Coast Guard sets up recruiting corps to deal with struggling numbers

The Coast Guard has been struggling for recruits the past couple years, and while the COVID-19 situation may be helping with retainment, the service still needs to fill its holes.

To do that, last month the Coast Guard announced it is starting a recruiting corps in hopes of bringing in people interested in becoming officers directly out of college.

“Other services have the ability to recruit officers using officers,” Richter Tipton, commanding officer of Coast Guard Recruiting Command, told Federal News Network. “We use our enlisted corps for enlisted members. But we were trying to figure out a way to bring in officers using officers. Our vice commandant and our commandant immediately saw the benefit of this program and authorized five billets for release.”

Four of the officers will be assigned to specific geographic areas and one will supervise them.

“There are some fantastic schools that maybe they’re not located near the Coast Guard, we were a smaller branch of service,” said Cmdr. Andrea Smith, executive officer of Coast Guard Recruiting Command. “With the recruitment corps we can make and sustain great relationships with those schools. Their graduates and their students can understand who we are to service and consider us as a future employer. It takes a lot of work, it takes time to make those types of relationships, and to make sure that people see us for what we are as an organization.”

The billets will be located in Miami, New Orleans, Atlanta and Hampton Roads in Virginia. The service plans to expand the program over time.

Smith said the officers will be specifically focused on recruiting new officers and will go between schools in the region. The corps will go into classes, make relationships with individuals and get involved in local organizations.

“We hope that we’ll be able to take potential applicants out to some of our air stations and get an opportunity to see what it’s like to be a pilot over to one of the sectors, to see what it’s like to be a prevention officer or a response officer,” Smith said.

The corps will work by recruiting people into officer candidate school, direct commission officer programs and the College Pre-commissioning Program, which streamlines the officer selection process.

Coast Guard recruitment has been down recently.

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said Wednesday that the past couple years the service has been falling short about 3,500 recruits a year.

This year, the service is trying to bring in 4,000 recruits, which includes about 500 or 600 reservists.

“We will not meet that 4,000 goal this year, but I’ll tell you we’re going to rally north of 2,500,” Schultz said. “If we’re able to do that, given the challenges of training with COVID-19, I’ll say that’s a pretty darn successful year and we’ll just keep the gas on.”

Service retention remains high and is continuing to increase because of the economic uncertainty caused by coronavirus.

Tipton said the Coast Guard is particularly interested in recruiting people with STEM backgrounds, however, it wants people with the whole package.

Tipton said the recruiting corps should be ready for when schools are back in full capacity after the pandemic starts to wane.

“COVID is not a forever issue,” he said. “When COVID lifts, and when schools are back in session and when we’re face to face again, we expect to be standing at the door ready to go to build relationships. We will be ready find the folks that we need and to bring them into the Coast Guard. We feel that this is the time to get prepared for when this pandemic is over.”

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