The U.S. Coast Guard has launched several programs this year to draw recruits, including new initiatives designed to broaden diversity and expand promotion opportunities for all.
The service is offering two-year, active-duty enlistments this year for up to 500 individuals who may be interested in military service but aren't ready to commit to a longer contract.
The service also is increasing tuition assistance by 66% and implementing other measures to attract and retain a diverse cadre of personnel in what has been a "challenging landscape" during the COVID-19 pandemic, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said Thursday, following his annual State of the Coast Guard address in San Diego.
According to Schultz, the Coast Guard missed its 2019 recruiting goals by roughly 600 members, taking in just under 3,000 of its 3,600 target number. The service originally had increased its 2020 goal to 4,000. But with the pandemic shutting down Recruit Training Center Cape May, N.J., for several weeks in spring and again in December, it will count itself lucky to graduate 3,000 when all are tallied, he said.
"If we're around 3,000 -- a little higher, a little lower -- I'm going to say we've done pretty darn well and in a very difficult environment for close contact training," he added.
To counter the shortfalls, the service is working hard to "provide the workforce both with an inclusive environment in which all members can thrive and the tools to get the job done," Schultz said during his speech.
The initiatives include the two-year enlistments, which may attract more people interested in serving their country and increase the size of the Coast Guard Reserve, since the enlistment still comes with an eight-year military commitment, including the two years of active service, four years in the drilling Reserves and two in the Individual Ready Reserve.
"We're thinking maybe some folks are on the fence; they're doing community college, and the online experience isn't as satisfying. Maybe they want to step forward to serve their country, and the two-year enlistment is a little bit shorter [of a] commitment. [And then], being a reservist allows you ... to still pursue those other elements/parts of your life," Schultz said.
He also announced that tuition assistance will increase for eligible service members. It currently is capped at $2,250 per year but will go up to $3,750. Schultz said he'd like to get it to "100%," or $4,500 per year.
"Under a constrained top line, I'm not quite there. But I'm hoping before the end of my tenure, maybe we get that 100%," said Schultz, who will step down next year.
Another initiative jump-started last year was an effort the Coast Guard calls "Flex-PAL," which allows Reserve members to train closer to where they live. The program gives the service the capability to reassign billets to high-density recruiting and population zones based on area units' managing capacity, allowing reservists to be assigned to nearby locations and rotating them through different types of units within a geographic region.
The service also launched several initiatives last year to "foster a truly inclusive environment," Schultz said, which means reviewing and updating training courses and evaluation systems; training 125 "change agents" who will go out to units for training and facilitating conversations about diversity; and encouraging mentoring across the workforce, both traditional in-unit individual mentoring and via a mobile app.
The service also is reviewing its required qualifying scores on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test for A schools "to maximize opportunities for all," and has created a new Officer Recruiting Team to reach out to under-represented populations, Schultz said.
The active-duty Coast Guard is made up predominantly of White men. Roughly 15% of the force is female, 13.7% identify as Hispanic, 6% are Black and 2% Asian.
"To be the world's best Coast Guard, we've got to be the most inclusive, and we've got to bring in more women. We've got to be more representative," Schultz said.
The admiral cited a program he rolled out in 2019 that allows reservists to backfill active-duty billets when active-duty members take parental leave after having a baby or adopting a child. Shultz said 123 Coast Guard members have taken advantage of that benefit to date.
"Where we really do win is when we get somebody to the gate, to the accession source, [and] they see [an] organization that's welcoming them. It's truly inclusive," he said.
Schultz added that in a year that saw a global pandemic and a record number of destructive wildfires and Atlantic hurricanes, the entire team -- active duty, Reserve, Auxiliary members, civilian employees and family members -- has given their all.
"The State of the Coast Guard is truly agile, adaptive and resilient. While we continue to face challenges, this past year has reinforced that we are indeed 'Stronger Together,'" he said.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.