The United States Coast Guard, responsible for safeguarding over 100,000 miles of U.S. coastline and waterways, is facing a critical challenge in recruiting new personnel. Despite its vital role in national security, the Coast Guard has struggled to meet recruitment targets for the past four years. While retaining veteran personnel is not a concern, attracting the right individuals who are eager to serve at sea has proven to be a significant hurdle.
Commandant Adm. Linda Fagan, the Coast Guard’s first female commandant, acknowledges that recruitment is a top priority and emphasizes the importance of managing talent to maintain a trained and ready workforce. However, enticing young people to see the opportunities that service in the Coast Guard brings has been a daunting task.
One of the primary obstacles is persuading potential recruits to embrace the prospect of serving at sea on modern and state-of-the-art ships. To address this challenge, the Coast Guard has established the sea duty readiness council, responsible for finding solutions to the unique difficulties faced by personnel serving at sea. Recognizing the expectations of the new generation, the Coast Guard has upgraded its connectivity infrastructure, ensuring reliable internet service for its members. This improvement enables Coast Guard personnel to stay connected with their loved ones, alleviating some of the hardships associated with sea duty.
While the Coast Guard has utilized incentive pay and signing bonuses to encourage both new recruits and experienced personnel to join or remain in the service, Adm. Fagan believes that a mere financial incentive is insufficient. She emphasizes the need to focus on creating the right system, structure, and employment conditions that attract individuals based on the meaningful work and values the Coast Guard represents. The financial incentives should serve as a supplementary benefit rather than the primary motivation.
In the midst of these recruitment challenges, the USO PHL Airport Center plays a vital role in supporting Coast Guard recruits as they transition to basic training in Cape May, New Jersey. For over three decades, since approximately 1990, the USO volunteers at Philadelphia Airport have been the gathering point for newly enlisted Coast Guard recruits. Over 110,000 recruits have deplaned at the airport and mustered at the USO, where dedicated volunteers have provided exceptional care and support during what can be the most demanding and stressful eight weeks of the recruits’ lives.
At the USO, volunteers go above and beyond to ensure that each service member receives the support they need. They prepare and serve home-cooked meals, including dishes like pork loin, spaghetti and meatballs, turkey with gravy, mashed potatoes, vegetables, and snacks. These meals, often referred to as “Coast Guard Tuesdays” and “DEPOT Sundays,” have become a cherished tradition, offering a taste of comfort and familiarity as recruits embark on their training journey.
The USO Philadelphia Airport Center’s role in assisting Coast Guard recruits is invaluable. Their dedication and tireless efforts provide a sense of community and nourishment for these young men and women who are about to undergo rigorous training. By ensuring that recruits are well taken care of, the USO volunteers play a critical part in preparing them mentally and emotionally for the challenges that lie ahead.
As the United States Coast Guard strives to overcome recruitment hurdles and secure a strong and capable workforce, initiatives like the USO Philadelphia Airport Center exemplify the importance of community support and the significant role it plays in bolstering the success of future Coast Guard members. Through their dedication and generosity, the volunteers at the USO provide a powerful reminder that the nation stands behind those who serve to protect our waterways and coastline.