Coastie Wife: “Ain’t I a Military Spouse?”


If my life is like that of a military spouse, and my husband serves … aren’t I a military spouse? The answer is confusing.

Early on in our marriage, the MyCAA program was announced.  I was young, anxious to further my education and desperate to find a career that I knew could move with me wherever my husband’s job took us. So I called up to register. In all my eagerness I had overlooked one small detail — that the program was offered by the Department of Defense.

In other words, as the spouse of a Coastguardsman, I was ineligible.  Yes, since March 2003 the Coast Guard has fallen under the Department of Homeland Security, but, just like Sojourner Truth said of herself in her infamous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech, ain’t I a military spouse?

As a new bride, one of my first activities was to register for an ID card. I flashed my proudest Coastie wife smile and signed my new last name with the ease of one who had been practicing for months (I had). And then my husband took me on a tour of the base — two piers here, a restaurant there, an Exchange the size of a mini-mart, and a handful of small-boats and cutters. No spouses’ club, no clinic, no rec center and definitely no base housing. It was nothing like I had expected, but it was still a base and ain’t I a military spouse?

Five weeks after our wedding I gave the love of my life one last long kiss before watching him board his cutter. He set off for four months to the Mediterranean and Black Seas. “At least it’s only 4 months,” they’d say and I would nod with relief. Yes, four months gone, two months home, and then gone again just when we started to get back into a good groove. Another deployment, home again for a few weeks, and back to sea soon after that. No, while we thankfully haven’t been apart for seven months straight, we instead had to deal with seven months spread out over the first year of our marriage … and getting used to living with each other for the few weeks we were allowed in between. I was the on-call wife, springing into action after turning on my heel at the pier, but willingly giving it all up – the bill paying, car maintenance, and house projects – as soon as his cutter returned.

Ain’t I a military spouse?

And when that ship returned? Oh, when I anxiously pounded the pavement straining to spot it on the horizon. When there were no news cameras or reporters waiting to break the story. No music or banners. No crowds. Just a handful of us, mostly strangers to each other, but all fighting back the same tears, drawing on the last of our reserves and trying to appear as strong as the rest of the world believes us to be, at least until we finally get our Coastie home. To miss someone that much, and be so close that the only thing between you and the person you love most in all the world are a few feet of water, a brow,  and the formality of military pier decorum. Oh the agony of the wait and the joy of reuniting! And to do it all over again every few months … ain’t I a military spouse?

My husband hasn’t fought in overseas campaigns, he hasn’t been one of the many with boots on the ground in the Middle East, although volunteer opportunities occasionally come up in discussion, and I don’t often fear for his life. But I’ve certainly done my share of worrying. Whether it’s the War on Drugs, dealing with the aftermath of a hurricane, search and rescue missions, or enforcing fishery laws – my Coastie is a fighter. I’m grateful his efforts are generally close to home, but ain’t I a military spouse?

Often, those of us in the Coast Guard community feel like outsiders. We fall under a different jurisdiction. Our numbers are small. Our deployments are short. And our mission is much more local. But similarities do exist. I am proud of my husband, proud of his sacrifices, and proud of his service to our county.

I am a military spouse.


Janine is currently living the dream with her Handsome Coastie in Annapolis, Md.  for the next two, three, or maybe six years.  She’s a work-at-home mom to Jack (3.5), Jude (2), and Julia (6 months).  She often vents about life with three little ones over at

About the Author

Janine Tillman
Janine is currently living the dream with her Handsome Coastie in Annapolis, Md. for the next one, two, or maybe six years. She’s a stay-at-home mom to a brood of little ones and often vents about life with three (soon to be four) under five over at
  • spouse2000

    Interesting – how much we all as Americans have in common if we only looked.

  • jacey_eckhart

    Drives me crazy how Coastie families are somehow not quite military because they are under the Department of HOmeland Security instead of the DoD. In my book if you have long separations, you move a lot and someone in your family is wearing a uniform, you are a military family! And you sound like a good one.

    • Thank you Jacey!

    • Dan

      I am a retired Navy Senior Chief (E-8). In my book anyone in the Coast Guard is military & their families r by extension military spouses & brats too! I’ve been in the Persian Gulf & seen Coastie cutters right there w us. It’s an injustice to not think of Coasties as not military. I thank u & your families for your service!

