PERSPECTIVE: We Can Pay our Coast Guard Service Members Today. Here’s How.

As this shutdown continues to drag on, there are some things that just need to be said. Our government could pay our U.S. Coast Guard today.  Despite the shutdown.

After 32 years of service in the U.S. Coast Guard and achieving the honor of becoming the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard, I am now in a position where I can contribute certain facts and behind-the-scenes realities that I couldn’t freely verbalize when I was active duty.

The Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Association and the Sea Service Family Foundation spent all day Tuesday on Capitol Hill. They were met with resistance and indifference instead of willingness to listen and work with our people to find a solution. Not one meeting was met with an open mind or with the spirit necessary to end this shut-down. We are in a sad state when our politicians are so apt to ignore the very real struggles of the American people— especially those who serve in our Military.

Watching our men and women of the Coast Guard suffer, spending time talking with our politicians, and answering calls from the families now facing their third period without pay has made one thing very clear. We must PAY OUR COAST GUARD now.

Fortunately, there exists an avenue to do that, one that doesn’t depend on stubborn politicians coming to an agreement and ending the shutdown.

The Coast Guard is a unique service.  It is a military organization, but because of its civilian, counterterrorism, and other homeland security responsibilities, it was moved from the U.S. Department of Transportation to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security after 9/11. However, it is different from other Homeland Security organizations— not only are Coast Guard members not getting paid, but they are struggling to purchase parts and fund maintenance for ships, helicopters, and airplanes that are essential to the Coast Guard ensuring mission readiness. While being under the Department of Homeland Security is an ideal situation while the government is running smoothly, not being squarely under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Defense has put us in a situation where our budget is subject to the political scuffles of the day.

In the U.S. Code, specifically 14 U.S. Code § 3 – “Department in which the Coast Guard operates,” the law says that “the Coast Guard shall be a service in the Department of Homeland Security, except when operating as a service in the Navy.” The law states that if the nation is at war, “or when the President directs,” the Coast Guard may operate as a service in the Navy.

The Department of Defense, because their authorization was approved prior to the current impasse, is largely unaffected by the present stalemate, and transferring the USCG to the U.S. Navy would allow us to pay our service-members without losing our autonomy or our ability to complete our mission.

How does it work?

The President would direct that the USCG transfer operations to a service of the Navy.  Under the law, Navy appropriations would then be available for the expense of the Coast Guard and any applicable appropriations of the Coast Guard would be available to transfer to the Navy.

Personnel of the Coast Guard would also be eligible to receive gratuities, medals, and other insignia of honor on the same basis as personnel in the naval service or serving in any capacity with the Navy.

The important thing, however, is that our service members would be paid and the equipment maintained so that they can continue to perform their life saving for the American people. That their worries would be focused on achieving their mission – not that their family cannot pay their rent or buy groceries. Working men and women would not have to stand in line for a free meal or groceries at a food bank.

Speaking frankly, this shut-down impacts the most vulnerable of our enlisted – the E3s and E4s who make the least amount of money and are working for the nation and trying to support families.  Basic pay for a non-rate (E3) is $1,931/month or $23,172/year, before taxes.  Not much with which to build up a great nest egg. And, while assistance is pouring in, $1500 is not going to carry them through.  They will lose their houses, they will lose their cars, they will lose their faith in our government.

And the fact that our politicians are asking them to bear the weight of political spats is unacceptable.

I call on the President to direct that the Coast Guard be transferred to the Department of the Navy and get our service members paid.

That can be done today.

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Master Chief Charles W. "Skip" Bowen was the tenth Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard. Master Chief Bowen’s personal awards include the Coast Guard Distinguished Service Medal, four Meritorious Service Medals with "O" device, four Coast Guard Commendation Medals with "O" device, three Coast Guard Achievement Medals with "O" device, Commandant’s Letter of Commendation, six Meritorious Team Commendation Awards with "O" device, two Coast Guard Unit Commendations with "O" device, seven Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendations with "O" device, and the Coast Guard Sea Service Ribbon with two stars. Master Chief Bowen’s educational accomplishments include a Bachelor of Science Degree, "Magna Cum Laude" from Excelsior College and a Master of Business Administration “Summa Cum Laude” from Touro University International. He is currently Vice President of Government Affairs for Bollinger Shipyards and is the Co-Author of the leadership book “Breaching the Summit."

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