100 days: Q&A

Editor’s Note: On his 100th day as Commandant, Coast Guard Commandant ADM Zukunft invited members of the Coast Guard to submit questions for senior leadership to answer based off what Coast Guard men and women are currently seeing at their unit or the challenges they see for our Service as we confront new and emerging threats. Last week, ADM Zukunft sat with the leadership team to discuss the questions that came in, and below are the selected questions and answers. Questions have been edited for length and clarity.

Coast Guard Commandant ADM Zukunft and Coast Guard Vice Commandant VADM Neffenger discuss questions that came in from the fleet. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Coast Guard Commandant ADM Zukunft and Coast Guard Vice Commandant VADM Neffenger discuss questions that came in from the fleet. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Question 1:
My question is about leadership and advancement. While looking at the USCG’s 28 leadership competencies, it is notable that the majority of them (more than 22) emphasize emotional intelligence in a person to be successful. However our advancement system and training systems (OER, Enlisted Marks, CGBI, CG Learning) are increasingly becoming numbers and knowledge driven that tend to overlook the “human” element. The bulk of our qualification system still successfully uses oral boards to determine if a person possesses the right mix of emotional intelligence and knowledge. Are there any thoughts to overhauling our advancement system at key ranks to include actual face to face boards like many other military services have done? If not, are there any changes in the current advancement system (officers and enlisted) that are envisioned for the future? – CWO Todd Wardwell, Sector South East New England

Answer 1:
Before jumping into my first question, I wanted to applaud your willingness to post your question on the comments section of the blog. It was great to see feedback from the fleet, in all forms, but yours was the only one that came via the comments section on the blog. I appreciate your enthusiasm in sharing in this open dialogue. I set up social media accounts for that specific reason. I want to share with key stakeholders and partners the great work you do so they can further understand and appreciate the Coast Guard’s value to the Nation.

Now, about leadership and advancement: I do not intend to change the current enlisted advancement system to use advancement boards. Why not? It gets back to the way you wrote your question – it’s about leadership. It’s good that you paired your question on advancement with leadership qualities because I wholeheartedly agree these go hand in hand. I believe our current evaluation system serves us well. Where we’re lacking at times is in supervisors and reporting officers taking full ownership of the system. Full ownership to me is about supervisors and reporting officers knowing their people. Devotion to Duty is one of our core values and one of these duties is our people. I made this one of my Guiding Principles because our people are critical to the success of the Service. So what does Duty to People look like when applied to advancement and evaluation systems? It means viewing the system as more than just boxes and numbers. Supervisors and reporting officers have got to take a look at these as critical drivers for promotion, advancement and assignment.

The Commandant flips through his notes from the 100 days leadership discussion. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

The Commandant flips through his notes from the 100 days leadership discussion. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

The advancement system ensures the required degree of proficiency exists at the various levels within each specialty and advances those best qualified to fill the vacancies that occur. The human element you keyed in on is factored in by requiring each member to have the recommendation for advancement, which is considered the most important eligibility requirement. Simply put, our advancement system is about asking yourself who is it that you want to elevate – to earn – that recommendation either for advancement, promotion or command assignments.

Certainly when you look at leadership qualities, there might be a few that are intangible, such as emotional intelligence. But, again, it comes down to leadership. It comes down to your Duty to People. – ADM Zukunft

Question 2:
Over the past several years, cyber security has been thrust into the national spotlight as one of the greatest threats and challenges facing our nation. Recognizing the criticality that cyber plays across all domains – air, sea, land and space – DHS and DOD have made cybersecurity and resiliency one of their top priorities, investing both personnel and resources to meet the emerging threat. Understanding the current fiscal environment that the Service faces as well as limited future resources, what role do you see the Service playing in protecting the critical cyber systems that enable CG mission execution as well as protecting and enhancing the cyber safety, security and resiliency of our maritime vessels, ports and waterways? – Brett Rouzer, Cyber Command

Answer 2:
It’s great to see you’re thinking about cyber because cyber is certainly on my mind. Cyber affects the full spectrum of Coast Guard operations. This is not an information technology niche within the Coast Guard. It really cuts across every aspect of the Coast Guard and can no longer be considered an information technology niche that belongs to C4IT specialists.

Currently, one of our biggest vulnerabilities is cyber hygiene: we still have users across the Coast Guard who continue to plug unauthorized devices into our networks and engage in other activities that creates cyber vulnerabilities. We all have a role in cybersecurity and protection of our cyber networks, and we must treat them like the mission-critical asset that they are.