  • mel

    After checking out the website for the US Coast Guard, it’s apparent that the Coast Guard is considered military, even though they are under Homeland Security. I found the following on the US Coast Guard website:

    • mel

      “For more than 210 years, the Coast Guard has served the nation as one of the five armed forces. Throughout its distinguished history, the Coast Guard has enjoyed a unique relationship with the Navy. By statute, the Coast Guard is an armed force, operating in the joint arena at any time and functioning as a specialized service under the Navy in time of war or when directed by the President. It also has command responsibilities for the U.S. Maritime Defense Zone, countering potential threats to American’s coasts, ports, and inland waterways through numerous port-security, harbor-defense, and coastal-warfare operations and exercises”

      • mel

        “The legal basis for the Coast Guard is Title 14 of the United States Code, which states: “The Coast Guard as established January 28, 1915, shall be a military service and a branch of the armed forces of the United States at all times.” Upon the declaration of war or when the President directs, the Coast Guard operates under the authority of the Department of the Navy.

        “As members of a military service, Guardians on active duty and in the Reserve are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice and receive the same pay and allowances as members of the same pay grades in the other four armed services.”

        To read more about what the Coast Guard has done during world conflicts the info can be found at:

        • Liam

          USCG IS a military Service. Period….if they are subject to UCMJ in spite of their status under Dept. of Homeland Security. The National Guard is under Title 32 USC…does that mean that the National Guard is not military?! Really now…..

          • Coastie wife & mom

            only according to Ashley

        • Mel, I love that you’ve taken the initiative to research this on your own, thank you! And thank you for sharing your knowledge with the rest of us!

  • Army Amy

    My husband and I have been together for about 3 months since his year-long deployment, and reintegration is still so hard. I can’t imagine if he had to leave now. If our marriage was in a constant state of separation and reintegration. I didn’t live with a military community during his deployment (his duty station was Germany, so I decided to stay with my family in Dallas), and it was tough. My heart goes out to all the military families that tough out deployment alone. You are a military spouse. Thank you to your husband for his service and to you for writing about your perspective.*

    • Thank you Amy! I agree, the constant separation and reintegration cycle is the most difficult part. I’m sure it would have been even more of a challenge if we had had kids at the time. Thanks for your support!

  • Leslie

    You should start a family support group for coastie wives!!

    • Hmmm, not a bad idea! :)

  • C130 spouse

    I have a dual perspective. I was a Navy spouse for 10 years and currently ‘serving’ 4 years as a Coast Guard spouse. Although I felt more ‘military’ as a Navy spouse, my husband’s daily duties as a Coast Guard pilot are more hands on, more productive, than the average day he spent in the Navy. I think the reason I felt more a part of the military as a Navy spouse is because of the size of it- the resources, like opportunities to live aboard Navy bases, with all the clubs and amenities. My husband is gone a lot still, as compared to the Navy, only it’s more sporadic. In a way, being a Coastie family feels more of a challenge because of the lack of large support via military bases and all they offer. To he very honest, I do feel strange calling my husband ‘military’ still, but his job is no less important. He is a Guardian of the United States. He serves closer and protects each of us in a different way than those abroad. I am just as proud of him now as I was when he was in the Navy.

  • Keri

    Rivalry is fierce not just between entities such as coast guard and navy but also army and marines or local police and FBI. I don’t think it’s a military mind set so much as ignorant competition of who is “better.” A police officers wife may not go 3 months without word of her husband, but she might face 6 out of 7 days worrying about him. We would be better as a country if we simply focused on applauding and encouraging each piece of the whole body for their part in the overall effort of protecting us as Americans. Each military (or homeland security) member and their families sacrifice in some way and EVERY single one should be honored for their sacrifice and service.

    • Well said Keri, you are absolutely correct! Thanks for sharing!

  • Libertarian

    Hard to believe some of the responses here from other (yes, Coast Guard is military; hence, “other”) military wives. Care for a saucer of milk, ladies?

  • BeenieBee

    It’s an interesting position, for sure. But when it comes to the majority of military programs, the Coast Guard is not considered eligible. I think because they are the one branch that does not deploy to a combat zone, the need for that type of support is is not viewed as a priority for them. Their mission is greatly different from the other branches, so I guess it falls more under a separate but equal kind of thing, as far as the military moniker. They have a great service song, though. Semper Paratus!

