CIMSEC has an interesting article by a serving officer, Lt. Joseph O’Connell.
He starts off talking about gapped billets in the Coast Guard in general, 200 in 2021, but then concentrates on gapped afloat billets, 11 in 2021.
” This shortage grows more acute when considering the critical billets O3 and O4 officers fill aboard Coast Guard cutters: Operations Officers, Engineer Officers, Executive Officers, and Commanding Officers, depending on the cutter class.”
I am sure his observations are accurate, as far as they go, but I think he may have missed an important aspect of the Coast Guard’s assignment policies that has resulted in many officers, with sea going ambitions, making the choice to leave the service at the O-3/4 level. If we don’t do something differently, the problem is going to get worse.
As the Coast Guard continues to bring new hulls online while operating legacy assets the demand for afloat officers will far outstrip the limited and dwindling supply, with projections anticipating a 25% increase in cutter billets from current levels.
A change in personnel assignment policy could make a big difference.
I am long out of the service, so it is best if you check to see if my assumptions are correct.
- The ambition of most seagoing officers is ultimately to have a command afloat.
- Being a department head or XO is not an end in itself. It should be seen as a step toward command.
- Assignment officers are more likely to select an officer to command if they have had a previous successful command tour.
- If an O-3 sees that it is extremely unlikely he will ever get a command, he is unlikely to seek a department head or XO job and may very well leave the service.
Coast Guard personnel policies have created a situation where if you have not gotten a command as an E-3, it is unlikely you ever will.
The service is procuring 65 Webber class WPCs. At least 51 have already been commissioned. While a few are commanded by warrants or O-4s, generally they are commanded by O-3s. These and the few other O-3 afloat command billets create a large pool of potential future COs to choose from.
Those that have been or expect to be O-3 COs are unlikely to seek billets as department heads or XOs.
Those who miss the opportunity to command at the O-3 level, will see little chance they will be an afloat CO in the future.
Make command of a Webber class an O-4 billet.
Require that those selected to command Webber class WPCs will have completed a successful department head or XO afloat tour.
While some may feel command of a patrol craft requires only a junior officer, consider that these little ships, unlike WPBs, are doing all the same missions as an MEC (except the aviation component) with a smaller crew and fewer senior personnel to advise and support the CO. These ships generally operate independently, unlike Navy patrol craft which generally operate in groups under a squadron commander. We are seeing some of them embark on voyages of thousands of miles, operating outside US waters.
This policy would provide an incentive for officers to seek department head or XO tours as O-3s.
The Officers chosen to be COs at the O-4 level will be more experienced and more mature.
The service will have had more time to evaluate the officers prior to assignment including direct observation by a CO afloat, who should make a recommendation for or against a future command afloat.
Ultimately some officers will determine that they really have no chance of getting a CO afloat tour, but it will happen later in their career, when they may have found other rewarding work and they are less likely to leave the service.