Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz’s people-centered approach in his first annual State of the Coast Guard address Thursday was welcomed by the top leader of the Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Association.
Schultz’s address was interspersed with video vignettes highlighting the personal stories of a diverse set of Coast Guard officers — and in some cases their families. And it included pledges to make the service more “reflective of the nation we serve,” and family friendly.
“I look at this in the context of the government shutdown,” said retired Senior Chief Jon Ostrowski, CPOA national president, recalling that service members were either furloughed or working — but in either case without pay. “It was a needed bit of morale-boosting.”
Schultz introduced or promised to look at a range of policy measures to improve retention rates and make the service more inclusive and diverse.
Ostrowski, who served 30 years as a boatswain, said some of the changes Schultz pledged to look at — like ending the ban on single parents — would present complex policy issues. “Single parents are generally seen as not deployable, especially at short notice,” said Ostrowski, who was deployed overseas multiple times, including for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
But the commandant’s promises to improve access to childcare and use reserve personnel to backfill caregiver leave, including parental leave, would help improve retention rates, especially among women, he said.
“I spent eight years as a recruiter and, I can tell you, women tend to think differently about those issues,” he said. He added that the Coast Guard had the highest retention rate of any of the military services. “It’s one of the hardest [services] to get into, but when people get here they love it, and they want to stay.”
By focusing on the personnel, Ostrowski added, Schultz also delivered an implicit rebuke to policy makers whose failures had led to the shutdown.
“He’s saying, ‘I’m putting my people first, and so should you. Don’t let politics get in the way,'” Ostrowski said. “It’s always a struggle to get what you need from Congress.”
Schultz highlighted major recapitalization programs like the new generation of Offshore Patrol Cutters, or OPCs. But he also noted $1.7 billion in deferred modernization costs for onshore infrastructure.
“The buildings where people live and work are very, very old,” Ostrowski said. “You ‘re always robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
Ostrowski also highlighted Schultz’s portrait of the service as vital to the security and safety of maritime trade — the beating heart of the U.S. economic engine. “Many Americans don’t realize the important role the Coast Guard plays in securing this critical part of the economy,” he said.
Schultz made the “very rare” decision to deliver the State of the Coast Guard address away from the nation’s capital to underline this issue, Ostrowski said.
Schultz delivered his speech at Coast Guard Base Los Angeles/Long Beach in San Pedro, Calif. “It’s the eighth largest port complex in the world,” Ostrowski noted.