    • Cathy

      Since when don’t Coast Guard deploy into Combat Zones? Your information is wrong.

      Here is just an example of one of many Coast Guard units (heck it’s even a Coast Guard Reserve Unit) that has deployed throughout ALL of our wars since their inception!

      • BeenieBee

        My information came from a Coast Guard commander when I contacted him about yellow ribbon participation- so don’t shoot the messenger! LOL! perhaps you’ve just found a root of the problem- commanders don’t think you need deployment support, apparently.

    • Coastie Chief’s Wife

      My hubby has been in a combat zone 3 times… Just an FYI that they go into theatre like all of the others, just smaller in numbers.

    • Retired Coastie

      Actually, the Coast Guard does operate in Combat Zones.

    • TNB

      When has “separate but equal” ever worked? I guess it works for the side that has the most access to everything.

  • Cathy

    Also why did they transfer the Coast Guard out of the DOD? That makes no sense to me. Coasties have fought and died in wars! They fight in the “global war on terrorism”! Their rank and structure is military! They are one of the 5 armed forces! They belong under the DOD.

    • Tom O’Neill

      The U.S.C.G was under the Dept. of transportation when I served ,and before that the Treasuary Dept. and comes under the Navy In times of war.

    • CDR CGReserve (Ret)

      The Coast Guard is part of Homeland Security because they have law enforment responsibilities and DoD is not allowed to enforce laws here in the US. When the National Guard is called up for duty in the US to enforce laws, they do it as a state militia, not as part of the DoD. The Posse Comitatis Act forbids the use of DoD forces to enforce US law.

      The Coast Guard is a military service, subject to the UCMJ the same as the DOD.

      • HGRB

        Yep! Because if the Navy, lets say, stops a drug boat, it can be considered an act of war against the country of whoever is in that boat. And well, we can’t have that.

    • BMC

      The Coast Guard was never in the DoD. We were originally created as the Revenue Cutter Service (initially Revenue-Marine) to enforce tariffs in our struggling democracy of 1790 under the Dept of Treasury. Then with our merger with the Life Saving Service (1915) we became the US Coast Guard. Further with our merger of the Navigation and Steamboat Inspection and our role in maritime commerce we then fell under the Dept of Transportation (1967). Finally, after 9-11 there was a need to put all of the agencies responsible for Homeland Security under one roof, hence the Dept of HS was created.

      The Coast Guard as evolved so much over the years to the ever changing needs of our country and adapted to what needed to be done.

      Semper Paratus!!

    • Cathy –

      The Coast Guard was never in the DoD ! It was originally assigned to the Dept of Transportation then reassigned to the Dept of Homeland Security after the terrorists created “9-11”. If and when Congress declares open WAR (not just ambigous “police actions” or “protect our overseas interests”) then the Coast Guard will be reassigned, by current FEDERAL LAW to the Navy. Unless more changes are made to that law, when the “declared” war is over, the Coast Guard will revert back to the Dept of Homeland Security.

  • Cathy

    Ain’t I a military spouse? YES YOU ARE!!!!!!!

    I get annoyed personally that people forget the Coast Guard and their job is so IMPORTANT!!!!! And as far as you not fearing for his life their job is incredibly dangerous, the sea is a dangerous place. The conditions they go into far from ideal. The boats they come upon unknown! It is just as dangerous as any other branch or more!!

    My husband was in the Navy for 8 years (he was also a Navy rescue swimmer) and he made all the typical jokes about Coasties that navy guys do. BUT when their was no reenlistment slots in the Navy for him the first office he went to was the Coast Guard!!! He wanted to stay at sea. But having been rescue swim qualified all they wanted him to do was rescue swim. He turned heel walked back out of the door and joined the Army! His reasoning? He had done that type of work before, he was willing to do it again in an emergency. But to have your job 24/7 be to deal with that. he couldn’t do it! He joined the Army because he said at least they give me a gun and I stand a chance!

    The other aspect of the Coast Guard the law enforcement side, no one would ever ‘dis” a cop out dealing with drug runners, deadly criminals, or patrolling the streets keeping us safe. Why give less respect to the Coasties who do the same, do MORE, on a federal level just because their patrol is water.

