I’m sure this post will be interesting to very few of my readers but I thought it would be nice to explain our experience with doing a mutual swap in the Coast Guard. I know when we decided to do one, I would’ve loved to have a resource like a first hand account of how things go. For those of you who don’t know, a mutual swap is when a two Coasties of the same rank in the same rate (job) decide to switch places and effectively, contracts.
A mutual swap is not something we had ever planned or looked to do. For us it happened to fall into our lap at a time we were willing to try almost anything to move. We had gotten our number two pick with Houston but found that choosing a home completely across the country from all friends and family based on the idea that it would be an adventure living in a culture we’d never experienced before, doesn’t always work out. After a few months of trying to make it work, Josh began to look into our options. There were a few jobs in DC and St. Louis that were “rumored” to be opening up and he planned to put in for them. He started trying to get his name out there through CGRC (Coast Guard Recruiting Command), which is headquartered in DC, so that maybe he’d get a leg up. He volunteered to go to L.A. to help open a new recruiting office and began volunteering with the recruiting chat room on the Coast Guard website in hopes of building a good rapport in case something opened up. But time after time, all of the leads we were hoping for fell through. We didn’t really care where we moved to, we just wanted to be back closer to the east coast and our friends and family. Nearing October, we got word that a fellow recruiter from Manhattan was coming to the Houston office for a few months of family leave. His wife and son were currently geobacheloring (living separately from the member) in Houston while he was stationed in NY. Originally, Josh was told that this man was interested in doing a mutual swap so that he could get back to his family. We had a discussion with the kids about the possibility of moving and decided that even though New York City wasn’t our dream place to live, at least we would be back on the side of the country where we wanted to be. When the fellow recruiter arrived, however, we realized that he hadn’t had plans for a mutual at all. Still, Josh made it clear to him that if he decided he’d like to go through with it, we were open to the idea. Over the next few months the two of them continued to talk about the possibility of swapping and I continued to stress over whether it would really happen or not.
Time went by and our hopes for a mutual swap disappeared completely when the other Coastie returned to New York. I began to accept that we’d just have to stick it out and started to try and make Houston feel like home. We worked on the house we were renting and planned a vacation to the Jersey Shore for the summer, even putting a deposit on a vacation rental. At the end of January, not long after the other guy had returned to New York, Josh got a call from him saying that he wanted to do the mutual after all. By this point, I had told Josh that it was off the table because of the months of anxiety we endured while we were sort of in limbo wondering if it would pull through and because we had put a lot of money into our house. Josh, however, wanted me to reconsider because he couldn’t handle how unhappy I was and knew we had to take a chance if we wanted things to get better. After talking about everything again and weighing the pros and cons we decided that if even if we weren’t any happier in New York, at least we’d be back by our friends and family. We were also concerned about the email that had come out from the CG stating that homesteading (staying in or near the same area of your current station) was going to be implemented strongly due to budget cuts. We knew there was a boat out of Galveston that would be open for Josh’s position during our transfer year and quite frankly, were terrified that if we didn’t take the chance to get out of Texas now, we’d be stuck there for another three years after the four we were already contracted for. We agreed to the mutual swap and began the process.
The next month and a half were hell. If I thought we had waited in limbo while the other recruiter made up his mind, I was wrong. The month of February and half of March was spent hearing one thing and then hearing another and then hearing something else and then hearing something completely different from the other three things we’d already heard. But first let me back up and explain how everything worked. So after deciding to do the mutual swap, the next step was getting it approved. First Josh and the other Coastie had to write up a memo with the reasons why, including how the swap would benefit the Coast Guard, our acknowledgement that it would be at no cost to the CG (meaning we had to pay for everything) and the date we’d like the swap to take place. We had decided that we wanted to move as soon as possible so that we could get into Coast Guard housing before transfer season (summertime) and also so that this madness could just end already. Then they had to turn those papers in to their Chiefs who approved them and sent them along to CGRC for their approval.
Our circumstances were a bit trickier because recruiting is a special duty assignment. This meant that first, the swap had to be approved by CGRC and then it also had to be approved by each member’s regular detailer since special assignments have to be approved by rate detailers. I think this is why the process took so long for us. Being in a special assignment also meant that it didn’t matter that the guy Josh was swapping with wasn’t an IT – they were both recruiters. Time continued to pass and I waited very impatiently asking Josh everyday if he had heard anything. He was stressed out to the max with constant misinformation coming in, a nagging wife and the possibility that if this last ditch effort fell through, I’d have a breakdown (only slightly exaggerating the last part). We were just stuck waiting and it was torture. We couldn’t get out of our lease until we had orders. We couldn’t put our name on the housing list in New York until we had orders. We couldn’t register Parker for school until we had orders. We had to cancel our vacation rental, book a moving truck and just keep our fingers crossed that everything would fall into place. Though the guy we were swapping with was past the point of backing out since he had turned in the intent to swap, CGRC, the IT detailer and the AET detailer could all deny it. Our requested date for transfer came and went with no word and we continued to wait. Josh contacted as many people as he could without breaking the chain of command to try and get any information possible but basically all we got for a month was the runaround.
Finally, on March 14, a full month and a half after we agreed to the mutual swap and five days past the transfer date we requested, Josh got an email saying everything was approved and our orders, stating that Josh would report to New York in two weeks, would arrive within 7-10 days. After that it was a mad dash. We bought boxes and packing supplies, packed up our entire 2300 square foot house, scrubbed and cleaned the house, disenrolled our boys from their schools, cancelled utilities, got our name on the housing list, jam packed a 26 foot moving truck and drove our three kids, dog, and every single thing we owned the entire 1630 miles from Pearland, Texas to Staten Island, New York all within two weeks. Overall the entire deal cost us about $3000.
Was the actual move difficult? No, not at all. The hardest part about our experience with this mutual swap was the waiting and not knowing. But it was such a stressful experience that Josh and I agree we would not do it again. We’ve also had some residual effects from the mutual that leave me wondering where we’d be if we hadn’t done it. My advice to anyone considering a mutual swap is to look to it as a very last resort, do it only if you’re prepared for the stress of blindly waiting and make sure the decision you make is a completely informed one. Though we’re happy to be back east, Josh and I still aren’t sure if the swap was worth it.