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Re-Imagining the USCG Auxiliary
Last Post 30 Dec 2020 12:49 PM by srtmack. 5 Replies.
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RufriderUser is Offline
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22 Nov 2020 08:30 PM

    RE-IMAGINGING THE U.S.C.G. AUXILIARY

     

    Background.

    The pandemic of 2020-21 has hit the Auxiliary very hard.  This new reality has exposed how “non-essential” many of our routine activities really are and the organization is hemorrhaging members.   COVID-19 may have become the tipping point for an organization already capsizing in an archaic and incredibly bureaucratic vessel.   

    These observations are based, in part, on a thirty-year volunteer career with the U.S.A.F. Auxiliary (Civil Air Patrol) before coming to the maritime world, seven years ago.   The C.A.P. has its own issues, but it also offers some insights into better practices for volunteer agencies.  

    Our much diminished operational tempo may, however, offer the opportunity to stand back and ask an intriguing question:   “If we were just now inventing a U.S.C.G. Auxiliary, what would that ideal organization for the 21st century look like?”  Imagine being able to cut the anchor lines on those policies and procedures that have their roots in decades long past.  Imagine a new force multiplier with a revamped mission package, streamlined administration, empowered leadership, and a revitalized esprit de corps.   Hopefully, the thoughts which follow will stimulate the organization’s creative juices. 

     

    Revamping the Mission.

    As our active duty Coast Guard is taking on increasing international responsibilities, its limited resources are strained.  At the same time, the Auxiliary is lacking that highly visible mission that is its sole responsibility and which its members, and the general public, recognize as vital. 

    The U.S.A.F. Auxiliary (C.A.P.) performs almost all inland Search and Rescue (SAR) operations.  It’s volunteer officers occupy all on-scene incident command positions as well as staffing the air and ground teams responding to the event.  In support of that approach, the Air Force long ago abandoned the use of privately owned aircraft and vehicles to conduct SAR.  They now provide standardized aircraft and vehicles to each state, based on their activity levels.

    In contrast, the active duty Coast Guard has the best resources to conduct SAR offshore and active duty personnel fill all incident command positions.   If we are honest, we’d have to say that the Auxiliary’s privately owned aircraft and vessels are of marginal utility in that environment.  Our ICS training is rarely put into practice.

    Now, what if the Auxiliary were given the primary responsibility to train for, and then prosecute, all “Shallow Water SAR”?   This would include bays, harbors, the ICW, rivers, lakes, and areas experiencing unusual coastal flooding.  Coastal flooding is likely to be an increasing issue in the coming years.  Wouldn’t it be better to have a well-trained, properly equipped Auxiliary force respond rather than impromptu organizations like the “Cajun Navy”?  This would mean training Auxiliary officers to hold all the key incident command positions for on-scene response and it would require furnishing the Auxiliary with boats specifically (1) designed to navigate the coastal flooding environment where dangerous objects may be lurking just below the surface and (2) equipped to pluck people from those dangerous waters and treat them until removed to safety. 

    This would provide the Auxiliary with a high-profile, high-visibility mission to call its own.  In disaster relief operations, the Auxiliary could become as recognized and as welcome as the Red Cross, bringing great credit to the U. S. Coast Guard in the process, and dispelling the image of the Auxiliary as a “Good ol’ Boys Boating Club”. 

    For shallow-water operations requiring air support, the Coast Guard could develop a Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S.A.F to employ C.A.P. assets with USCG Auxiliarist crew aboard, or it could remove current restrictions and let the Auxiliary develop its own cadre of well-trained drone pilots.     

     

    Implementing Membership Options.

    The Auxiliary has long suffered from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).  Is it a military organization or is it not?  The rank insignia we wear fails to denote our experience level and the military courtesies normally associated with rank are waived. 

    People drawn to the Auxiliary are a mixture of folks who thrive in the military environment and those who struggle with it.  Why not accommodate both?   Members whose primary interest is in supporting recreational boating safety programs like public education, vessel examination, program visitation or in helping with flotilla administration could enjoy a base level of membership.  Their “uniform” would be boat shoes, khaki slacks, and a blue polo shirt with the Auxiliary logo.  Their application would be 2 pages (vs. 15) and their ID Card would not be accepted for access to USCG installations.   

    Members wishing to participate in activities that more directly support the U. S. Coast Guard like Watchstanding, Food Service, Public Relations, Maritime Observation patrols or Shallow-water SAR, and members aspiring to positions of authority, would be initiated into a second tier of membership.  Their uniforms would be the ODU and short-sleeve Blues.  These folks would be expected to comply with Auxiliary appearance standards and practice all military customs and courtesies.  They would carry a photo ID and their rank would indicate their level of accomplishment in the Auxiliary, not the position held.  Minimum physical fitness standards might also be applied to some operational specialties.

    The Auxiliary should also accommodate those loyal members who, for whatever reason, can no longer actively participate.  A “Sustaining Member” would be someone who supports the organization by paying their annual dues, but who is not required to maintain currency and does not count when analyzing unit performance metrics. 

       

    Empowering Our Front-Line Leadership.

