“A Sea Service Gone Ashore” –USNI

The crew of USCGC Kimball (WMSL 756) arrive in Honolulu for the first time Dec. 22, 2018. Known as the Legend-class, NSCs are designed to be the flagships of the Coast Guard’s fleet, capable of executing the most challenging national security missions, including support to U.S. combatant commanders. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Sara Muir/Released)

The US Naval Institute Proceedings’ December issue includes an article by LCdr. Karen Love Kutkiewicz, USCG, discussing the problems of motivating people toward sea duty, both now and in the future, when sea duty billets are expected to constitute a higher percentage of Coast Guard personnel.

The article has a couple charts that are particularly interesting. The first shows the growth in cutter billets and associated direct support.

The fleet has had some ups and downs and while we may be seeing a percentage rise currently, I suspect that there were periods in the past, when the Coast Guard was even smaller, when seagoing billets were at a higher percentage than currently projected for 2037 (really more like 2039 now). When I reported to the Academy in 1965, we had 36 WHECs and several icebreakers.

Still looking at the recent past, since we are adding both afloat billets and direct support billets, which will be in large part billets that require seagoing experience, while the rest of the service remains essentially stable, this does look like a substantial change in the overall percentage of coasties going to sea.

The second showing the assignment year 2021 command slots to be filled and number of applicants.

I would not think it surprising that there is more competition for Command Ashore positions because, while only officers with an afloat background compete for Command Afloat, those same officers, as well as essentially the rest of the officer corps, compete for command ashore billets, and at the O3/O4 level there are very few command ashore billets. Looking at the O3/O4 Afloat Command line, are 91 applicants for 53 positions adequately competitive? Could be.

The post seems to be most concerned about O3/O4 command billets, but really, I see more of a problem in motivating personnel to fill department head and XO billets in the O3-O5 level. Will they ever get a shot at command afloat when up against those who were given early command?

This is not the first article bemoaning the loss of sea going experience.

Apparently one thing we have done, is open O3 command billets to Warrant Officers. Maybe, if we are not doing so already, we should consider opening O3 department head billets to Warrants as well.

Something else we might do, is reorganize at least some support functions into squadron commands, staffed by experienced seagoing personnel, including post-command squadron commanders. These commands (Area commands for the largest ships and District commands for WPC and WPBs) could mentor the ships’ COs and crews. In addition, they would be in an excellent position, to make fair evaluations of their performance. Additionally, they could be the source to fill short term shortages in essential billets.

To keep things in perspective. I would note that, while the Coast Guard has only about an eighth of the number of active-duty military personnel as the Navy, the Coast Guard has almost as many military command afloat billets (excluding Military Sealift vessels commanded by civilians), and far more at a junior level.

10 thoughts on ““A Sea Service Gone Ashore” –USNI

  1. I was recently reading about the role of the APD (High-Speed Transport/Destroyers) of WW2, where most often than not performed High Speed Resupply Duties of actual Fighting Ships. And were most often than not commanded by an O-2/3 as their ship’s captain. Slower supply ships like the Camano class Small Cargo Ship (i.e. 1955 “Mr. Roberts”) were also commanded by LT’s or LTJG’s…

      • Now it is difficult to find a USN ship that is commanded by anyone junior to an O-5. The Cyclone class is pretty much the only exception, and they are going away.

      • @Chuck – How much of the “senior officers only” as command billets is due to risk-aversion and “publicity liability” about ships running aground and/or into other ships?

        And, ironically, since OOD watchstanders (of lower rank) are inevitably left unattended on the bridge when highly problematic incidents happen (particularly in 7th Fleet), is the “only senior officer COs” system working? Seems like the USN has ran into more trouble than less with the collisions mentioned.

        Also, although they are being decommed (or perhaps have been by now), don’t forget the USN’s minesweepers. I think they have O-4 skippers.

    • In the early 1960s, Navy coastal mine sweepers were commanded by O-2s. Like the Coast Guard, they have suffered billet creep.

      • And prior to 1981, Senior Non-Commissioned Officers were allowed to Fly Combat Missions in the USN and 1979 to fly and search aircrafts and helicopters in the USCG. So I don’t know what your point is, other than technical proficiency competence requirements between what was and what exists now. In 1960 what percentage of a Minesweeper was “Computerized”…

      • The only mine countermeasures ships we have now are very old https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avenger-class_mine_countermeasures_ship, but they are not coastal minesweepers. They would never have been commanded by O-2s. I don’t see today’s destroyers commanded by O-4s like they used to be because they have now really taken the place of cruisers.

        When I graduated from the Academy in 2969, old HECs (255s, 311s, and 327s) were commanded by O-5s, but I think 378s were always commanded by O-6s.

  2. I think the Navy’s problem is that put too much on their surface warfare officers during their first tour. The Coast Guard JOs go in as either Deck or Engineers. Navy JOs are expected to learn both jobs first tour and there are more JOs on the Navy ships and their systems are generally more complex. Their qualifications include learning weapons systems and tactics. It is just more than can be reasonably expected in two years.

    • In the Royal Navy JOs divide into four specialties. They are not expected to know everything. That gives them time to get good at their particular area of expertise and learn other aspects of the profession to an appropriate level of detail, before they become commanding officers.

  3. Pingback: Commandant’s Remarks, USNI West 2022 -Sea Service Chiefs Town Hall, Feb 2022 | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

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