The narrative statement is something like the cover letter a civilian job applicant sends with his/her résumé. This is your only way to directly address the members of the selection board.
The only standard requirement for the narrative is that it be written in the form of a standard Coast Guard memorandum. Aside from that, there is no template – no fixed number of paragraphs or required subjects you should address in it.
Even so, with some thought about who will be reading it and about your competition, you should be able to figure out what you should – and should not – include in the memo. The people who will be reading your memo are those who make up your chain of command, the officers who sit on the board that will interview you (to decide whether to recommend you for whatever program you're applying for), and the officers at Headquarters who will sit on the board that will determine whether you should be selected for that program.
Remember: the selection board members have dozens, if not hundreds, of application folders to go through. They're looking for anything that will both make it easy to reject someone and, conversely, anything that will catch their eye and prompt them to read your memo closely.
As to your competition, everyone competing against you for a chance to attend one of these programs has – like you – met all the requirements on the check list. They all have perfect or nearly perfect marks, have the required college credits, have passed the physical, etc.
Don't, for example, include information that's written elsewhere in your application package. And keep it to two pages, at most. Think of the narrative statement as a brochure used to sell a product. You're the product. It gives readers a few easy-to-read reasons to buy you, tells them what you can do for them.
Before you start writing your memo you should make sure you do at least two things. First, read the Commandant's most recent guidance to officer selection boards and panels. This short document will describe what he is looking for in the officers who serve under him.
Second, carefully read over the Officer Evaluation Report (OER) form for W-2 through O-2. The traits described on this form are the ones members of the interview board will have in mind when they're interviewing you and members of the selection board will have in mind when they're deciding whether you should be selected for the program you're applying for.
You should keep those same traits in mind as you draft your memo. Also consider the following suggestions.
Emphasize what you can uniquely contribute to the Coast Guard, keeping in mind the types of billets you're likely to be assigned to (especially your first billet). Convince the reader that you would bring more to the table than your competitors will. Mention experiences – in and out of the Coast Guard – which have made you better able to perform officer duties. But leave out experiences that, while interesting, don't have much to do with duties you might be assigned to. Remember: you only have about a page and a half of space in which to sell yourself.
Concentrate on a few most valued strengths. This will help you focus and will make it easier for everyone who reads your application to remember you. Show how those strengths will make you an asset to the Coast Guard as an officer in a way that they wouldn't matter as much if you were to remain in the enlisted corps. Before writing your narrative identify those key strengths and match them with the requirements of the first billet you're likely to go into. Once you've done that, figure out ways to present a few of them in your narrative statement.
Tell readers what motivates you and how that relates to a career as an officer in the Coast Guard. Think about when you've been most satisfied at work and tell readers what stimulates you in your work.
Overall, tell readers what you would want to know about an applicant if you were on an interview or selection board. Here are a few specific items you should definitely address:
Why you want to be an officer – Consider writing about things like your philosophy of life, your views on leadership, your views on the Coast Guard, what you think you'll be able to do as an officer that you won't be able to do in the enlisted corps. Ensure that what you write here aligns with the Coast Guard's core values.
Your current and previous Coast Guard experience – Consider mentioning what you've done, how you did it, and how they affected others and the Coast Guard. Also try to relate those experiences to what you hope to do as an officer. But don't duplicate what is in your other documentation.
Your future in the Coast Guard – Consider writing about how your goals while in the Coast Guard can only be reached by officers and how your unique talents and gifts will only be fully employed if you are an officer. It is always best to align what you want to do with what the Coast Guard is looking for. But don't pick an area you really aren't interested in just because there's currently a demand for people in that area; demands change quickly. Do you really want to spend a career doing work you don't enjoy, whether you're an officer or remain enlisted?
Other things to consider touching on are:
Challenges – events in your life (whether in the Coast Guard, your personal life, or elsewhere) which posed unique challenges but which you overcame. Be careful about blowing your own horn too loudly; we all like self-confident people, but we don't like braggarts.
Your uniqueness – What makes you different from everyone else applying for this specific program or everyone else in the Coast Guard?
Your leadership experiences and successes
Your personal goals – Align them with the Coast Guard's core values
Weaknesses revealed in your résumé – Address them
Put yourself in the shoes of those who will be on the interview and selection boards. What would you like to know about an applicant? If you keep that question in mind as you write and re-write your memo, you should do fine.