The basic element of the Coast Guard's Operational Law enforcement effort is the boarding team. This team is made up of members of a station's or cutter's crew that is specially trained and qualified to conduct boardings of vessels at sea.
The boarding team is led by a Boarding Officer (BO). A BO is the individual in charge of the team with law enforcement authority. Some teams may also have an Assistant Boarding Officer (ABO). The remaining members of the team is made up of Boarding Team Members (BTM). All Coast Guard boarding teams are armed, uniformed, federal law enforcement officers. The assignment of BO's, ABO's and BTM's are based on competence, experience, and ability. It is possible to have an ABO or BTM who out ranks the BO, but during the course of the boarding will be subordinate to them. The boarding process is described here.
Units that routinely conduct law enforcement (Stations, White Hulled Cutters) each have boarding teams, composed of members of their crew. When a crew member has met the qualifications and completed the training, they can join the unit's boarding team. Boarding teams can be made up of various combinations of personnel: Deck Watch Officers, mechanics, cooks, etc. When the boarding team is not conducting a law enforcement boarding (or patrol for station boats), they return to their normal duties at the unit.
The Coast Guard does have Tactical Law Enforcement Teams who job is to conduct boardings while embarked on U.S. Navy Ships. These teams are made up of Coast Guard personnel with Coast Guard Boarding team experience.
Boarding Team Qualifications
Boarding Teams and Boarding Officer positions are usually open to Officers and Petty Officers at units that conduct law enforcement. Nonrated personnel (E-3 and below) may also participate in boardings as boat crew or security. Selection to the team is not guaranteed, but based on the needs of the unit, training availability, etc.
All members of a boarding team must do the following:
* Successfully qualify in firing the 9mm pistol and pass tests judging the individual's ability to make judgments concerning the use of force.
* Meet certain physical fitness qualifications.
* Complete all the training objectives for BTM or BO.
* Be qualified by the unit's Commanding Officer to be on the team.
Plain Clothes Work
Coast Guard military personnel on boarding teams always wear uniforms when conducting boardings. Plain clothes operations may be conducted by the Coast Guard Investigative Service.
How to Get on a Team
Getting a position on a boarding team takes place after several major steps, the first being enlistment or commissioning in the Coast Guard. Then you must be assigned to a unit that conducts law enforcement.
The Office of Law Enforcement does not conduct hiring or provide input to the recruiters as to who would be a better prospect for a law enforcement job. Information on both enlisted and officer job opportunities are located at http://www.uscg.mil/jobs/
or Call 1-800-GET-USCG (1-800-438-8724).
In addition to that; One of the most varied jobs in the United States Coast Guard is the rating of Port Security Officer. It is one that has assumed a larger role since the events of September 11th, 2001.
If you qualify and are selected for this program, you will receive special training in defensive combat, law enforcement, and general security issues. You will be instructed in classroom and in the field training to learn how to provide effective professional port and operational security. You will learn the need for intelligence data, port and operations security, communications, and other vital interests dealing with waterside and shore side security.
Some of your duty will include risk and threat assessment, various types of cargo and ship inspections, port security planning and evaluation, and participating in finding where the vulnerabilities lay in the operation of a port. Some of the possible duty facilities may be at any of the Coast Guard facilities located stateside and around the world, or in support of other armed forces operations around the world. You could be detached and serve as a support inspection team at a DoD National Port operation here or overseas, or perhaps part of a Marine Safety Unit. You may also be assigned to be part of a Maritime Security and Safety Team, or MSST.
A MSST performs shore side, dockside and waterside inspection duties to support and defend the United States in Homeland Security training.
Training begins at the Basic School located in Cape May NJ. After Boot camp, you may attend class A school in Yorktown, VA, and then be assigned a duty station. To qualify for Port Security in the Coast guard you have to pass certain criteria:
-Normal Vision and hearing.
-Good agility and physical Strength.
-Average to above average intelligence.
-Good to average interpersonal skills.
This is a job that if you have any previous training in police, law enforcement or security it will help you considerably. You will be responsible to visiting incoming ships, up to and including the huge tank vessels. There are a large number of different laws and regulations that you will be responsible for administering, and it will be your task to inspect, evaluate, and sometimes sanction vessels and cargos incoming to a port. You will be likely assigned to a small boat inspection team, and travel by water to the side of many vessels, to board and inspect them upon their arrival.
Getting selected to be a cutterman is fairly straightforward, get your commission and say you want to go to sea. The detailers will have no problems dealing with you. There are no special medical or educational requirements above and beyond what is required for commissioning in the USCG.
The training is started when you're in your commissioning program. You'll go through Nautical Science courses that will teach you navigation, helm commands, chart work, ship handling characteristics and of course, celestial navigation. While you're still in your commissioning program you will take a cruise on the USCGC Eagle and put what you've learned into practice. If you go through the Academy, you will also have two cruises on active USCG Cutters to hone your skills.
Once you receive your commission your training branches off in two different directions, either deck watch officer or engineering officer in training. The deck watch officer is responsible for conning the ship, overseeing the navigation detail and is normally the officer of the watch when underway. The engineering officer in training is responsible for everything below deck. Their job is to learn how to keep everything on board the ship working. Both of these programs continue your training by assigning you a junior officer mentor who holds the billet that you're trying to qualify for and having you learn from them over the course of several months. During that time, both branches are expected to learn their ship inside and out. Once you complete your qualification packet and pass your review board you receive your Cutterman's pin.
What will I be doing once I get to the fleet?
That all depends on which type of cutter you go to. There are three types of cutters in the Coast Guard, and all of them perform very different missions.