In my Commandant’s Direction, I highlighted our duty to promote cybersecurity throughout the maritime domain. This is a team effort that requires us to work closely with our partners in and out of government. The cyber threat is real – we know that there are threat actors targeting our cyber networks and those of our maritime partners, and in order to begin to understand and mitigate these threats, we stood up Coast Guard Cyber Command in July of 2013. We’re rolling out a cyber strategy that lays out three lines of operations to shape and define our cyber workforce of the future. – ADM Zukunft

Question 3:
Recently, a message was released in regards to the nonrated shortage stating that commands have the option to place members in a hold status if they are too important at their current unit before releasing them to “A” school. I don’t know if this is the answer. The flip side is, I recently departed my unit and before I left had to put one of my members on report for failing to report for work on time. The issue is that commands are willing to accept poor/risky behavior in exchange for not losing that body, when only a couple years ago that member would have been processed for unsuitability. The question is, with all the cutbacks that are being made, are we not able to open funds to recruit/process more members through Cape May so that commands can go back to trusting each member of the crew will do their part and show up for work/duty on time? – CWO Troy Shrum, MFPU Bangor

Answer 3:
First, I’ll start by saying that Fiscal Year 13 was an anomaly for the Coast Guard with respect to Cape May, as our training center saw the lowest number of recruits that entered Cape May for many, many years. And now, we’re seeing the ripple effect of that with non-rate shortages. The good news is we’re back to traditional throughputs coming through Cape May and are growing back our recruiting strength and our accessions.

Now, let me be clear – shortage or not – I do not expect any person, unit or command to accommodate violations of core values, especially failure to uphold Devotion to Duty. We need active leadership to come into play here. We need to hold our people accountable to our core values. – ADM Zukunft

Question 4:
In your first 100 days, while noting all the great things members are doing in the fleet, I’m sure you also noticed some opportunity for change. As the highest ranking leaders of our Coast Guard, what advice would you give to junior members, like myself, on how to effect positive changes in our service? – OS3 Staci Wantuck, Sector St. Petersburg

The Commandant meets Coast Guard Station Washington's commanding officer, LT Celina Ladyga. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

The Commandant meets Coast Guard Station Washington’s commanding officer, LT Celina Ladyga. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Answer 4:
What advice would I give to junior members? It would be very similar to themes I’ve heard the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard share. As members of the Coast Guard, we have a duty and obligation to act in a way that is deserving of the trust of the American taxpayer – on and off duty.

To me, it gets back to standards. Specifically, the standards you walk past are the standards you accept. If you see something that just doesn’t make sense – that just is and has always been that way – think of solution sets to come forward. This is really more about innovation. We’ve got very talented people at the junior level, many with advanced degrees, and so when I hear people calling out, “This, this just isn’t right.” I challenge them with, “What would you do to fix it?”

It is inspiring to see this question from a junior member of the service. You’re already doing what I’ve described above – you’re asking the right questions and thinking about how you can take action. And I ask all members to look around their units and look for opportunities for positive change. As you do this, keep in mind your responsibility to be part of the solution. Each and every person at a unit – no matter rank, rate or years of service – must embrace the organization’s standards and they must embrace their role as a leader. – ADM Zukunft

Question 5:
What is being done to grow and retain marine inspectors? Currently the CG is not producing enough Journeymen or Advanced Journeymen to maintain the marine safety program at a viable level. Thank you, Admiral. – LT Mickey Dougherty, Marine Safety Unit Houma

Answer 5:
LT Dougherty, appreciate your question. It’s an important one and a priority that the Commandant and I discuss frequently. I’m also a marine inspector and I take pride in being the senior-most one for our Service, so this issue is near and dear to me personally and it’s an issue that will be even more relevant in the future given the revolution we are seeing in U.S. energy development. As energy development continues to grow, we will see an increase in demand for maritime shipping, which will lead to increased traffic on our federal waterways. Our duties as both a port state in enforcing international laws and treaties and a flag state to ensure the ships operating on our waterways and the people operating those vessels do so safely will only increase as a result.

As you likely already know, we did a study in 2007 that asked this very question. From that work, the prevention officer’s career guidebook was born and we created centers of expertise around the country where our various commercial shipping resident experts reside.