  • Mike Bradley

    Got news for you. Ask the Coasties who served in the First Gulf War,The Iraq War, Vietnam, WWII, the war on drugs in South America (detached with Army SF’s), and yes, with the Navy Seals. Damn, I could have sworn those were real rounds we were sending down range and also being sent back at us!

    Semper Paratus

  • puresaltA1A

    Coasties have the same command and control with the same enlisted and officer ranking as the rest of the services…. Typically cutters deployed more than 7-8 months out of the year. Then her crew serves duty on a 1-3 schedule with a normal work week on top of that… Coasties do not get the stand down time like most services…. If the CG base is near a local DOD base, that is where the housing is going to be most likely… We are always the bastard child of the services…. We will be back in the DOD im sure 5 years from now..

  • MEC

    Here you go.

    I work on the same operations the SEALS do in the 5th Fleet of Operations in the Middle East. We work simultaneously and oftentimes backfill one another.
    To put in layman’s terms, my team does everything the SEALS do minus parachuting, and underwater missions. We do all of the close-quarters combat, fast roping, combat on ribs, etc.

    I can assure you we exist, and I have worked with all of the above mentioned teams in the past 20+ years.

    You are right in the fact that we used to not exist and it was a part of the 2 TACLETs, but that is no longer the case. Some teams come from MSSTs and MSRTs, and all are a part of the DOG and the Special Forces community, and we deploy as LEDETs.

    • MEC

      In fact, all of the training we go through is done by RECON, SEALS, DELTA, and the Green Berets, so we qualify the same way.

    • MEC

      You are right though, that they do a number of things that we do not do.

  • Bill

    The first paragraph you wrote describes my wife’s initial impression back in 1971. We arrived in Sandusky, Ohio for my duty station at the boat station in Cedar Point (no kidding). 5 other wives, no housing, medical or any other services for the spouse of an E-2. She survived and learned to help the new wives as they arrived at our various duty stations. Even at minimum wage, the CG would have owed her a fortune for unofficial service by the time I retired 25 years later. Coast Guard wives are self-reliant, frugal and stick together.

  • Mike Bradley

    I served as both enlisted and as an officer in the Coast Guard. As an officer my Primary Experience Indicator (PEI) was Military Planning and Operations. Gee…guess what I did? See above paragraph by same author.

  • Sonny

    This former (Beatnik) should have his head examined and then froze for future studying.

  • Darlene

    Get your facts straight people. The Coast Guard was DOD until after 9-11 and then they were placed under DHS. They ARE military and have fought in every war, but are never given the credit due to them. Semper Paratus!!!!

    • U.S.C.G. Vet

      I believe you meant DOT, not DOD. Pre 9-11 (Which is the Coast Guard I served in, or the old Coast Guard as the old salts used to say) wast part of the Department of Transportation. Post 9-11 the Coast Guard was moved to Homeland Security. But yes, I agree we are and always have been the 5th branch of the military. I did recieve an LES every 2 weeks, I could be punished under the UCMJ, and I could have very easily been deployed to Desert Storm. We do have SEC-OPS teams (Another thing that changed post 9-11), and I read an article on (Within the last year) that made reference to Coasties serving on SEAL Teams. Once a Coastie, always a Coastie! Semper Paratus!

  • Sharon Jett

    They can be part of the SEALS program and several SEALS members are CG.

  • LEDET2

    Darlne, C.G was DOT (Dept Of Transportation), which we had no business being there, up to 911, now isDHS, and in case of war could be folded under the Navy, we just wear more hats, and no, the Coast Guard will never be DOD, reason behind that, is CG, has the broadest law enforcement jurisdiction of any agency, we can arrest anyone, worldwide on international waters, no other Federal Agency can do that, FBI is CONUS, ICE up to 12 miles offshore. Semper Paratus

