Wednesday, April 16, 2003

A New Vision for the Coast Guard Reserve: Contingency and Customer Focused

Written for Strategy & Force Planning component of the National Security Decision Making course at the Naval War College and in partial fulfillment of the Master of Arts in national security and decision making.


Following the events of September 2001, the Coast Guard Reserve has recalled more than six thousand reservists to active duty for periods now extending close to two years. With an authorized Selected Reserve strength of only eight thousand, these recalls have impacted nearly every reservist. The recalls to active duty in FY 2003 have not gone as smoothly as they might have; many reservists were not qualified, and others were not medically fit. The recall and reserve utilization process is broken and in need of an overall. Some reservists recalled for Operation Liberty Shield are merely serving as fillers for normal permanent change of station gaps; others are under worked so much they are standing less than 30-hours of duty a week. The service was not able to sufficiently predict personnel needs before the operation, and the service’s method of slotting personnel to identified needs during the operation is cumbersome, involving line by line searches at each district and area staff for qualified personnel who match the need. Even then, often the person identified to meet the need is not qualified or is not fit for duty. The system is broken.

While “Team Coast Guard” integrated reserve and active duty into single units, the focus has been on peace-time missions; mobilization and contingency preparedness have taken a back seat, and unit commanders have not been held accountable for lapses in preparing reserve personnel for mobilization. The Coast Guard needs a reserve force structure which focuses on contingency preparedness while providing a benefit to units in the day-to-day.

A Brief History: How did we get here?

With much fanfare, in 1994 the Coast Guard announced it was “integrating” its reserve forces with its active duty forces. This was a natural progression from the Coast Guard’s “augmentation” paradigm and reduced administrative overhead. “Integration” put reserve personnel directly into active duty commands. Commanders, commanding officers, and officers-in-charge now had full control of active duty personnel and reserve personnel. The term of the day became “Team Coast Guard,” a vision of an optimized workforce of active duty military, reserve military, civilian employees, and volunteers.

The Coast Guard Reserve was first established in 1941; the Coast Guard Reserve and Auxiliary Act of February 19. 1941, provided for Regular Reservists – a military component modeled after the Naval Reserve – and Temporary Reservists – volunteers “whose paid and unpaid services were still needed in a military capacity for coastal patrols and port security work.” (U.S. Coast Guard, 2003a) During the Second World War, the Coast Guard Reserve had a distinguished service. More than 196,000 Regular Reservists served on active duty (only 8% of the active duty personnel during the war were not reservists) and 125,000 people served in the Temporary Reserve. (U.S. Coast Guard, 2003a) The Temporary Reserve was instrumental in performing port security work throughout the United States. Under the leadership of Dimitri Fedotoff White, a Russian who came to the United States after serving during the First World War in both the Imperial Russian Navy and the British Royal Navy, the Captain of the Port in Philadelphia formed the first port security force of Temporary Reservists. (White) The model was soon in place across the United States, putting volunteers on the front-line of port security work and allowing for Regular Reservists to serve in other vital maritime functions.

Following the War, the Regular Reserve drew down; in 1950 with the Cold War heating up, Congress established a paid drilling reserve. The first reserve unit was formed in Boston in October 1950. (U.S. Coast Guard, 2003a) These early reserve units met weekly, usually in the evenings, and focused on training for port security and other mobilization responsibilities. Many reserve units were located away from the traditional Coast Guard coastal environment. Reserve units existed in places like Scranton, Pennsylvania, and Roanoke, Virginia, locations more known for their mountain vistas than tide-influenced shores. In the early 1970s, reserve units began to “augment” active duty commands. For a weekend a month, unit personnel would travel – often together by chartered bus – to a Coast Guard unit where they would “augment” the active duty personnel, training and gaining real experience in Coast Guard missions using Coast Guard assets. Some reserve units also had their own vessels which they maintained and used as training platforms.

By 1980, the mantra for the purpose of the Coast Guard Reserve was still “mobilization,” but the purpose was waning. Within several years, the deck plate mantra was “mobilization through augmentation” and then just “augmentation.” (Stinson) And rightly so; prior to 1990, the Coast Guard had only twice invoked involuntary recalls to active duty. The first was in 1973 for flood relief in the mid-west; 134 reservists were recalled. In 1980, 600 reservists were recalled to assist in the Mariel Boat Lift, when thousands of Cubans fled their homeland by vessels and make-shift craft. (Coast Guard, 2003b)

But, even with the focus of the Coast Guard Reserve on augmentation, reservists were still reminded of their mobilization requirements. Every reservist held “hip pocket” mobilization orders, providing them with their mobilization location, billet, and required qualifications. These mobilization orders provided guidance for members as they determined their training and professional development – including annual training – during yearly sessions completing “career development plans.”

