“Merchant Mariner Shortage Has Gotten Worse, but a Partial Solution Is Available” –Real Clear Defense

“Convoy WS-12: A Vought SB2U Vindicator scout bomber from USS Ranger (CV-4) flies anti-submarine patrol over the convoy, while it was en route to Cape Town, South Africa, 27 November 1941. The convoy appears to be making a formation turn from column to line abreast. Two-stack transports in the first row are USS West Point (AP-23) — left –; USS Mount Vernon (AP-22) and Coast Guard manned USS Wakefield (AP-21). Heavy cruisers, on the right side of the first row and middle of the second, are USS Vincennes (CA-44) and USS Quincy (CA-39). Single-stack transports in the second row are Coast Guard manned USS Leonard Wood (AP-25, later APA-12) and Coast Guard manned USS Joseph T. Dickman (AP-26 later APA-13).”

Real Clear Defense reports,

A mariner shortfall in 2018 was a grave concern. Today, with an escalating conflict in Europe and an increasingly bellicose China, the lack of seasoned merchant mariners is a clear and present danger to our national security.

Four years ago, the nation was about 1,800 mariners short to sustain sealift in a crisis beyond six months. Today that number is only increasing.

The proposed partial solution is to increae the size of the Merchant Marine Academy classes.

Coast Guard Academy graduates know the Merchant Marine Academy primarily as a football rival, but it is also a source of many Coast Guard Officers.

The central point of the post is that we don’t have enough mariners to support a war. The great distances of the Pacific exacerbate the problem. Logistics, as always, are key.

I would note that the shortages of mariners is not just in the officer ranks, so something more would have to be done.

This have anything to do with the Coast Guard? Well, a few months before the US entry into WWII, there was a test of our maritime logistics capabilities, and it found that the merchant marine crews of Army transport ships were unwilling to operate in the manner the military thought best, including darken ship. What happened? The ships were commissioned and crewed by the Coast Guard.

I am not suggesting that today’s merchant crews are unreliable, but if there are shortages, it is not impossible the nation will again turn to the Coast Guard to supply mariners for high priority logistics ships.

“The Coast Guard Must Take Action to Send Women Afloat” –USNI

The US Naval Institute blog has a post entitled “The Coast Guard Must Take Action to Send Women Afloat, writen by Cadet Second Class Kyra Holmstrup, U.S. Coast Guard, who said that she was fortunate to spend a long summer cruise on a National Security Cutter but noted her experience was the exception.

Third-class summer is vital to future career selection in the Coast Guard. Without having gone afloat on an NSC, I would not be at CGA today. Seeing the world from the bridge helped me identify the reason why I joined and solidified the leadership lessons I learned as they guide me through my 200-week leadership journey. If this is not addressed now, our service risks losing the diversity and relevance the Coast Guard has so desperately worked to attain. To the senior leaders at CGA and in the Coast Guard: Make it a priority to send female cadets afloat for summer assignments and provide cadets with opportunities to experience different underway platforms. The focus should be on providing prospective female officers with earlier exposure to the afloat community starting at CGA with cadets like me. Not enough female cadets experience adequate time on board cutters early on in their careers; if female cadets did, the Coast Guard would see an increase in the number that go and—more importantly—stay afloat.

Earlier USNI had another post,“Fixing the Coast Guard Academy’s Priorities” that we discussed here. It appears all cadets, not just female cadets, are not getting enough experience afloat with operational units.

Our credibility in all mission areas is predicated on our experience as a seagoing organization. All Coasties, particularly officers, need at least some experience afloat.

“Fixing the Coast Guard Academy’s Priorities” –USNI

ATLANTIC OCEAN (Feb. 23, 2021) — USCGC Charles Moulthrope (WPC 1141) conducted Astern Refueling at Sea training with the USCGC Venturous (WMEC 625). This evolution provides vital fuel to extend the endurance and range of FRC and provided an excellent training opportunity for both crews. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sydney Niemi/Released)

US Naval Institute Proceedings has an essay that was chosen as third place winner in their “Midshipmen & Cadets Essay Contest,” written by now Ensign Logan Tobias. He contends, “The U.S. Coast Guard Academy is failing as a commissioning source for future leaders in the maritime domain. “

He suggests that the Academy has prioritized academics over professional training, and further that it is failing to graduate officers with “a love for the sea.” He also suggest that the class ranking system (military precedence average (MPA) calculation) which is weighted to consider suitability for service or military performance (MPI) as only 25% of the total undermines professional development.