These were foundational pieces to the next steps. Going forward, we’ve been talking to industry about joint training opportunities and we’re planning to review our industry training programs to ensure they will meet future requirements. We’re also looking at ways to recruit, grow and retain marine inspectors. Our trained marine inspectors are in high demand, and we need to find more innovative ways of meeting this demand. Industry recruits just as we do and our highly-trained personnel are top prospects. I can tell you that recruiting and retaining marine inspectors is at the top of our list, but it’s also going to take some time. Thanks for your question. – VADM Neffenger

Question 6:
Considering the Command Center PQS is approximately a 100-page qual packet covering all CG mission areas in detail, has a CC pin for folks who have over 5 years qual’d CC experience as an OU or CDO been considered? I really think this should be looked at. Although some say a Boat Forces pin should suffice, it does not. Standing CC watch is a completely unique job. Since CCs have gone multi-mission, the job has become exponentially more complicated and much more demanding. I say this as a cutterman with over 12 years of sea service. Thank you. – LT Craig Dente, RCC Honolulu

The Vice Commandant re-enlists three Coast Guard members at a Washington Nationals game. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jasmine Mieszala.

The Vice Commandant re-enlists three Coast Guard members at a Washington Nationals game. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jasmine Mieszala.

Answer 6:
LT Dente – thanks for this question. I’m going to answer your question first and then I’ll talk more about my reasoning. The answer to your question is no, we are not going to create a command center pin.

I have a great deal of respect and admiration for our command center personnel and I agree that the requirements of our command center watchstanders have increased in both scope and complexity over the past several years. Certification at the CU, SU, OU or CDO levels is challenging and the accomplishment should be a source of pride.

But, I don’t want to separate that level of watchstanding, no matter how complex and specialized it is, from the general principles that we all learn as a foundational skill early on as Coast Guard men and women and carry with us throughout our careers. We have a shared responsibility to be watchstanders at all times. That’s what we do – we are America’s maritime first responder. – VADM Neffenger

Question 7:
What is your prognosis for contingency response given that our Reserve forces are being downsized to pre-WWII numbers? Are we going to have the “bench strength” to conduct operations or will we have to decline to answer the call at some point? – LT James McKnight, Sector Charleston

Answer 7:
We think about this question a lot, LT McKnight, so thanks for asking it. The Commandant talks frequently about a “black swan” event and whether we have the capacity to handle multiple types of these events at the same time. What he is talking about is really the heart of your question. Will we be able to respond on a large scale effectively when we need to or will we have to decline the answer to call at some point?

First and foremost, we’ll never decline to answer the call and we will respond courageously wherever we are needed. But it will be very challenging if we have multiple calls coming in at the same time particularly at the personnel level we are at now. Our Reserve strength is the lowest it has been in decades and much of that is due to some very challenging budget years. The Commandant and I are committed to holding fast and then ultimately when budgets permit increasing our personnel numbers because people are our greatest asset, and we’ll need our entire force to be ready if we have to respond to a black swan-type event or multiple events at the same time.

The Coast Guard has to be ready for both steady-state daily operations and major contingencies where we need to surge forces, such as a hurricane or a maritime disaster. We take both of these purposes into consideration when determining our Reserve force size.

Our partnerships are also a crucial part of the equation. During Deepwater Horizon, we had nearly 50,000 personnel actively engaged in the emergency response, yet only 3,000 of those were Coast Guard men and women. That is the power of our partnerships and a great example of why our ability to speak a common vernacular, ICS, is so important.

We’ll continue to assess where we are with our reserve force levels and make adjustments as needed, but the Commandant and I have both said that we need to hold the line on personnel and that includes our Reserve force. – VADM Neffenger

The Vice Commandant points to his notes from the 100 days leadership discussion. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

The Vice Commandant points to his notes from the 100 days leadership discussion. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Question 8:
After the many unit and community visits, you have communicated very effectively the positive trends you have witnessed in our service, most appropriately focusing on our junior enlisted workforce. During these visits, have you come upon a trend(s) that may have you concerned to a point you will require a course or speed change to correct? If so, what is the challenge, and how do you see us addressing it? – BMCM James Hines, STA Belle Isle

Answer 8:
BMCM Hines – traveling to Coast Guard units and seeing our men and women perform their missions is one of the best parts about being Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard. And you’re right; we are seeing great things when we visit units across the board. But one of the things I’d like to see more of is effective mentoring.

As a member of the Chiefs Mess and as an Officer-in-Charge, you have no doubt mentored many future leaders. But in thinking about engaging across all levels of the service, I think of the power of effective mentoring. There are different kinds of mentoring relationships with some narrowly focused on guiding you through a specific event, while others may broaden over time. But I like to think that, regardless of the circumstance, mentoring doesn’t happen by accident. It is deliberate.

