think you sometimes you are better opening up the book before asking people their opinions,” she said. “Sometimes the answers you get just aren’t correct.”
The latest edition went through a series of edits to be sure that information was current, valid and updated. The manual takes a Coastie from the first day of signing up in DEERS right up to retirement, with all the support that comes in between.
Wong said it’s been a positive legacy to see that their efforts getting information and resources to families have continued.
“We’re about helping the families in the Coast Guard. That’s our passion,” Wong said “And we’re hoping it will carry on.”
What are the most useful parts of Sea Legs for you? Share your thoughts in the comments section!
The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Commandant or of the U.S. Coast Guard.