While on board any cutter as a junior officer, you can expect to spend your time not on watch working on your collateral duties. These can vary from Classified Material Control Officer, to the Morale Officer, but common assignments include: Weapons Officer, Boarding Officer, Navigation Officer, First Lieutenant, Training Officer or Communications Officer.
The White Hulls
The first type of cutter is the white hulled cutters:
There are two cutters there, a 378' one and a 110' one.
The white hulled cutters are the ones who do the 'sexy' missions in the Coast Guard. They interdict drugs and migrants and other law enforcement tasks. The do search and rescue, and they occasionally patrol with the Navy.
The White Hulls range in length from 87' to 378', and they comprise about half of the Coast Guard fleet. The smaller boats are newer, but the entire force is scheduled to be upgraded and replaced with the current Deepwater project .
Patrols on white hulled cutters vary according to the ships size. The 87' and 110' for cutters will go out for just under a week at a time, while the 378' cutters will leave for weeks or months at a time.
White hulled cutters are everywhere in the Coast Guard. From Puerto Rico, to Alaska, Guam or Hawaii, the CG has white hulls there. Since the white hulls occasionally go to sea with the Navy, they're also the ones who get port calls in Japan and other Pacific/ Mediterranean countries.
These ships are known for their high op-tempo, you can be expected to run multiple boardings at the same time, have to watch over dozens of migrants on your decks awaiting repatriation, or spend hours chasing a single go-fast. With any of those options, you're going to be doing it in some of the worst weather imaginable, and that could make you wish you were on a...
Black Hulled Cutter
The black hulled cutters generally do two types of missions: Aids to Navigation or Ice Breaking. Aids to Navigation mostly involves checking buoys are in the correct position, ensuring that navigation lights are lighted and keeping channels clear. Ice breaking is fairly self explanatory, you clear paths for ships to get in and out of port. The black hulls are engaged in SAR and LE from time to time, but those are generally a case of being in the right place at the right time.
Due to the different nature of the black hulled cutters missions, they generally go out to sea for shorter periods. Generally black hulls go out for a day or two, possibly a week, but there are very few cases where they are out to sea for any period longer than a week.
The black hulls have fostered an environment that is very different from white hulls. Black hulled culture is difficult to describe (and my own exposure to it is limited), but most reports use the words relaxed, laid back or chill.
Because of their ice breaking mission, you can find most black hulls farther north, and on the Great Lakes. There are still black hulls in tropical environments, but just not as many. For those of you that truly enjoy cold weather, you may be interested in...
The Red Hulls
The Coast Guard has three Polar Rollers, all stationed in the Northwest. Right now one is broken, one just left to break out the Antarctic base at McMurdo, and I can't find info on the 3rd one. These cutters may be an endangered species, as recently there has been some significant debate on whether the Coast Guard should continue to provide this service.
Generally, the crews on these ships are a mix of civilians and military, so the culture on board reflects that. These ships are capable of SAR and legally empowered to enforce laws... but I don't see many penguins smuggling drugs.
Generally these ships make long (6 month) cruises down to the antarctic to cut paths for the supply ships and drop off scientists. On the way down they hit up some of the nicest port calls that the Coast Guard gets, Australia and several stops in Asia or South America are not uncommon.
There are also shorter cruises to the Arctic, mostly to resupply the northern tip of Alaska, but I don't believe that these are on any regular basis.
Overall, the word that I hear from people on the red hulls is that they love their job. The people that I know on those ships send back videos of penguins or polar bears (not from the same cruise) and they get to go to places that most people never will.
So what's the downside?
Life at sea is not for everyone. Especially as a junior officer, you're going to work long hours, that sucks. Doing it while you're getting over sea sickness sucks worse.
Even though Coast Guard cruises are shorter than Navy cruises, you are still away from your family for extended periods of time. This has all sorts of impacts on relationships and families. It may be a great life as a bachelor, but once you put down roots, those roots may not appreciate you leaving for weeks at a time.
Also, even when you're in port, you can (and often are) called out at a moments notice for search and rescue.
Also, the equipment that you're going to be working with is old. Out of 43 ranked Navies in the world the US Coast Guard is the 7th largest, but the 42nd oldest. There are some rust buckets in the fleet that are only floating because the crew is doing an exceptional job.
What Can I do After the Fleet?
The merchant marine isn't a bad job. Starting salaries for qualified officers are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. As a Coast Guard Officer, you will have more than enough experience and knowledge to qualify for any ship license that you want.
If you want to stay in the military, and you haven't spent too much time at sea, you can transfer to the aviation sector. If you are O-3 or below, and meet age and health requirements, you can generally transfer to the flight sector quite easily after your first or second tour. This is because the USCG used to require that all officers go to sea before they do anything else. While this is beginning to change 90?f Academy grads still go to sea for their first tour, but around 40?ind up with Pilot's wings before they retire.
If you want to stay at sea, but really feel like you're the tip of the spear, you can take the skills you learned as a boarding officer and go to a Marine Safety and Security Team. They're the USCG's premier asset for boarding high risk vessels. They're the people that get called when we need someone to fast rope down onto a tanker going 30 kts on the high seas. They're equipped to seize control of the vessel and then check for radiation, explosives, contraband, and the proper number of personal flotation devices.
That about summarizes the Cuttermen field of the US Coast Guard. Your next installment will probably cover the Marine Safety Field (Naugle covered the pilot thing pretty well, just change Air Force to Coast Guard as appropriate). If you have any questions contact me, or feel free to look around www.uscg.mil