  • tar-hawk coastie

    i grew up a marine brat, lived off base. when very young my father would get orders for long period of time, it was scheduled and knew it, had prep time got used to seperation.i went in to coast guard. single life was easy, care free. then got married,. pulling long patrols for cubans, haitians and drugs and what mother nature thru. short inports to fiix what broke and get required maint. done. the last week before patrol was hell week trying to get boat ready and fight with wife to ease leaving for patrol, something the other services don’t do unless spec ops. the other services can’t relate normally to how we act and react, everybody in the coast guard is fully engaged and hands on in the job, that is the only way the tasks get completed for the record the coast guard is the most powerful police agency, the only requirement is water, which can be sewer/drainage hurricanes, navy and air force take off full speed and coast guard crews work around the storm to save others, normally families right in way of that same storm. fair winds and following seas to you and yours

  • cam_i_am24

    This is so perfectly written! Thank you so much for so eloquently relating the experiences of being a Coastie spouse. That said, it’s so unfortunate that others cannot take the post for what it is. You did not bash the other branches, just pointed out that we are frequently forgotten. I grew up in the Navy and I’m not sure if my dad being gone for 6+ months at a time is any worse than my husband being gone for 2+ months at a time for at least 6 months in a year. We make the same sacrifice as the spouses of every other branch, but our husbands and our families are frequently forgotten by the public.

  • Amp7

    Thank you so much for this post! I shared it with all the other coastie wives at my unit, which is 6 other women. They are the strongest women I know! We still deal with the separation, maybe they aren’t as long, but they sure do happen often. I have been married a year and due to month long trainings, and 3 month long deployments, we have spent MAYBE a total of 4 months together, MAYBE! My husband is on a Taclet team.. Meaning he is fighting the war on drugs, meaning he is keeping our country safe from threats that are literally miles off our coast! I am so proud of him! I worry the same way other wives do, I deal with the difficulties of adjusting to a new home, with a lot less support, I deal with tricare, and power of attorneys, and wills and wonder everytime he leaves if at 23 years old am I going to need those things. To say we are not military, for OUR husbands and wives to not get the recognition they deserve is frankly heartbreaking! We make sacrifices as spouses and they make sacrifices as heroes, just like every other branch! Coast guard as a whole does not get the recognition or support it deserves–active duty, reserves and their families. But you know what, we hold our heads high and do it anyway! Because we are proud, and we know we are military!! Semper paratus!!!

  • The legacy of Signalman 1st Class Douglas Munro
    We may be small in number, but we make a big impact.

    This story may be old, but similar ones, newer ones, can be found.

    Not Military ??

  • Hokiegrl

    I am just glad other people said all the things I now don’t have too!

  • Christi

    I swear that the Coast Guard is treated like the red headed stepchild! lol. My Coastie has been in for about 5 years now, and we have gone through many deployments, he has missed our daughter’s first words, first steps, first birthday, first Halloween, first day of school, and numerous holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, family reunions, and many more family times! He has deployed for numerous missions, schools, trainings, law enforcement qualified, is an EM, and more! I always get urked and offended when people say that the Coast Guard is NOT military because they are apart of DHS. Did everyone forget that the CG only began to fall under the umbrella of DHS post 9-11. It is one of the 5 Branches of Military, our members are still able to collect retirement, VA benefits, deploy to the sandbox (Middle East), break the ice for various navigation routes so boats can travel safely, protect our coastal borders from water attacks, fight the war on drugs by going after the cartels running by water with their drugs, and when the Navy needs to have Law Enforcement on board, who do they call, that’s right YOU guessed the Coast Guard! When boaters get lost at sea, get stuck in storms, have boating emergencies, who is called, that’s right the COAST GUARD is there again! Coast Guard is the ONLY Law Enforcement military, and has been around longer than the Navy, and is even dated back to the maritime sailors who brought the soldiers on the boats in WWII and dropped them on the beaches!

    In my opinion to solve all of the bickering about various programs, there should be a completely separate fund that handles these programs and this would allow ALL 5 BRANCHES to actively participate in them! That to me is the fair avenue to venture on! The Coast Guard has the smallest budget, so when the government cuts our budget it hits us hard!! When the DoD gets budget cuts, it doesn’t hit them as hard as the Coast Guard is hit! We do more with less resources and we still get the job done! Our Coasties still get the HUGE hauls of drug busts on the waters, which keeps another less drug from hitting our streets, our kids, and our schools!!

    Janine I love your blog!! We go through the same thing (deployments, separations, etc) as any other military branch, but we are outcasted and rejected by so many! We may be small but our Coastie Community is MIGHTY!! Our Coastie Community is close nit and we are never afraid to step up and help each other out, whether we know them or not! We our Coastie Family and that bond is a strong one! Kudos to you for such a wonderful post! I’m PROUD to call you my Coastie Sister!!

