How the USCG National Retiree Council Stays Connected to the Coast Guard
The Coast Guard, known for its family-like community, is perhaps among few organizations to which people want to remain connected once they retire.
“With more than 52,000 retirees, the majority of our retiree community want to remain actively attached to their Coast Guard and know that their Coast Guard remains attentive and responsive to their issues,” explained Admiral Jeff Hathaway (ret.).
He serves as Co-Chair for the USCG National Retiree Council (CGNRC) and joined retired Master Chief Petty Officer Kevin Isherwood in the role in May. Isherwood is within his fourth year of leadership as co-chair.
The connectivity Hathaway mentioned is was one of the biggest reasons the council was established in 1982. Hathaway and Isherwood ensure retiree issues are properly conveyed to leadership through several mechanisms, including an annual report to the commandant. Thus, the council’s primary function is to promote open and positive lines of communication between the commandant and the retirees—including family members, annuitants and survivors.
For some, like Hathaway, they are called to the council with a heart to give back.
“My motivation for volunteering as CGNRC co-chair comes from my desire to give something back to an institution that gave so much to me for 33 years,” said Hathaway. “Plus four more years at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.
“My Coast Guard career counterparts are now mostly members of our retiree community and it gives even more meaning to my decision to volunteer to provide leadership to the CGNRC. I have to believe all of the volunteers engaged in both the CGNRCC and all of our regional councils are similarly motivated,” said Hathaway.
The council’s national co-chairs lead representatives from 17 regional councils and several members at-large, including an annuitant (spouse of a deceased retiree), which make up the council’s leadership body. The regional councils are geographically disbursed and provide in-person engagement with the retiree community. Each council has a base or training center that serves as its active duty sponsor, and although they all adhere to standard responsibilities, they are free to provide meetings and activities best suited for their geographical communities.
The retirees enjoy a myriad of benefits from their membership, and two standouts include the retiree services help desk and the annual national council meeting—both supported by the CGNRC.
“One call to 833-224-6743 or email to NRHDDesk@gmail.com connects you with a qualified Coast Guard retiree volunteer who can assist retirees or their family members in getting answers or help with almost any issue,” said Hathaway. “The help desk fields more than 1000 calls per year.”
The annual national council meeting is typically attended by Coast Guard leadership, including the commandant, and provides a forum to hear current Coast Guard briefs and share work being done by regional chapters, best practices, as well as priorities and initiatives of the council. For example, this year it became a priority to focus on improving communications methods for talking with the retiree community.
“The Coast Guard shutdown earlier this year brought to light we only had email addresses for about 50% of our retirees, which hampered us from providing them with timely updates,” said Hathaway. “All retirees are urged to add personal email addresses to their accounts but the group is also reviewing channels including the retiree services website, the retiree services program guide, the retiree newsletter and regional chapters.”
Other priorities included addressing the long lead time for Pay and Personnel Center Topeka processing of required VA disability pay paperwork, reviewing the regional retiree council guide, better recognition for retiree volunteerism and framing a pilot “retiree to retiree” mentoring program.
The future of the CGNRC looks bright. In addition to standing up the retiree mentoring program, the council will continue to explore ways to better serve the retiree community and refine best practices for retiree volunteerism. Hathaway and Isherwood will work to get retiree program services better integrated into TAPS so that retiring service members can truly understand that service continues even after duty ends.