In 1990, the first major recall of Coast Guard Reservists occurred with Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Three primarily “notional” port security units, all home ported in the Great Lakes area, were involuntarily recalled to active duty. The personnel in these units all held mobilization orders for the port security unit, but many of them had never performed much duty with the unit, having focused on their augmentation unit. Their recalls to active duty were truly involuntary, as has been the continuing case for Coast Guard Reservists serving in the Naval Coastal Warfare community in support of theatre combatant commanders. Most other recalls during this time, and for the next decade, were not truly involuntary. While the authority for recall was involuntary, most personnel volunteered to be tapped for recall. A sense of duty or honor or patriotism drove many to raise their hands, but nearly everyone gave tacit permission to be recalled.

The Current Recall Process

This “kindler, gentler” method of recall was in keeping with the service’s “kindler, gentler” approach to human resource management. While certainly the needs of the service came first, the needs of the service were balanced with the needs of the individual member, when possible. This was true even following the events of September 2001. Within hours of the attacks in New York and Arlington, hundreds of Coast Guard Reservists had reported, uncalled, to their units for duty. Operation Noble Eagle, as it the duty became known, saw more than 3100 reservists recalled to active duty. (Commander, Atlantic Area)

Many of these recalls were based on short-focus unit needs or the reserve personnel resources available. While the Coast Guard did have a mobilization plan, the plan was not used at all. The plan remained on the shelf. During FY 2002, planners re-racked the mobilization plan and created a Contingency Personnel Resource List (CPRL). The CPRL delineated requirements, primarily based on military outloads, and required active duty commands list individuals to fill the CPRL billets. The names associated with CPRL billets could be active duty or reserve personnel, the primary requirement being the person listed had to have the required qualifications and match rate & rating. All Coast Guard units with reserve personnel assigned – units having billets on the Reserve Personnel Allowance List (RPAL) – were ‘providing” units in the CPRL. Some units provided to themselves; many units provided CPRL billets to other commands, usually large ports with military outload responsibilities. Little incentive existed to ensure personnel listed on the CPRL actually held current qualifications as required by the billet.

The RPAL had been created in 1994 with the integration of reserve forces. In large measure, the RPAL reflected bodies-on-hand rather than defined needs. The RPAL, which became the driver for reserve drilling assignments, was based on a snapshot and commander’s desires, not a systematic, resource-driven, needs analysis.

While in theory, commands were required to drop a qualified person in the CPRL – and told to use active duty personnel if needed – command senior leadership knew they’d have to maintain current operations – such as search & rescue – even in the face of an outload. To list an active duty member ensured an unfilled gap if the CPRL were activated; better to list an unqualified reservist and let the receiving command worry about it. Additionally, the Coast Guard had never actually implemented a mobilization plan; the chances of a mobilization following the CPRL were thought by many at the deckplate level to be slim, if at all.

They were wrong. Operation Liberty Shield, the Department of Homeland Security’s newest operation to protect the homeland, and military operations in support – both at home and abroad – of Operation Iraqi Freedom, have seen the recall of more than 3500 reservists. (Toves) Coast Guard senior leadership decided to use the CPRL. As such, most recalls were truly involuntary. And with these recalls have come a host of problems. A worrisome number of reservists have not been qualified for their billets; an additional worrisome number have been medically unfit for duty. Once senior leadership determined that the CPRL was not providing trained reservists to meet defined needs, the CPRL was tossed out. Managers at the district and area level began to fill requests by operational commanders for reserve personnel one-by-one, billet by billet, culling through lists of personnel who had not yet been recalled, determining matches, and issuing orders.

Focus for Reserve Forces

The Coast Guard must decide whether Coast Guard Reserve forces are a primary operational tool or a support tool. Does the service want reservists in key operational roles or relegated to support roles which might not need such intense training or ongoing maintenance to ensure current qualifications? During the initial recall for Operation Liberty Shield & Iraqi Freedom, hundreds of reservists reported either not operationally qualified or medically not fit for duty. Can the Coast Guard rely on Coast Guard Reserve resources to perform mission critical roles? Or does the service relegate the Coast Guard Reserve to support and backfill requirements? While there have been bumps in the road, integration has shown Coast Guard Reservists can perform more than adequately in operations. Reservists have shown excellence in a myriad of operations including Exxon Valdez response (Coast Guard 2003a), Desert Shield & Storm (Riker), and Liberty Shield (Bush). The service must ensure – however – current training, qualifications, and medical readiness.