 The MPA formula ensures academics always take precedence even though it is widely understood that MPI better encapsulates what it means to be an effective officer. In fact, a study commissioned by the U.S. Military Academy demonstrated that the correlation between academic success and officer effectiveness “did not demonstrate a very high relationship.”

Pointing out that academic performance and leadership do not necessarily go hand in hand he suggests, an evaluative prioritization shift to 55 percent GPA, 40 percent MPI, 5 percent PDC will help cadets reassess their priorities, allowing them to pursue opportunities for professional development not as a tradeoff for MPA points, but to advance both their personal readiness and class rank at the same time.

It does seem like sea-going experience is taking a hit.

In total, cadets accumulate approximately 140 sea days before graduation: 6-weeks on board the USCGC Barque Eagle (WIX-327) during third-class summer, three weeks on board 44-foot sailing yachts during second-class summer, and 11-weeks on board a cutter during first-class summer. However, this practicum is of questionable efficacy, as sailing a yacht to Nantucket is only tenuously related to conning a Coast Guard cutter. Moreover, many first class go to drydocked cutters, never leaving the pier, or only go underway for 6 weeks rather than 11, opting instead for internships and air stations. In summer 2021, more than one third of first-class cadets were assigned to internships or air stations. This apportionment helped contribute to 42 percent of the class not having enough sea time to earn a 100-ton license as of November 2021.

Forgive me, I am going to indulge in a bit of “back in my day,” even though it was long, long ago in a galaxie far, far away.  

My class and those of that now ancient era had an organized training cruise every year.  Newly arrived “swabs” (4th class/freshmen) capped swab summer with a short two week cruise that also included the 2nd class cadets.  3rd class and 1st class cadet had a 10 week cruise. That is 24 weeks afloat compared to the current 20 weeks but there were other significant differences. Even then there were some departures from this typical schedule but these were normally only available to second and first class cadets.

First, we all knew our first assignment would be afloat, so it focused the mind.

The 10 week cruises were organized as a training squadron of several ships whose only mission was training cadets. None of them were tied up in port except for scheduled short port calls.

Academy officers were assigned to the ships to coordinate cadet training with the ships.

The first class cadets began to learn officer duties, OOD, CIC, Navigator, Damage Control and Engineering.

Perhaps most importantly, the third class cadets would stand watches with enlisted sailors as messenger, helm, BMOW, evaporator watch, generators, main prop, mess cook, radarman, quartermaster, etc. We lived in enlisted berthing and eat on the messdeck. We would lower and raise boats and served in the boat crews in different positions. We manned and fired the 5″ gun. We did man overboard drills. We laid out the hawser and did towing drills, towing and being towed. We worked maneuvering board solutions for stationing problems, learning a lot about relative motion. This gave us a good understanding of what we could and should expect of our enlisted personnel. This is something you don’t get on Eagle or on a 44 sloop.

That third class year long cruise may be the most important thing missing now. Being part of a good crew is a great part of the allure of sea duty. That cruise gave us a taste of that.

Bottom line, if the academy does not provide better trained and better motivated Coast Guard officers than other sources, it has no need to exist.

The author may be wrong in his assessment. Current requirement may make it impossible to train everyone to be ship drivers or marine engineers, but the background does provide a degree of credibility for marine inspectors and a better understanding for our aviators. I would think, at least for the first two summers’ training would strongly emphasize an afloat career path.

“Coast Guard Academy Cadets Prepare to Join the Fleet” –Seapower

A team from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy participated in the National Security Agency’s 20th annual National Cyber Exercise (NCX), a three-day cyber competition that tests the offensive and defensive cybersecurity skills virtually, April 8-10, 2021. The Coast Guard Academy recently instituted a Cyber Systems degree to meet the needs of the services cyber security strategy of defending cyber space, enabling operations, and protecting infrastructure. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Hunter Medley)

The Navy League’s on-line magazine “Seapower” reports on “Billet Night” at the Coast Guard Academy, when cadets learn where they will be going after graduation.

The significant news in the report is that while over 200 will go to afloat units and 20 will go directly to flight school,

The remaining graduates will report to various shore units, including the first graduates of the Academy’s Cyber Systems program. The newly established Cyber Systems degree provides graduates with the skills and ability to defend cyberspace, enable operations, and protect critical maritime infrastructure.