Many civilian law enforcement professionals begin their careers in the Military. It’s less common for a civilian police officer to enlist but, in Pedro Guimaraes’ case, that’s exactly what happened. While Pedro loved his job as a communications officer on a New Jersey police force, he felt called to serve his community — and his country — in a different capacity.
“The Military gives you everything that you need,” he says. “And the only thing that they ask is that you defend its country and its people. It just feels very honorable to be able to do that.”
Pedro, who was born in Brazil and moved to the United States at age eight, did some research online and spoke to recruiters from a few different Service branches. It was his brother-in-law, however, who talked to Pedro about his own experiences in the Coast Guard and convinced him it might be a good fit. Indeed, there was much about the Coast Guard mission that appealed to Pedro.
“The Coast Guard’s entire mission is based on assisting people. [The] Coast Guard’s always training for search and rescue… and I found I’d be able to do more for my country.”
Although he already had a bachelor’s degree, making him eligible for officer positions, Pedro chose to enlist. His ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) test scores qualified him for any available job of his choosing, and Pedro was inclined to follow his love of computers into the information technology field. But first, according to Coast Guard policy, Pedro had to spend some time as a non-rate, which is someone without a specific career designation.
“You’re either working as an engineer, assisting with engine repair and stuff like that, or you’re maintaining the ship… being a non-rate gives you the opportunity to observe all the different rates, which helps you decide which one is right for you.”
Pedro learned a lot during that period, and the experience confirmed that the Coast Guard was where he wanted to be. He then enrolled in “A” School, where he trained to become an information systems technician. Through a combination of classroom time and hands-on training, he learned to maintain computer, phone and other communications systems onboard a cutter. He also discovered how Coast Guard IT differs from IT in the civilian world.
“While we’re underway, being part of a cutter means that you have to be part of a damage control team, so that if something were to happen, everybody on the ship has a job. My shop, we’re in charge of setting up fire pumps that are going to feed the fire system in case the power goes out… We also stand watches… It’s an operations specialist watch. We’re manning the radars, listening to radio calls coming in and out of the ship, monitoring the classified network.”
Aside from these additional responsibilities, Pedro found another big difference from working in an office building: regular headcounts to make sure none of the crew has fallen overboard. It’s a constant reminder that this is no ordinary job. The tight space aboard the cutter is another. Pedro has made many close friends while underway, but he does sometimes long for the privacy of home. When he needs space, he spends time reading or working on side projects in his shop, and when he’s ready to be social, there is always someone to watch a movie or play PlayStation 3 with.
Overall, Pedro has found his Coast Guard experience very rewarding. He has been able to serve his country while gaining skills in a career that he can continue to work in, should he return to civilian life. That will have to wait, though, since Pedro plans to serve a full 30 years — the maximum time allowed. And, once in a while, he is reminded exactly why he is driven to do so.
“Being in uniform and just being out in public, sometimes you have people that will come up to you, and they just thank you for your service. It’s very humbling, and it’s very rewarding. It just makes you feel like you’re… doing what’s right.”