“Demise of the Cutterman, Part II” USNI Proceedings

A Coast Guard Cutter Valiant crew member embraces his son Feb. 27, 2020, as he returns home to Naval Station Mayport, Florida. The Valiant crew returned home after completing a nine-week patrol in the Caribbean Sea supporting Joint Interagency Task Force South. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Dickinson)

The US Naval Institute has an article discussing the Coast Guard’s difficulty getting qualified volunteers for sea duty, Demise of the Cutterman, Part II. This article makes reference to a 2015 post, The Demise of the Cutterman. I think both are currently accessible even to non-members, at least for a limited time.

I considered that perhaps there were other reasons for the difficulties. Was it possible the difficulties were due to the change in the manning requirements of the recapitalized fleet?

Are there more sea duty billets than there were before? I checked this and there does not appear to be great difference in the gross numbers.

I compared the previous fleet of 12 WHEC 378s, 28 WMECs, and 41 Island class WPBs (81 total) to the projected fleet of 11 NSCs, 25 OPCs, and 64 Webber class WPCs (100 total).

The requirements to man 64 Webber class (24 crewmembers each) compared to 41 Island class (16 crewmembers each) required 880 additional.

This was largely offset by the change from 12 WHECs (177 crewmember each) to 11 NSCs (122 crew members each) for a reduction of 782 billets.

There has been no change in the WMEC/OPC fleet yet but the shift from 28 WMECs (requiring a total of 2449 billets) to 25 OPCs (requiring approximately 2500 billets) should only add about 51 billets.

So it looks like the recapitalization should require only about 150 additional billets or an increase of less than 3%. But the specifics of the crews composition may have changed.

I don’t have enough information to investigate these in detail but I suspect three changes have effected our ability to crew the new ships.

Do we have fewer non-rates? I suspect the percentage of the crew who are non-rates has decreased. (It is not hard to fill non-rate billets.) This means that more of the crewmembers are married and have families at home. It also means fewer non-rates are being introduced to sea duty, so the number of prior sea service personnel advancing to petty officer will be reduced. Assuming no change in the proportion of non-rates choosing to return to sea as petty officers later in their career, this will effect the future talent pool as well. It will mean fewer salty first class, chiefs, and warrant officers.

More technical ratings? Again this is a supposition on my part, but presumably the new generation of ships require greater levels of expertise to operate. This means a higher proportion of the crew is mature with more responsibilities and more attractive job possibilities outside the Coast Guard. Increasingly, individuals in this demographic will seek shore duty or choose to leave the service, which is an option for most because they will have completed their initial enlistment.

More officers required? Also a supposition on my part, but at least in the case of replacing 41 WPBs with 64 WPC, we are going from 82 officers to 256, a 210% increase. Junior officers are probably not a problem, so I presume the problem is in getting middle grade billets filled, particularly O-3 and O-4 billets. While I doubt that there is a shortage of volunteers to command Webber class WPCs, I can understand why there would be a hesitance to volunteer for other O-3 billets afloat. If you have ambitions of command afloat, and you don’t get command of a Webber class, the feeling may be that your chances for future command afloat selection are extremely slim, because those who had Webber class command will inevitably be considered better qualified.

There is a cure for this that would provide incentive to take those O-3 billets. Make an O-3 tour, e.g. department head on “big white one” or buoy tender XO, a prerequisite for command afloat as an O-3 or O-4. The result might theoretically reduce the future pool of command afloat candidates, but the pool should still be large enough, and those selected for O-3/O-4 command afloat would be more experienced and will have passed an additional layer of vetting.

2 thoughts on ““Demise of the Cutterman, Part II” USNI Proceedings

  1. Something I had intended to mention. Apparently the first 270 Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) is supposed to be done with FY2022 money.. Also the first WLM Major Maintenance Availability (MMA).

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