In this two-part interview from WEST 2019, U.S Coast Guard Vice Commandant Adm. Charles Ray outlines the service’s top priorities for readiness, recruitment, and modernization.
The Coast Guard was one of the largest government organizations impacted by the recent partial government shutdown. As the service gets back up to speed after the 35-day funding gap, they are dealing with some residual effects. At WEST 2019, U.S Coast Guard Vice Commandant Adm. Charles Ray told Government Matters that the service was able to stay supplied thanks to their dedicated Coast Guardsmen. “The Coast Guard is a network of logisticians and contracting people and others that provide the support that we need for our frontline operators,” Ray said. “What we saw when we took stock along the way was that we were getting low in some places. We would have to make choices and take risks in some missions to ensure that our primary safety and security missions were covered.” Ray said that recruitment is an important issue for the Coast Guard, and that they are working not only to recruit the best personnel, but improve retainment for their current ranks. “It’s a different service now then it was 38 years ago when I signed up, the quality of the young people that we’re attracting now… we are getting the finest sons and daughters in America in the Coast Guard,” Ray said. “They’re better educated. Generally speaking, they’re more family oriented… so I have to take that into account. It’s a more mature workforce with more options, therefore, the game’s on me to make sure I retain them.” One of the top priorities for the Coast Guard is making sure they have the right equipment for their mission. Ray said that the service is purchasing new aircraft and cutters to fulfill their national security needs. One of the most pressing needs at the Coast Guard a replacement for the aging Polar Star heavy icebreaker. Ray said that the service plans to award the construction contract sometime this year. “We’ve had great support. Everyone understands that this is a capability the nation needs. I believe we’re past that conversation. We have been going about the business about that acquisition for the last couple years, and hope to award that design and construction in the third quarter of this year,” Ray said. “When we talk about Polar Security Cutters, we talk about ’6-3-1.’ We’ve done an analysis that says the nation needs six icebreakers at minimum. We need three of those to be heavy icebreakers. That will allow us to have access in the arctic year-round, because access and presence are what is important. Really, I need the first one, and that’s what I’m about right now.”