In the first town hall of its kind for the service, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft, Vice Commandant Vice Adm. Peter Neffenger and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven Cantrell conducted a live Facebook Q&A.
Hosted on the Commandant’s Facebook page, the Coast Guard’s senior leaders fielded questions from a broad spectrum of Facebook followers – including active duty, reserve and auxiliary members, spouses and members of the Coast Guard community at large.
One of the first issues the Commandant addressed was that of increasing mission demand with limited resources; over the last four years, the service lost over 30 percent of its acquisition budget at a time when Coast Guard men and women operate in a complex, rapidly changing world.
“If we draw down our mission set, our budget authority for that mission gets zeroed out as well,” said the Commandant during the Facebook session. “It would be a lose-lose for the Coast Guard and no other entity in federal government can perform our missions more effectively and efficiently. What we lack is broad appreciation for our many mission sets, and with that appreciation comes an appropriation to meet the full requirements of our missions.”
The Commandant also addressed the balance and purpose of rotations for Coast Guard men and women, stating proficiency was “the crux of the matter.”
“We have been a jack-of-all-trades and master of some across some of our communities,” said the Commandant. “Yet our platforms and mission sets to include prevention, response and mission support have all grown more complex. So the added value in longer tour lengths is proficiency that culminates in mission safety and optimally, less stress on our families and service members.”
While the Vice Commandant was out of the office, he was able to participate from the road – true to form for a virtual town hall. Among the questions he answered, one was on the Coast Guard’s next generation of icebreakers and what kind of capabilities they will require.
“Our missions in the Arctic are many and varied,” wrote the Vice Commandant. “We enforce U.S. laws and regulations, conduct search and rescue, assist scientific exploration and foster navigation safety and environmental stewardship. We are currently working with a number of other agencies across the federal government to determine the requirements for the next generation polar class icebreaker, so have not yet determined what the final design will be. But, it will certainly have to meet Coast Guard mission needs.”
The Master Chief tackled a range of questions related to the workforce as leaders among the junior ranks work to become proficient within their rates and advance in the service. Of note, active duty members and reserve members asked about high year tenure and temporary early retirement authorization. The Master Chief wrote the message on high-year tenure is almost ready for release and will “explain modified professional growth points, the effective dates and instructions for submitting appeals and requesting waivers.”
“The idea of Temporary Early Retirement Authorization (TERA) for enlisted is still being discussed because it will be inextricably linked to HYT discussions, as people who have been told they are selected to separation under the HYT guidelines will be entitled to certain separation compensation (those not yet retirement eligible),” wrote the Master Chief. “But, we’re still looking at whether or not TERA is appropriate to offer, or if another severance package would be a better option.”
In a video message after the town hall, the Commandant thanked the participants and compared the Q&A to the classic line from the movie Field of Dreams, “If you build it they will come.”
“Set up a Facebook town hall and come they did,” said the Commandant. “I want to thank you, for those thoughts and those comments, and the opportunity to answer those questions,” he added.
As for future engagements and the opportunity to engage directly with the Coast Guard’s senior leaders, the Master Chief summed it up best.
“Keep those questions coming.”