"It’s so rewarding to be able to say you serve your country."
Growing up as the sixth of seven children in Covington, Ky., it’s safe to say Takila McCown has always been a people person. Growing up in such an environment undoubtedly fostered a unique ability to communicate and relate well to others; it also presented challenges, such as her parents’ ability to pay college tuition.
“Without asking, I knew my parents could not even fathom being able to afford college … The Army had come to my school, and I took the ASVAB test and talked with a recruiter who told me about the GI Bill, which I could use for college.”
Excited by the idea of being first in her family to earn a college degree, Takila enlisted in the Army and headed off to Basic Training just 10 days after graduating from high school. This is not to say, however, that her parents weren’t concerned.
“Because I was only 17 at the time … [my mother] didn’t want her baby to leave.”
Takila found Basic Training to be physically challenging but nothing she couldn’t handle. Upon graduating, she began working in the Army as a food service specialist.
“I was a cook in the Army … It was a difficult job … people don’t really remember to tell you, ‘Hey, thanks, that was a really good meal.’ … So, you really have to be customer-oriented … but I really enjoyed it and really excelled at the job I did. I was actually named Cook of the Year for the 3rd Infantry Division.”
In addition to five years of preparing great meals in the Army, Takila also cooked up a family. She had a son and, though thrilled, the combined responsibility of motherhood and training deployments put her college education plans on hold.
In fact, when her contract with the Army was up, Takila took a year-and-a-half off from the Military all together. True to her desire for new experiences and environments, she took a position in the medical industry as a civilian ophthalmic technician. With a husband in the Coast Guard, however, her connection to the Military was never far off.
And then 9/11 happened.
“I felt a strong desire to join the Military again because I felt that’s where I could do the most for my country … I just wanted to be part of something bigger than myself …”
Takila chose to join the Coast Guard, hoping that she could be stationed near her ex-husband, which would make travel easier for their child. (Services will make an effort to collocate families, depending on the circumstances.) She also enjoyed the civil service aspect of the Coast Guard.
“[The Coast Guard] is really a Service that is more humanitarian, all of their missions are about helping people in the maritime community, and then they also deal with national defense as well. To me, service is representing your country through positive actions, and in the Coast Guard, I would be able to do that.”
Initially an enlisted member in the Coast Guard, Takila served as a yeoman for a short period, and then at a military housing office, checking people in and out of accommodations. Though she enjoyed such work, Takila yearned for increased interaction with young recruits.
“I applied for a position as a Coast Guard recruiter … because I am so proud to serve for this organization that I wanted to be out there and be the first person that people have contact with that are interested in coming into the Coast Guard.”
Takila’s application was accepted, something she attributes to the Coast Guard’s attention to detail and productivity.
“The Coast Guard is very good at matching people with their desires because when you can do what you actually want to do, you are a better performer. Because you have something invested in that. Because you really want to do it … We can’t always be matched 100 percent … however, there are opportunities to be able to lateral over to the career path that you want.”
Prior to reporting for duty as a recruiter, Takila worked toward the college degree she had always wanted with tuition assistance from the Coast Guard.
“I think my proudest moment was actually completing my degree with the Coast Guard’s help. They paid for the schooling. And I am the first person in my family to receive a college degree, and because of that, I was able to apply for Officer Candidate School and become an officer.”
Upon graduating Officer Candidate School, Takila began working as a marine inspector, the job she holds today. Marine inspectors board vessels and ensure they are compliant with maritime regulations. All ships entering U.S. waters must adhere to these standards to maintain a safe environment for everyone aboard, and it’s a responsibility Takila does not take lightly.
With a college degree under her belt and a career helping others, Takila holds a special place in her heart for the Coast Guard. It has given her both a sense of purpose and a concrete example of what she can do when she puts her mind to the task.
“It’s so rewarding to be able to say you serve your country … and know that no matter where you come from, you can accomplish anything. The Coast Guard has been able to help me realize that.”