Written by Anastasia Devlin, Reservist magazine
It’s that time of year again.
Shopping list season.
Not THAT list! The “shopping list” is a commonly used term for the list of all available billets up for grabs by members up for transfer next year. E-resumes will also be due just after Christmas. That also means it’s the busy season for career counseling: crafting your career for success—and longevity—in the Coast Guard.
What kinds of officers have long, successful careers in the Coast Guard Reserve?
Lt. Cmdr. Erin Bennett, assignments branch chief for Personnel Service Center’s Reserve Personnel Management Division (RPM-2), has been researching the historical data to find out exactly that. Working backward from the career paths of successful reserve Coast Guard officers, he’s identified some common attributes.
“There are essentially three communities that reservists fit into: the blue guard, green guard and purple guard,” said Bennett. “More successful reserve officers will have experience in two or more of those during their careers.”
Bennett referenced the mix of jobs held within the “blue guard”: billets in the traditional Coast Guard units, like districts, sectors and stations; the “green guard”: billets in port security units and coastal riverine squadrons; and the “purple guard”: billets in combatant commands (COCOMs) and joint staffs.
“[Career] diversity is the key,” said Bennett. “Don’t wait until you’re an O-4; you need start thinking about this as an ensign, a [lieutenant] j.g., or as a lieutenant. The more senior you are, the harder it becomes to break into one of those communities.”
For example, one officer might be a skilled marine inspector, and it’s possible to have a successful career with that alone. But when an officer is attempting to make it to the senior ranks of commander or captain, Bennett said the Coast Guard is looking for leaders and managers with diverse experience at lots of different units and different types of units. Officers need to plan their assignment paths early in their careers and work towards career-enhancing competencies that add value to the service.
“Assignments drive promotions and, ultimately, that drives longevity in the service,” he said.
A large portion of his day is made up of 45-minute blocks counseling junior officers, ranging from ensigns to lieutenant commanders (O-1 to O-4), and the research leading up to those sessions.
“I do a full record review,” said Bennett. “Road shows are a great way to educate a general audience on the assignment process, but these sessions are one-on-one, specifically tailored with [the member’s] history and experience in mind to help them meet their goals.”
There are two things a junior officer is expected to bring to the counseling session. The first is knowledge of their record, what’s commonly known as the EI-PDR, the electronically-imaged copy of their personnel data record. Bennett will have his own copy, but all officers should be reviewing their files periodically–nothing in there should be a surprise. They should have a copy in front of them at their counseling session.
The second thing to bring is a realistic and honest set of goals. Not every reserve officer will lead a port security unit or a COCOM, but, similar to financial planning, those who start early will have more success in achieving goals.
“We try to set the person up for success,” said Bennett. “We also recognize we’re talking with reserve officers; they have to balance their reserve life and their professional careers, and sometimes that’s tough. Some jobs are more demanding and will include a lot of non-paid drill time, and some people can’t do that. We have to be realistic about our goals.”
Everyone’s heard the mantra, “No one will care more about your career than you will.” It’s a reminder to take responsibility and plan a solid path for your future.
Bennett is ready to help.
Junior officers can email Bennett at email@example.com to schedule a session at any point during the year, but those up for transfer should schedule now—the shopping list closes Jan. 13.