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Coast Guard Examining Part-Time Service to Better Man Its Force

Graduates from recruit company Hotel-203 complete basic training at U.S. Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, N.J., Feb. 24, 2023. Coast Guard Photo

Part-time service – like serving three days per week on active duty instead of seven – could help solve persistent recruiting shortfalls in the Coast Guard, the service’s commandant said Wednesday.

Adm. Linda Fagan suggested creating a category other than active duty, reserve or civilian employee, to describe service.

“I’m [going to] use the term part-time: You’ve got some level of benefit, but you’re working three days a week instead of the 24/7, 365-day contract that comes in,” Fagan said at a Brookings Institution event.

When recruiting certified aircraft mechanics or cyber specialists, all of them, including the “part-timers” if that category is approved, would have to undergo Coast Guard basic training, Fagan said.

“Like the other branches of the Armed Forces, and much of private sector, the Coast Guard is experiencing a workforce shortage. We are struggling to recruit the people we need to hire into our ranks,” Fagan said in her March state of the Coast Guard address.

Workforce management has been Fagan’s top priority since becoming the commandant in June. The Coast Guard missed its recruiting goals for more than five years. When Fagan took command, the service was 2,000 members short of its desired end strength, but on Wednesday, she said that number is rising at a time when the pool of recruits is shrinking.

During her first appearance as commandant before the House Homeland Security Transportation and Maritime Security panel last year, Fagan emphasized workforce management, saying she needed the “right tools” to successfully recruit and retain Coast Guard service members.

At Brookings, she said those tools could include lateral entry in fields ranging from culinary to cyber, the number of permanent change of station moves and renovating shore infrastructure.

She spoke favorably about having a “revolving door” available through which these specialists could move between the civilian sector and Coast Guard after four years.

“Industry has the speed of innovation” that would allow these specialists to remain current in their fields while government service offers the widest range of experiences to use those skills, Fagan said. “Maybe you cross-pollinate.”

The commandant added that when she examined the backgrounds of recruits at Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, N.J., she found that many held bachelor’s, master’s and, in some case, doctoral degrees, as well as certifications in career fields the service needs now.

Fagan wants to “eliminate barriers” that were established to meet manpower needs for World War II and the early Cold War, which emphasized attracting 18-year-old high school graduates who all start at the lowest rank and served for specific periods of time.

She compared today’s situation to the gender barrier that blocked women from attending the Coast Guard Academy when she was admitted in the early 1980s. Of the Class of 2023, which graduates May 17, 45 percent are women.

“We have work to do [to] reflect the society we serve,” Fagan said.

“We’re working on a marketing campaign” so the public understands the range of Coast Guard activities and responsibilities, she added. The service has opened additional recruiting offices to attract enlistments from regions of the country that have little direct experience with the service, but could be drawn to the Coast Guard’s missions. The service has also moved advertising to social media, like Twitch – a popular video and gaming platform – to spread its message to a wider audience.

“We offer meaningful work,” she said.

It is important for the country to understand what the mission and role of the Coast Guard is, Fagan said in her State of the Coast Guard speech.

At Brookings, she added: “if you don’t have the people, [new aircraft and cutters] are just interesting pieces of steel.”