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.