One by one, they trickled in like the rain outside the stone building at Marine Safety Unit Portland, Ore. Every face that entered the room bore the look of nervousness as they quietly took their seats. Until this point, the only thing most of them knew about the Coast Guard was what they read online or saw on television. However, in several hours, they would all leave knowing more about the Coast Guard and fully equipped to take that big leap into the world of the Coast Guard Reserve.
On Dec. 15, 2012, the Coast Guard recruiting office in Vancouver, Wash., held their first ever Reserve Day. The day’s event gathered approximately 25 future reservists together in an effort for them to meet one another and build relationships before shipping out to the U.S. Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May, N.J., for basic training.
“This was an idea I decided to try to see if it would work,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Joanne Cloud, a marine science technician and Coast Guard recruiter. “The goal of Reserve Day is to let the new people joining meet each other and chat since they will be stationed together, shipping out together, and possibly attending ‘A’ School together. I try to ship them in groups to Cape May because the camaraderie they form helps them get through boot camp. Then when they return home, they remain friends and can carpool to drill.”
The retention rate in the Coast Guard remains high these days. With many active duty members electing to stay in, many reserve openings remain open throughout the Coast Guard. Recruiters nationwide focus on filling those vacancies so that when the need arrives, the Coast Guard is ready to answer the call.
“On an average fiscal year, most districts can see anywhere from one to 25 new reserves,” said Cloud. “Most never see as high amount as D13 (the 13th Coast Guard District) is seeing now. For Fiscal Year 2012, I put in 41 new reserves into D13. We are set to put approximately 56 in by the end of Fiscal Year 2013. And that’s not even including recruiting office SeaTac, Wash. That’s a lot of new reserves for D13.”
The Coast Guard Reserve was established in February 1941. Originally put into place to help with the efforts of World War II, reservist have played key roles in many Coast Guard missions, one of them being the all women’s reserve group SPAR’s (Semper Paratus Always Ready). Today the Coast Guard Reserves remain an essential part of the Coast Guard’s work force. While not only maintaining their civilian jobs, reserve members are trained to take on the same task of active duty members. During major Coast Guard responses, like 2005’s Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill, Coast Guard Reserves were there to answer the call.
While the future members at Reserve Day were just beginning their careers with the Coast Guard, the day’s event gave them a sense of confidence in knowing what they could expect of the Coast Guard and what the Coast Guard would expect of them.
“It was nice to meet other people, especially reserves,” said Alex Konopka, a future yeoman reservist who will be drilling out of Sector Columbia River, in Astoria, Ore. “It was nice to hear from higher ups in the reserve program and hear their story. I feel prepared to enter and now I have to focus on getting prepared to get through DEPOT (Direct Entry Petty Officer Program).”
Reserve Day was met with great success. Current reserve members and future reserve members alike walked away feeling assured and excited about the future. Future reserve members hurled question after question to the senior personnel and the senior personnel returned with answers that excited future members about what a future in the Coast Guard Reserve would offer.
“This is just an outstanding event,” said Cmdr. Baron Brown, senior reserve officer for MSU Portland, Ore. “I love it. I love seeing all these smiling faces get information on the Coast Guard, coming in as new recruits. This is an excellent resource. Witnessing it and seeing the 25 to 30 people here with spouses, with family members, with their parents, and seeing just the glow and the pride in the parents and spouses, we got to do this more. We got to do this all over the country.”
Never attempted before in the 13th Coast Guard District, Reserve Day set a new bar in the way the Coast Guard ushers new reserve members into its family. With the district expecting more than 56 new reserve members this fiscal year, an event like Reserve Day would help anyone prepare for success in their careers.
“To have a master chief here, a senior chief here, to have all the experience you have in the room talking to all of them and helping them connect all the dots, I just wish I had it,” said Brown. “It would have definitely helped with my professional development, because I probably would’ve been on a faster path and might not have bumped my head on as many rocks. If the mentoring can start here, why not?”