Their reasons are many and their opinions are diverse, but those who choose military service often say it was simply the right thing to do at the time.
That was the case with Radford University Professor Jack Call, chair of the Department of Criminal Justice. Early in his career, he left a teaching job to enroll in the U.S. Coast Guard's Officer Candidate School (OCS). He was exempt from the military draft because he was a teacher, but "I didn't like the idea of teaching just to avoid going into the military."
Having an older brother who was in the Coast Guard in the early 1950s and having knowledge of the Korean and Vietnam wars may have affected his decision.
"At the time, there were few Coast Guard stations, and the Coast Guard was trying to consolidate as many as they could," Call said. "I didn't want to be in the Army. The nice thing about the Coast Guard officers training is that it's competitive. You throw your name in the hat for the top spots, and because there are not a lot of them, chances are good. My OCS class had some pretty impressive people."
Call had two duty assignments between stints in college on track to become a lawyer. By the time he had completed the second, he had become acclimated to life in the Coast Guard. He kept his eye on the job market and decided being a lawyer for the Coast Guard was as good a job as he was likely to find, and the pay was better than what most lawyers earned right out of school.
The Coast Guard didn't have the Judge Advocate General's Corps (JAG), the legal branch concerned with military justice and military law. "It's the only part of the military that didn't." The reason, Call said, is because of the Coast Guard's unique mission. "It's half military and half regulatory agency. I think that was one of the reasons for a long time they did not institute JAG."
The phrase "keeping others out of harm's way" typically conjures up an image of combat. For the Coast Guard, however, the harm is likely to be an environmental crisis or a weather disaster. During part of his service, Call was assigned to enforce provisions of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act. Based in New Orleans, he was involved with oil spills affecting Louisiana, Texas and Alabama. "Sometimes there were 300 cases a month for pollution," Call said, not all of them related to large oil spills.
"I helped assess penalties. If we knew who caused the pollution and they declined to clean it up, the Coast Guard sued them to recoup their expenses."
During Call's service, each career officer rotated off legal tours every three years. "Legal officers have a wide variety of duties, and all of us did some courts martial. Then, and it's still true, the Coast Guard has a high caliber of enlisted persons, and we didn't have too many courts-martial." He remembers having fewer than 20 criminal cases a year.
"I really enjoyed and felt good about the time I was a teacher in Officer Candidate School," Call said. "The training helped indoctrinate future officers into having good feelings about the Coast Guard. It helped them to adjust to a military structure. I felt positive about it. If we did our job well, the people we trained felt good about their work."