Reservist Magazine #1-2015: Cover Story
Story and photos By Petty Officer 3rd Class Jourdin Bego
For nearly a week in October, Rear Adm. James Heinz and Coast Guard Reserve Force Master Chief Eric Johnson took the time to visit with reservists throughout the Coast Guard’s 7th District. From Miami to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Sector St. Petersburg, they listened and spoke with reservists on a range of topics, which included the current budget environment and the future of the Reserve force.
“There are a lot of good practices going on in the 7th District that I think could be great examples to emulate in other places,” said Heinz, Director of Military and Reserve Personnel.
Throughout their visit a few repeat themes emerged. These included reasonable commuting distance (RCD), the Western Hemisphere Strategy and the future of certain rates. All these topics appeared to resonate with reservists at each unit visited by Heinz and Johnson. For example, reservists who commute extraordinarily long distances to their drill sites asked several questions about RCD policy at the Sector Miami All Hands meeting. That’s an issue currently on the radar of Coast Guard Reserve leadership and one they are working to address.
“Fifty-five percent of reservists are outside a reasonable commuting distance,” said Heinz. “So a look at the location of billets is critical to improving efficiency and quality of life.”
As the most senior leaders of Coast Guard Reserve, Heinz and Johnson were particularly forthright about the current budget, but emphasized and discussed opportunities to streamline and optimize training opportunities.
“When times get tough you look at how you spend every dollar… and the best way we can invest those dollars is training,” said Johnson, who has first-hand experience in the budget process.
A number of references were made to the Commandant’s Western Hemisphere Strategy, which addresses threats and challenges to our nation’s maritime and economic security.
“The Western Hemisphere Strategy talks about being able to respond to one national contingency… and then maintaining the high tempo and operations that are currently in place,” said Heinz.
The response component is something to which Heinz and Johnson pay close attention. They also review the Reserve Personnel Allowance List as well as funding and training. Yet in spite of a challenging budget climate and the constantly changing landscape of threats, Heinz and Johnson reiterated that reservists are essential to the Coast Guard’s successful performance.
“We have some challenges ahead, but it’s an opportunity to align things and make it all work,” said Johnson at the Reserve All-Hands at Sector Miami. He also had a message for all Coast Guard reservists. “You guys are a big deal and I want to take good care of you,” Johnson said.
As such, those in attendance at the All Hands were grateful to Heinz and Johnson for taking the time to meet with them and to listen to the challenges they face.
“It was great being able to voice your opinion right to the top, so you know your voice is being heard,” said Senior Chief Michael Mullins.
“I think the future of the Coast Guard Reserve is very bright and there are a lot of opportunities,” said Johnson. “This is the time when we are looking to maximize the efficiency of our force and it’s an opportunity to succeed, an opportunity to hone our skills, and be more valuable.”
That dovetails with the importance of attaining qualifications, maintaining optimal readiness levels and maintaining 100 percent attendance at drills. Johnson also emphasized the importance of seizing leadership opportunities. As the senior enlisted leader of the Reserve force, Johnson is accountable for assisting with policy affecting the enlisted member of the Reserve. He addresses quality of life issues and reports directly to Rear Adm. Heinz.
“From about the time that I had become a chief petty officer, I wanted to have this job,” said Johnson. “Anyone who was around me knew I wanted to have this job, so for the last 20 years, I knew what my goal was.”
It’s worth noting that Heinz serves as the advisor to the Commandant on Reserve Affairs. Additionally, he is responsible for personnel and operations within the Reserve Component.
“It wasn’t something that I had envisioned doing, but I’ll tell you that I couldn’t be more excited to be in the job,” he said. “The exposure that we have given the Reserve program has been extremely inspiring to me, and we want to continue to build on that and continue to build on the enthusiasm that we saw in this visit as well.”
In the future, the two leaders plan to visit other districts to observe their operational approaches and to learn how they maximize the efficiency and readiness of their Reserve personnel. Yet it’s clear their recent trip to the 7th District provided valuable food for thought, especially as they navigate the planning process for both the budget and training.