Integration and augmentation were both unit-needs paradigms. A Coast Guard unit needed a boat crewmember or and inport officer-of-the-day or a force protection watch officer. The need was generally always peacetime defined and generally short-lived in nature. The thinking was to meet the drilling-site’s needs through the RPAL; the CPRL, and contingency training, was secondary. The mobilization cards of the 1980s and the CPRL of the late 1990s & early 2000s were contingency based, but placed no accountability on the chain of command and relied heavily on individual reservists. Reservists were individual players, not team players, gaining individual skills and almost never training with other reservists assigned to the same mobilization force element. The most recent fiasco with the CPRL, and the subsequent ad hoc filling of billets without regard to the CPRL billets or needs, shows no one continues to be held accountable. What the Coast Guard needs is a change in focus, moving from a unit-needs based forces to a contingency-based forces with a supporting structure, responsibility, and accountability.

Contingency Readiness the View to the Future

According to the Department of Defense, reserve forces “must be trained, ready and available for operational and contingency planning.” The report goes on to say reserve forces “are increasingly being called upon to provide operations tempo relief to Active forces.” While real-world missions improve reserve readiness and training proficiency, “repeated or lengthy peacetime operational mission participation can degrade the training level and readiness capability... to perform their specified wartime mission.” The Coast Guard needs to take this to heart as it looks to develop systems and processes which develop and maintain readiness over time.

The last two years have shown the Coast Guard Reserve must move from mobilization, augmentation, and integration to contingency readiness. The Coast Guard Reserve must be able to provide agile forces for a variety of contingencies, be they natural disasters such as hurricanes or floods, or man-made contingencies such as immigrant surges or terrorist attacks. The basic building block for Coast Guard Reserve readiness, response, and deployment should be skill-based contingency readiness teams (CRT). The service needs to move beyond individual-level mobilization requirements. A CRT is laser-focused in capability, fully trained, and self-standing for mission. While past Coast Guard Reserve mobilization plans have rested on the individual member, the CRT uses teams as the building block. Certainly, in the days of mobilization orders, a member’s billet was a part of a boat crew or other asset; however, the individual member usually never knew the other members of the crew or asset and never trained with those individuals. A CRT would perform inactive duty for training (IDT, also known as drills) and annual training together. Ideally, members of a CRT would remain together over a period of years, building expertise, camaraderie, and cross training.

Like the days of mobilization cards, where each member was assigned a mobilization location, CRTs would have pre-determined contingency locations. With a wide range of contingencies possible, each CRT would have three contingency locations. One of those contingency locations would be the CRT’s drilling location. The CRT would perform annual training at each contingency location during a six year cycle, spending three annual training periods at the primary contingency location, two annual training periods at the secondary location, and one period at the tertiary. In this way, the members of the CRT would be more than vaguely familiar with the operational area of the contingency location and would also be familiar with the command. Certainly, as has been demonstrated in the spring of 2003, the possibility exists a CRT might be needed at another location; the CRT could still be shifted based on the needs of the overall operational commander. CRT personnel would need to be flexible enough to perform their duties wherever needed.

Contingency response teams would be constructed in such a way as to meet the needs of operational commanders. Examples of CRTs are many:

  • Small boat crew (coxswain, engineer, crewmember, and two person boarding team)

  • Engineering support team (such as boat assist teams for small boat
    engineering support, cutter assist teams for cutter engineering support similar
    to current maintenance assist teams at each Naval Engineering Support Unit, or
    weapons assist team)

  • Sea Marshall team

  • Command and control

  • Personnel support
The power behind these CRTs is three fold: they would perform IDT and annual training together, developing expertise, qualifications, and cross-training; they would be focused first on maintaining readiness for contingencies, rather than providing base-line augmentation and integration with active forces; and, they will become familiar with a variety of operating areas and operating conditions and will be better prepared when the time comes for contingency deployment.

