Nearly six years have passed since then–Lieutenant Commander Brian Smicklas presaged “The Demise of the Cutterman.”1 Viewed by many at the time as a doom-and-gloom prediction, a hypothetical situation in extremis, Smicklas’s projected reckoning is coming to pass. The Coast Guard does not have enough cuttermen volunteering for assignment to send its fleet to sea. Without dramatic, immediate action, it will have to select-and-direct cuttermen to serve afloat in six months’ time.
The current lessening of standards signals a death spiral of underqualified officers afloat compared with today’s force; swift action in the spirit of Smicklas’ clarion call is critical to make sea duty attractive. In the absence of leadership, incentive, and robust support for seagoing officers, the Coast Guard will end up with a less capable fleet unable to meet future challenges.
1. LCDR Brian Smicklas, USCG, “The Demise of the Cutterman,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 141, no. 8 (August 2015).
2. Commandant’s Guidance to PY21 Officer Selection Boards and Panels.
3. Advantage at Sea: Prevailing with Integrated All-Domain Naval Power (December 2020); and Paul McLeary, “CJCS Milley Predicts DoD Budget ‘Bloodletting’ to Fund Navy,” Breaking Defense, 3 December 2020.
4. Commandant’s Guidance to PY21 Officer Selection Boards and Panels.
5. U.S. Coast Guard, ALCOAST Commandant’s Notice 105/20: “Sep 2020 FY21 Workforce Planning Team Results—Afloat Officer Interventions,” September 2020.
6. U.S. Coast Guard, “FY21 Workforce Planning Team Results—Afloat Officer Interventions.”
7. U.S. Coast Guard, ALCOAST Commandant’s Notice 146/20: “Dec 2020 FY21 Workforce Planning Team Results—Afloat Officer Interventions, Update One," 14 December 2020.
8. Office of Cutter Forces, “Afloat Officer Corps SITREP: Analysis & Survey,” 20 February 2020.
9. U.S. Coast Guard, ALCOAST 016/21, “Jan 2021: Sea-Duty Readiness,” 13 January 2021.
10. U.S. Coast Guard, “Jan 2021: Sea-Duty Readiness.”