The Coast Guard has been a seagoing service since its founding in 1790 as the Revenue Cutter Service, charged with enforcing the nation’s trade and tariff laws. Today, its cutter fleet is engaged around the globe, addressing some of the world’s toughest maritime challenges and helping to uphold a rules-based order. Unfortunately, going to sea and serving on board cutters has become the least desired job in the Coast Guard. Even command at sea has lost its luster.
Life at sea is not easy. But as the Coast Guard expands its global engagements, its cutters must be led by the highest-quality maritime professionals—and that is possible only with officer retention in the afloat community.
The service must recognize the sacrifice of those who choose this hard career path. It must understand why officers increasingly opt for shore duty and then execute the rudder corrections to ensure sea duty becomes and remains the most desired career path.
1. ALCOAST 016/21 – JAN 2021, “Sea-Duty Readiness,” 13 January 2021.
2. LCDR Brian Smicklas, USCG, “The Demise of the Cutterman,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 141, no. 8 (August 2015). See also LCDR Nicholas Monacelli, USCG, “Demise of the Cutterman Part II,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 147, no. 5 (May 2021), and CDR Craig H. Allen Jr., USCG, “Still Wanna Do It?” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 147, no. 8 (August 2021).
3. U.S. Maritime Administration, Maritime Workforce Working Group Report (29 September 2017).
4. Steven W. Belcher et al., Improving Enlisted Fleet Manning (Arlington, VA: CNA, July 2014). Vice Admiral Roy Kitchener, commander of Naval Surface Forces, said Navy gaps at sea would decrease to approximately 7,500 because of deliberate intervention strategies and improved use of the fit-fill method. See Megan Eckstein, “SWO Boss: Pilot Programs for Training, Manning Will Lead to More Experienced Fleet,” USNI News, 14 January 2021.
5. P. Ledbetter et al., U.S. Coast Guard Office of Cutter Forces, “Afloat Officer Corps SITREP: Analysis & Survey,” 20 February 2020.
6. Ledbetter et al., “Afloat Officer Corps SITREP: Analysis & Survey.”
7. ALCGPSC 099/20 – AY21, “Senior Command Screening Panel (SCSP) Results,” 28 August 2020.
8. Department of the Navy, Advantage at Sea (Washington, DC: December 2020).
9. Jennie Wenger et al., Balancing Quality of Life with Mission Requirements: An Analysis of Personnel Tempo on U.S. Coast Guard Major Cutters (Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center operated by the RAND Corporation, 2019).
10. Coast Guard Career 2021 Sea Pay tables, www.dcms.uscg.mil/ppc/mas/csp/.
11. Christie St. Clair, “Coast Guard Approves New Initiatives to Recruit and Retain Members,” MyCG, 12 September 2020.
12. Coast Guard Pay and Personnel Center, “Incentives, Entitlements, and Benefits.”
13. ACN 105/20 – SEP 2020, “FY21 Workforce Planning Team Results – Afloat Officer Interventions,” 10 September 2020. The incentive was “critical” to the AY2021 slate, preventing Officer Personnel Management from having to force-assign members to fill department head and executive officer afloat positions. A subsequent update lowered the bonus eligibility requirements, resulting in approximately 30 lieutenant and 20 lieutenant commander applicants for the bonus. However, many of these were people who already were requesting to go afloat. See ACN 146/20 – DEC 2020 FY21, “Workforce Planning Team Results – Afloat Officer Interventions, Update One,” 14 December 2020.
14. Ledbetter et al., “Afloat Officer Corps SITREP: Analysis & Survey.”
15. 2021 Coast Guard Flag List, www.uscg.mil/Leaders/Senior-Leadership/flag/.
16. Coast Guard senior leadership key strategies and documents can be viewed at www.uscg.mil/Leadership/Senior-Leadership/Resource-Library/.
17. Wenger et al., Balancing Quality of Life with Mission Requirements.
18. ALCGOFF 036/21, “Off-Season LCDR & LT Solicitation for SDRC Positions,” 1 April 2021.
19. “After Action Report – Major Cutter Commanding Officer Conference, 2020.
20. ALCOAST 364/20 – SEP 2020, “Eight Bells—A Sea Service Celebration on 18 October 2020,” 25 September 2020.
21. For example, see Pacific Area’s “Master Cutterman: Honoring BOSN Colton,” 3 July 2020.
22. U.S. Coast Guard, Cutter Recognition and Heritage Programs (Washington, DC: October 2019).
23. Wenger et al., Balancing Quality of Life with Mission Requirements.
24. 2020 Major Commanding Officers Conference After Action Report.
26. Commandant’s Guidance to PY20 Officer Selection Boards and Panels, 23 August 2019.
27. CDR Craig Allen Jr., USCG, “Connectivity Maketh the Cutter,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 145, no. 8 (August 2019).
28. Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2021 Coast Guard Operations and Support.