In three specific instances, Coast Guard Reserve personnel would be assigned directly to a unit and not a CRT:
  • Port Security Units and other Naval Coastal Warfare dedicated assets (for OCONUS deployment in support of combatant commanders)

  • Maritime Safety & Security Teams (for INCONUS deployment in support of Coast Guard Forces commanders or NORTHCOM)

  • Joint command staff personnel
Even with the creation of CRTs, we are left with three important assumptions; while these are “givens” for this force creation, a change in any or all would not impact the CRT, support, and accountability structure. First, the Coast Guard Reserve will remain at a funded strength of 8,000 members. Second, members of the selected reserve will be capped at 48 IDT periods a year and 15 days of annual training. And, third, the Coast Guard Reserve will maintain an overall pyramid force structure.

Structure to Provide Accountability

The creation of contingency readiness teams is only part of the answer, however. How will the Coast Guard ensure accountability, while also maintaining the flexibility necessary to put resources, on short notice, where they are needed the most? The old reserve unit structure provided accountability; it also provided a huge administrative overhead some people thought excessive. Why duplicate effort? The active command had a training officer and an administrative staff; why have another catering just to part-timers? Perhaps the answer is reserve issues are mostly important, but hardly ever urgent. A missed physical isn’t all that urgent – until the service can’t recall the member because of a not-fit-for duty chit.

What the Coast Guard needs is a balance between the days of augmentation and the days of integration. Under augmentation, reservists were operationally assigned to the active duty command, but administratively remained attached to the reserve unit. The relationship between the reservist and the active duty command was very similar to an active duty member’s temporary additional duty assignment to a command. With augmentation, the command had the ability to use both active duty and reserve personnel as they saw fit, meeting the unit’s needs at a whim, if need be. Perhaps the answer lies with the Coast Guard’s twelve integrated support commands (ISC) and 39 commanders of Coast Guard Forces (CGF). (Coast Guard, 2002, pages 15 & 36)

Each ISC provides a regional (usually by Coast Guard District) integrated support command, overseeing all logistics, support, and depot level maintenance within their area of responsibility. A large part of this support is through the force optimization staff, home to the experts in training and reserve management. The CGF structure places all Coast Guard forces – be they traditional operational or marine safety or support assets – under one operational commander. Rather than reservists being integrated into active duty commands, reservists – by CRT – should be assigned to the regional ISC. Placing the administrative control with a single command, ultimately responsible to the operational commander, would provide for true accountability, and would place the burden on a command which is built for support. The ISC would “own” all reservists in CRTs, including the support and evaluation chains. The ISC would be responsible for ensuring the needs of the contingency commanders – the CGF – are met. In addition, the ISC would ensure the drill-sites’ needs are also met, but the deciding balance would be on contingency preparedness, not day-to-day operations as have been emphasized for more than two decades. Each CRT would have a memorandum of understanding to provide services and use the assets of the drill-site commander.

Each ISC would also be responsible for providing reservists with Commandant-mandated, non-operational training as well as for ensuring the completion of operational training. The ISC would monitor readiness, including qualifications, certifications, and currency. These added responsibilities would require additional full-time personnel at each ISC. Each force optimization staff would need to be enlarged. In addition, each ISC would need a senior officer to serve as the Commanding Officer for reserve personnel (in the same way the admin officer of a large shore staff services as the enlisted members’ commanding officer).

Perhaps the greatest increase for the ISC would be the creation of a training team focused on providing contingency training to both reserve and active personnel throughout their area of responsibility. The training team, which would include reservists as a part of a training CRT, would provide operational (such as small boat crewmember training) and non-operational (such as critical incident stress management familiarization) training.

Lastly, each CGF would have a full-time military member serve in their planning department who was the primary liaison between the ISCs and the other units. While each unit would have a designated reservist serving as the “senior reserve individual,” the CGF’s full time liaison would help bridge the gap between operations and support, and the liaison would help define the contingency commander’s needs.

Alternatives to the Contingency Readiness Teams

What are the other alternatives and are they viable? Certainly, the Coast Guard could return to either stand-alone reserve units or reserve units augmenting active duty commands. Or the Coast Guard could leave the integrated unit approach and create checks to ensure readiness. Stand-alone reserve units have an appeal from a contingency preparedness point of view. Reserve units would be able to solely dedicate all training time to contingency preparedness, with no diversion to real-world operations. The downfall of stand-alone reserve units is the flip side to the same coin: reservists would gain no real world experience, would be unable to train with operational equipment (or the Coast Guard would need to obtain boats and training aids just for reservists). Augmentation does not fair much better as an option. Reserve units had a substantial overhead dedicated to non-training and non-contingency issues. Commissioned officers spent almost all their time performing administrative work, rather than engaged in operational training or augmentation. If the Coast Guard leaves the force alone, the service will be faced with continued lack of accountability with regard to contingency preparedness. Many active duty commands, particularly the multi-mission small boat stations, have a difficult time just maintaining the status quo without regard to training part-time personnel for contingency support which will benefit another (receiving) command.