I call this breaking away from traditional paradigms of mentoring and I’d like to see more of this out in the fleet. To effectively mentor you have to think of the mentoring relationship as more than a check in the box. Always remember mentoring goes two ways – you have to commit to the relationship to help discover strengths and achieve your greatest potential. – VADM Neffenger

Question 9:
I have noticed that there is a lack of diversity among the Company Commanders in Cape May. What is being done to recruit and or encourage qualified members to apply for the program? – Robert Evelyn, UDC Woodbine

Answer 9:
Before I answer your question, I’d like to say thank you, as you were the first person who wrote the Commandant, Vice Commandant and me with a question.

The role of company commander is a vital one – they shape our service’s junior enlisted workforce. Coast Guard All Hands runs a series called “Shape the Future” where they interview instructors and company commanders within the FORCECOM enterprise. In one of their interviews, they asked ET1 Williams why he became a company commander. I think his perspective shows just how meaningful the role of company commander truly is. He says, “I wanted to give back to the service that had been so good to me for 12 years. I had a personal desire to make the biggest positive impact on the future of the Coast Guard I could and what better place to do that than TRACEN Cape May? This place is literally step one, ground zero, the event horizon for more than 80 percent of the Coast Guard’s entire workforce.”

Being a company commander is a tremendous leadership opportunity for members of our enlisted workforce. To shape our future Coast Guardsmen, we need top talent from a diverse pool of candidates. And we’re not talking about diversity purely from an underrepresented minorities or gender perspective; we’re also looking at diversity in ratings, operational community and the way they instruct. The recruits coming in are diverse, and we need diverse backgrounds and teaching styles to best impact our service’s future.

To your question – in recruiting top talent, we’ve gone out to Gold Badges, Silver Badges and the Chiefs Mess to actively seek out high performers who would make great company commanders. TRACEN Cape May leadership has followed up their Coast Guard-wide solicitation by identifying past and current company commanders capable of speaking at units and with potential candidates. They are the best marketers of the program and can speak very directly about the opportunities and can dispel any potential myths.

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Cantrell speaks at an all hands while aboard Coast Guard Cutter Aspen. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Cantrell speaks at an all hands while aboard Coast Guard Cutter Aspen. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

It is a challenging assignment, but one that’s undeniably important and considered by many to be rather prestigious. I will continue to reach out to our workforce to find diverse leaders who possess both the qualifications and the desire to inspire and motivate our next generation of recruits. – Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Cantrell

Question 10:
My question is in reference to hands-on training. I have been out of rate for the last 4 years and recently transferred back to rate from an instructor position at EMT school to A/S Port Angeles. Over the years, I feel like and see that hands-on training tends to be a topic that is easily neglected and/or cut. I can’t speak directly for our surface fleet personnel, but on the aviation side, recurrent aviation minimum training for our job is great to maintain basic skills. But when we have people that find schools that would take us above the daily norms of training that cover potentially unique situations our rescuers (both Surface and Air) may be confronted with, seem to be easily rejected either because of funding issues or someone denying it for the reason of “you don’t need that to do your job.”

Every unit in the CG has unique obstacles within their given AOR that may require specialty training for our rescuers that may not exactly be a CG sponsored school. Is there any future outlook to try and improve or increase the availability of funding hands-on schools for our CG personnel stationed in those areas that present with these obstacles that are not included in daily training evolutions? – AST2 Jonathan Ptak, Air Station Port Angeles

Answer 10:
You’re question resonates with the senior leadership team as it gets to the core of something we’ve been sharing at unit all hands – proficiency. As an AST, we don’t need to remind you that the Coast Guard performs inherently dangerous work. Add to that complex technological interfaces, complex information management systems and complex operational doctrine, and the need for proficiency is undeniable.

The first piece of that is a proficient individual. As we sat to discuss these questions, the Vice Commandant brought up the notion of lifelong learners, and that’s just what those who want to be masters of their craft must be. We applaud you for looking for every opportunity you can to become a master of craft at your duties and encourage others to do the same.

While we ask people to be lifelong learners and hone individual proficiency, we really need to bring another piece to the table – proficiency in the system. Hands-on, performance-based training is the standard for CG-wide training systems. You may notice as you work with the updated Enlisted Rating Advancement System, that many of the “knowledge” factors are being converted to “performance” factors. This requires technicians and operators to demonstrate ability to perform a task using information from technical manuals in a standardized, step-by-step fashion. This represents a small but significant change in the enlisted advancement training system.

