Coast Guard looks to step up recruitment amid pandemic constraints

Closed schools and mitigation protocols have complicated recruitment for the U.S. Coast Guard over the two years of the pandemic, officers said. “We are definitely, in comparison to pre-COVID numbers, we are not doing as well,” said Cmdr. Andrea Smith, executive officer of nationwide Coast Guard Recruiting Command.

“Meeting a Coastie is still the best recruiting tool for us, and that is increasingly difficult because of the pandemic,” Smith said in a phone interview.

The problem is exacerbated in Alaska, said Chief Petty Officer Colin Rankin, in Anchorage, made more complicated by the vastness of the state. The only recruiting office in the state is in Anchorage.

“That’s definitely our biggest challenge. We have a tiny office. There’s three of us and that’s not going to change in the near future,” he said.

With 43,000 active-duty members, the Coast Guard, which falls under the Department of Homeland Security, only has about 320 recruiters nationwide, Smith said.

The service has set 4,200 new recruits as the target for 2022. That’s a significant increase from the past several years of pandemic, according to numbers provided by Coast Guard Recruiting Command.

“We are below strength right now,” Smith said. “We’re trying to identify which levers we can pull, what we can do.”

Rankin, who’s been in charge of the Anchorage office for more than two years, said the mitigation measures in place forced them to alter their strategy, adopting more online methods of reaching potential recruits, as well as emphasizing the service’s unique characteristics, which set the nation’s primary maritime security and search and rescue organization apart from its Department of Defense counterparts.

“We also have unique incentives in Alaska. We can bring people back to Alaska for the first duty station if they desire. Alaska is a massive area of responsibility,” Rankin said. “I think about one-third of them return or are interested in returning which makes the incentive, in my opinion, fantastic.”

The Coast Guard also offers other incentives, Smith said, such as joining bonuses and bonuses for critical specialties such as culinary specialists or operation specialists. Other armed services also offer incentives. The Coast Guard is offering bonuses between $2,000 and $20,000, Smith said, some of which may be stacked.

The Coast Guard is also actively seeking to recruit people who have more life experience than simply graduating high school, including people with college experience or experience in related fields.

Recruitment is especially important as the Coast Guard seeks to expand its force, Smith said. “The service is growing. We’re bringing new cutters. We’re modernizing our service.”

The largest portion of Alaska recruits comes from the Matanuska Valley area, Rankin said. “Oftentimes, we get a lot of rescue swimmers — 30% to 40% of people who come through the door want to be rescue swimmers.”


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