Some sort of CPRL or mobilization order system is another possibility. The CPRL system had a number of deficiencies. One of the greatest deficiencies was that reserve members did not know what CPRL billet they had been assigned to. In addition, no one was held accountable to ensure that people in CPRL billets actually had current qualifications required by the billet. The mobilization card system, while it didn’t have all of the CPRL weaknesses, was deficient in that it did not provide for flexibility in putting resources to emergent needs and provided no opportunity for personnel assigned to the same force element to train together.

Finally, the Coast Guard could resort to the Fedotoff White solution and have the Coast Guard Auxiliary – the service’s current “temporary reservists” – conduct all contingency operations. While this suggestion is slightly tongue-in-cheek, the Auxiliarists have been instrumental in both backfilling for search & rescue at multi-mission, small boat stations and in providing additional eyes and ears on America’s waterways as the nation creates a layered defense against terrorism.

Possible Problems with CRTs

The plan as presented has several problems which will need to be overcome. The first is that the plan, as delineated, will require at least 41 full-time military billets, minimum. This might be more than the Coast Guard can or will want to dedicate to this. Certainly, this could be trimmed by not placing dedicated personnel at each CGF or dual-hatting people. This degradation would negatively impact the deployment of the plan; an analysis of the negative impact is beyond the scope of this paper. Another stumbling block is that the CRT system would re-rack the entire reserve billet structure by location and specialty. A rough wag for the CRT structure is included as Appendix 1. The Coast Guard would need to create a transition plan to take the service from the current RPAL/CPRL structure to the CRT structure without drastically and severely negatively impact drilling reservists. In addition, the CRT structure as provided puts a premium on “doing work” and command & control; implementation of the CRT structure in a manner close to Appendix 1 would increase the enlisted ranks and reduce the officer corps. This might be politically unfeasible.

In Conclusion

While the last decade has seen an increase in the use of Coast Guard Reservists for surge and contingency operations through the use of voluntary and involuntary recalls, the service has not had a corresponding emphasis on the contingency preparedness for the reserve force. The emphasis at nearly every level of the organization has been the integration of active and reserve forces or the augmentation of active forces by reserve forces in order to provide training opportunities and accomplish the daily Coast Guard missions. While the Coast Guard has relied on active duty commanders to ensure mobilization readiness – under the banner or Team Coast Guard – no one has been held accountable for reserve readiness. By redirecting the emphasis of the Coast Guard Reserve to contingency readiness – and by creating systems to support and maintain this new emphasis – the Coast Guard will create a reserve force capable of supporting any number of contingencies in the maritime environment.


Bush, George W. “Remarks by the President at the Port of Philadelphia, 31 March 2003.” (14 April 2003).

Commander, Atlantic Area. “Daily Status Report – Operations Noble Eagle and Enduring Freedom – 18 Mar 03.” COMLANTAREA COGARD PORTSMOUTH VA 190533Z MAR 03.

Department of Defense. “Training and Readiness.” (11 April 2003)

Riker, J. T. “Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm After Action Report.”
(11 April 2003).

Stinson, Peter A. “Integration Roundtable: Tying up the loose ends following integration.” Coast Guard Reserve Magazine. March 1998.
(11 April 2003).

Toves, Scott. “Letter from the CGR Webmaster.” Coast Guard Reservist, March-April 2003, page 2.

U.S. Coast Guard. Standard Distribution List. 140. COMDTNOTE 5605. Washingon, DC: October 2002.

U.S. Coast Guard. “U.S. Coast Guard: History of the Coast Guard Reserve.” (11 April 2003a).

U.S. Coast Guard. “U.S. Coast Guard Reserve: Involuntary Recalls to Active Duty.” (11 April 2003b).

White, Dimitri Fedotoff. Grave Marker. Washington Memorial Chapel, Valley Forge, PA. (30 December 2002).

Appendix 1

Coast Guard Reserve Billet Strength
Contingency Response Teams

Click here to see appendix

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