To meet the mission needs of the Coast Guard, the foundational and advanced training for each specialty is provided in “C” schools, while unit-specific training needs are met using unit resources, PQS, JQR and others to bridge the final performance gap. While “C” schools serve the entire Coast Guard, units are, and always have been, authorized to use unit funds to meet specific mission needs as the larger Coast Guard cannot afford to create schools for each of these individual needs.

I understand we’ve had pressure on our overall budget, which has resulted in challenges in training system quotas, and that specifically includes in your aviation environment. That said, if you see a mission need that is not being met, address it with your Leading Chief Petty Officer, who can forward it up to the appropriate Rating Force Master Chief and FORCECOM. The Commandant, Vice Commandant and I share your passion to ensure our workforce is prepared to meet the many challenges we face. – Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Cantrell

Question 11:
I read an article you wrote about wanting families to have geographical stability. Are you really going to try and push for this? Currently being up in Massachusetts and our family in Florida, my health is declining and we have no help with childcare the days I’m really sick due to only having the one income. We are due to put in our dream sheet this year and PCSing next year but the idea of PCS terrifies me being sick and having a child. So if we were able to get home to the general Florida vicinity and you somewhere down the road push for geographical stability that would help my family and a lot of other families I’m sure. – Julie, Coast Guard spouse

Answer 11:
I wanted to first thank you for reaching out, Julie. You were the only spouse to reach out through our “100 Days” Q&A and, when I heard that, I knew I wanted to take your question for answering. To begin with, I want you to know that there are many programs in place to help you and your family. While I don’t know your specific circumstances, please ensure you connect with your local Work-Life office so they can provide you more information on the Coast Guard’s Special Needs Program – a program that helps find support, housing, medical and other services for Coast Guard families with special needs. You can find your local contacts online or through the Coast Guard support mobile phone application.

In regards to PCSing and geographic stability, taking a look at our current PCS practices and tour lengths is important to ensure proficiency for the workforce and in finding efficiencies. Instead of reporting, training, qualifying and then departing, members will have more time to become subject matter experts. It boils down to what the Commandant calls a return on investment for the work and training our men and women put in at their units. But, we are also mindful of balancing this with broad assignment opportunities, an important element for professional development. We also realize there are elements of improving stability for our families where possible, as well. So this all becomes about balance – service needs, career progression and quality of life.

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Cantrell takes notes during a discussion with the Commandant and Vice Commandant. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Cantrell takes notes during a discussion with the Commandant and Vice Commandant. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

We are proud you reached out and asked this question, Julie. We’ll be sure to keep the workforce and their families apprised of the findings of our on-going review of enlisted assignments and any potential changes as we go. – Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Cantrell

Question 12:
My question and recommendation is toward the Chiefs Mess. How do we get the Chiefs more involved in their junior members, I.e. The 1st class and 2nd class? Through my 19 years of service I have had an open eye and I believe that the Chiefs Mess is not engaged in making our 1st class prepared to be the Future Chiefs of the Coast Guard. Work hard and get the job done, but I don’t see our Chiefs taking members under their wing and guiding them. – MK1 Matthew Husler, Sector Lake Michigan

Answer 12:
As a Chief, one of our most important responsibilities is mentoring junior personnel so naturally it disappoints me to hear that you believe the Chiefs Mess isn’t as engaged in the development of junior members as it should be. One of the first things I did upon assuming the role of Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard was issue Standing Order No. 2 for all chiefs that hits at the heart of your question. In it, I laid out my vision of a senior enlisted corps that contains inspirational leaders committed to the education and development of our workforce.

That said, there is always room for improvement. The Coast Guard is currently in the process of completing an Enlisted Professional Military Education occupational analysis. Part of the EPME analysis will be to survey all enlisted members of the Coast Guard on their world of work. The data collected during this survey will help drive future advancement requirements and the curriculum at the Senior Enlisted Leadership Course, the Chief Petty Officers Academy and other courses. Our current curriculum is very good and provides a plethora of tools Chiefs can use to mentor our junior members, but as I mentioned before, there is always room for improvement. As we make updates to our military education programs based on the analysis, I will definitely keep your concerns in mind, making sure the Chiefs Mess has the tools and education essential to developing the workforce.

It is my expectation for every Chief to spend less time focusing on themselves and more time out walking around talking to and getting to know their people, all the way down to the most junior person. As a first class petty officer, I hope you are working toward advancement to become part of the Chiefs Mess and help set that standard. One of the things I remind all Chiefs is that when they advance to E-7, their integrity and anchors are always on display. – Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Cantrell

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