    Many of the leaders who emerge at the Flotilla and Division levels come to the Auxiliary after long careers in the private sector or in government.  They have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly, and honed their own leadership styles accordingly.  The USCG should liberally accept any applicable training accomplished outside the USCG world instead of treating them like they are fresh out of college with blank resume’s.   This means re-evaluating how leadership is taught in the Auxiliary, especially the current spreadsheet of 28 leadership traits that fails as a substitute for the art of leadership).  Amazingly, the Auxiliary offers no leadership training in the one area that is essential -- leading and managing an organization of volunteers.   FEMA has such a course, and it should be required of all Auxiliary officers and any active duty folks who liaison with the Auxiliary.  Volunteers have work expectations and motivations quite different from paid personnel.

    A volunteer most definitely does not join an organization like the USCG Auxiliary to be confronted with the same (or worse) bureaucratic hurdles they faced in their paying jobs.  Because the Coast Guard has so little faith in its Auxiliary leaders, it forces most decisions to go through a multi-layer Chain of Leadership and Command before arriving on the desk of an active duty member of the Coast Guard who is overwhelmed with relatively minor decisions.  Personnel actions that should take a week have dragged on for almost a year as paperwork is misplaced or ignored, and the originator is kept in the dark about its status.  The Coast Guard needs to turn this model on its head and delegate all routine personnel actions to the Division or Flotilla level – the level where the individual’s knowledge and experience are actually known. 

     

    Re-inventing our Administrative Environment.

    Some level of regulatory documentation is, of course, necessary to the maintenance of good order and discipline.  The Auxiliary, however, has amassed thousands of pages of detailed regulations since its inception, filled with subtle conflicts and layers of obfuscation.  To accompany this doctrine, there is a catalogue of complex forms to support an arcane system of reporting member activity and accomplishment.  

    At some point, you have to stop pouring time and money into repairing the old klunker  (AuxData II is the latest example) and acquire a sleek new vehicle.   That is where the Auxiliary finds itself.   The way in which management information flows up, down and laterally within the Auxiliary needs to be re-imagined.   And in terms of forms and regulations, the KISS principle must become our watchword.   Keep it Short and Simple as we start anew.  

     

    I’m sure these measures sound drastic, but the present trajectory of the USCG Auxiliary is not sustainable in the 21st century.   The short-term pain of re-birth seems better to me than the agony of a prolonged demise.   

    CCCSDUser is Offline
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    CCCSD

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    22 Nov 2020 11:50 PM
    Funding for all these new capabilities? Training? Statuary authority? Staffing?
    srtmackUser is Offline
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    29 Dec 2020 01:16 PM
    I do agree with your statements and reasoning. As CCCSD said, however, funding is the biggest roadblock. One of our biggest assets to the USCG is the cost of doing business. However, I do see the need for evolution of the service, particularly now as we face additional obstacles (recruitment, covid, funding, etc). In addition, bolstering numbers through recruitment will help offset some funding issues through the increased dues revenue, etc..

    I always fall back to a thesis written by Matthew Dooris for the Naval Post Graduate School regarding recruitment and retention of volunteers in the Auxiliary. It was written in 2008 but still has some solid points and recommendations, even in todays day and age https://calhoun.nps.edu/handle/10945/3857 . It appears that only a few of those recommendations were brought forth. If they had moved forward with a few more more of these proposed policies, we would have higher interest in recruitment and better retention.

    We definitely need to see some positive change in the organization. Continuing the path of the status quo will only lead to less members and less interest by the current members.




    BellsUser is Offline
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    29 Dec 2020 02:33 PM
    While I really appreciate a few of our auxiliary members, because they go above and beyond for our crew; it seems that "identity disorder" is self inflicted. It seems like the Aux wants alot of the responsibility but without the commitment and training required, to include actually showcasing what it is the boat crew and coxswain packets, and completing PT tests.

    We've had instances where aux members were on patrol, and on orders, but when coming onto a possible SAR scenario, they abandoned the scene and then active duty had to go out. They help us tremendously with training and supporting the crew, but for SAR, they aren't and don't seem like they want it as a priority.

    I can't speak for the Air Patrol, as we have alot of members that are apart of both, and I dont have any visibility of that. I've only seen what I've experienced at two stations. We seem to have 1-3 members per unit that are extremely helpful and then the other 90% of the members use it as a club.
    Take what you like and leave the rest behind.
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    CCCSD

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    29 Dec 2020 05:27 PM
    They day they stop worrying about everyone wearing boat shoes is the first step in a long line of items to tick off before funds and equipment are issued and responsibilities given...

    Don’t even start on physical standards.
    srtmackUser is Offline
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    30 Dec 2020 12:49 PM
    Posted By Bells on 29 Dec 2020 02:33 PM
    While I really appreciate a few of our auxiliary members, because they go above and beyond for our crew; it seems that "identity disorder" is self inflicted. It seems like the Aux wants alot of the responsibility but without the commitment and training required, to include actually showcasing what it is the boat crew and coxswain packets, and completing PT tests.

    We've had instances where aux members were on patrol, and on orders, but when coming onto a possible SAR scenario, they abandoned the scene and then active duty had to go out. They help us tremendously with training and supporting the crew, but for SAR, they aren't and don't seem like they want it as a priority.

    I can't speak for the Air Patrol, as we have alot of members that are apart of both, and I dont have any visibility of that. I've only seen what I've experienced at two stations. We seem to have 1-3 members per unit that are extremely helpful and then the other 90% of the members use it as a club.

    I am in agreement with you on this.  These observations are a good example of why we need to make a positive change.
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