  • Kara

    First I respect all five branches of the military and the hard work they do to protect all Americans abroad and at home. I have read most of the posts here and what shocks me the most is how as we are all military spouses, we seem to have a competition on who is “more military”. When my hubby was deployed, I never thought I was more a military spouse then any other branch or even the non-deployed military spouses. I do not live on base and understand how sometimes base living is more convenient than off base housing. I do hope that Coast Guard spouses can have more resources available to them because it is essential to have knowledge and resources when you are separated from your love one.
    ***I have just one bit of advice: Before you feel superior to another, think of similarities you share in the love you have for your country, your spouse, your children, and the sacrifices that we all make by being military families.

  • leal

    Military spouse or not. You should be proud that your husband/wife is serving this country whether its DOD or DHS. No branch is better than the other so come on. Every branch has their own way of protecting this country and the people living in it. Get over it. I am a military spouse, and I have a billion things to worry about and being label as a military spouse isn’t one of it!

    • GMZ

      It is more about education because we get put down a lot in front of other military families. People forget anything prior 2003, because USCG was under DoD, and part of it still is today. It is very hard for a USCG family to endure constant deployments and all the sacrifices of any other military family and being told that you do not deserve the recognition.

  • Combat Coastie

    Wow Coast Guard isn’t military? I wish I would have known that in 2003 during Operation Iraqi freedom when we ran over that mine that luckily didn’t expolde or taking POW’s in Iraq on our Patrol Boat or when I was in Afghanistan with inbound rocket attacks. I am active duty Coast Guard. Some people are so ignorant.

    Yes there is a difference between a standard Coast Guard underway deployment and a deployment in a combat zone!

  • GloryM


    “The Coast Guard, established January 28, 1915, shall be a military service and a branch of the armed forces of the United States at all times.”


    “(a) In General.— The Coast Guard shall be a service in the Department of Homeland Security, except when operating as a service in the Navy.
    (b) Transfers.— Upon the declaration of war if Congress so directs in the declaration or when the President directs, the Coast Guard shall operate as a service in the Navy, and shall so continue until the President, by Executive order, transfers the Coast Guard back to the Department of Homeland Security. While operating as a service in the Navy, the Coast Guard shall be subject to the orders of the Secretary of the Navy, who may order changes in Coast Guard operations to render them uniform, to the extent such Secretary deems advisable, with Navy operations.”

    The USCG is a transferable branch. It goes to DoD at ANY TIME CONGRESS OR THE PRESIDENT ELECTS TO. It is under DHS since 2003 (VERY RECENT), to aid protect the homeland after 911. Read your history folks before posting ignorant comments.
    My brother is in the Army and my husband in the Coast Guard spends twice the amount of time deployed.


  • Kate

    So many nasty, mean comments on this piece. As a Coastie girlfriend, I was glad to read this. I don’t know any other USCG significant others, & I’ve often wodnered if they feel like I do about the strange deployment schedules, the “knee-high Navy” insults, the “at least it’s not Iraq” comments. Thanks for sharing this piece!

  • Samantha

    I was reading a few of the comments up top and saw lots of comments about coasties are not considered Military because they are not deployed or sent to combat zone. Actually my husband has been in the Coast Guard for 10 years now. And he got deployed to the middle East and technically that is a combat zone.

  • Vicky

    Hello there,
    I’m not sure where to look and I’m very new to this life. My husband is in the Navy and I have received the paperwork for the Military ID cards, now my nearest Navy Base is about 3 hrs from here so I would like to know how long is the process? I have my best friend that leaves about 30 mins from there and I can stay with her for a few days but I would like to plan this and not have any surprises. Can anyone please help me with some info? Thank You in advance!!!

  • Sonny

    Why respond to the uneducated? Lets be honest, the stupid. The CG is a life saving service foremost and then pulled into other campaigns due to circumstances we don’t understand. Especially underfunded most of the time. If one wants to be a big tough military guy (yuk yuk) then why didn’t they join the Seals or Rangers or Marines? Give credit to the CG for the missions they have to perform and the conditions they endure. Get the facts boneheads.