The commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard told lawmakers that the service is on a “good trajectory” to “bringing more women into our flag ranks” as a critical cog in a multi-faceted strategy to strengthen Coast Guard readiness.
“With your assistance, we must sustain momentum in our efforts to restore readiness and we must continue to transform into a 21st century Coast Guard — one that stands ready to meet an increasing demand for our services and is able to operate in an increasingly complex, interconnected and technologically advanced maritime domain,” Adm. Karl Schultz told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security last week. “Readiness is not achievable without deliberate action.”
Congressional support has enabled the service to move forward with critical projects such as building the nation’s first new heavy polar icebreakers in nearly half a century, Schultz said. The “engineering casualty” of medium icebreaker Healy last summer “highlights the lack of resilience in the U.S. icebreaker fleet and reinforces the importance of our ongoing Polar Security Cutter acquisition efforts,” he added.
In spite of “extraordinary effort,” the Coast Guard’s medium endurance cutter fleet “has lost nearly 500 annual patrol days over the last two years due to unplanned maintenance and repairs,” he said, stressing that “replacing this fleet is absolutely essential for the Coast Guard to effectively carry out its missions in the future.”
“Any effort to address readiness must also include the CoastGuard‘s aviation fleet,” Schultz continued. “Our fleet of MH-65 Dolphin helicopters is increasingly difficult to maintain and the rapidly declining availability of parts for these aircraft is affecting our ability to field this capability. Accordingly, the Coast Guard must take immediate actions to begin transitioning our rotary wing fleet toward a single airframe composed of MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters.”
To improve readiness, the Coast Guard also “must continue targeted investments in our shore infrastructure and our implementation technology systems.”
Schultz emphasized that human capital is particularly critical to a posture of readiness, and acknowledged that “as the pool of Americans eligible to serve in the armed forces become smaller, the Coast Guard must provide parity with the other military services.”
“Readiness is also about the attractiveness of our service in a highly competitive job market,” he said. “This includes bonuses and retention pay, modernized training, expanded educational benefits such as tuition assistance and access to reliable childcare.”
While the Coast Guard recruits about 4,000 members per year, the Marine Corps recruits about 30,000 a year. “Our recruiters average about 12.5 recruits. The Marines about 7.5. And they do it with a workforce that is exponentially bigger than ours.”
Schultz highlighted that “in an organization of 15 percent women, our academy graduating class this spring will be about 40 percent women.”
After that, he said, it’s not just about getting women through training but focusing on “how do we retain them in the service.”
“If I did nothing but bring women into Cape May — 4,000 a year for the next four years — and every single woman I brought in stayed in the service, we’d only move 15 percent to probably 18 percent, and I can’t go find 4,000 women right now at that pace,” Schultz said. “But our goal is 25 percent women — 35 percent underrepresented minorities. So, as we go out and recruit that difficult space we’re getting those targets up.”
“I think we’re on a good trajectory… but this is gonna be a little bit of long ball to really see the movement. But I think we win when we can retain members and they see themselves rising to whatever level success looks like in the service to them as individuals.”
Retention includes career and educational growth, family support, and bonuses, the commandant said. “We usually are about $2,000. We cap out at $10,000 for certain skill sets. The Army starts that conversation at about $12,000,” Schultz explained. “If you ship out in the first 30 days it’s a $12,000 bonus. If you ship out 31 to 60 days it’s a $5,000 bonus. They go upwards of $40,000 to $60,000 for certain skill sets. The Marine Corps is most common to us. They are about $3,000 recruit but they go up to about $12,000 for targeted skill sets.”
“So, it is about 27 percent of Americans youth eligible to serve — 10 percent with a propensity. And we’re in that difficult space,” he added. “And then, I would tell you, we don’t have a big budget for marketing. And then you don’t see a lot of Coast Guard big marketing during major sports events and the gaming conferences. So, we have to be very targeted.”
Elaborating on the infrastructure element of readiness, Schultz noted that the average age of Coast Guard shore facilities is 38 years old and housing is an average of 45 years old. “A healthy organization recapitalizes somewhere between 2 and 4 percent of their infrastructure on an annual basis,” he said. “We are somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of that healthy rate in the Coast Guard which, you know, if you kind of project that out we’d be recapitalizing our infrastructure every 267 years. So, that is unsustainable and we pull a huge backlog.”
“We have been on a much healthier trajectory with the support of this committee and your senatorial counterparts and that is a positive step in the right direction,” the commandant added. “I think we need to continue that.”
On the challenges posed by cyber threats, Schultz noted that the Coast Guard is building out its second cyber protection team. “We are building that workforce out that’s really gonna allow us to excel,” he said.
“You go about 72-96 hours from some kind of a manmade cyber intrusion that shuts the port down. NotPetya back here a couple years ago with Maersk, you know, that can cripple that port. And we will feel that on the shelves of Walmart and Macy’s and Target in less than a week.”
Cyber retention poses its own challenges as the Coast Guard aims to recruit and keep talent in this realm. “Bringing them in — keeping them in — we’ve got to think about different agility and permeability for that workforce,” Schultz said.