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My Coast Guard
Commentary | Dec. 4, 2020

Here’s why you should become an electrician’s mate

The electrician’s mate rating has about 1,200 members which is small to average in size among the ratings. Electricity is a part of every aspect of our modern lives and is essential to the Coast Guard mission; but what is an EM’s job all about?

“Not many people know what we do,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Ryan Hovis, an electrician’s mate currently on special duty assignment at the U.S. Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard. “There's always something going on that's different to kind of challenge you. It's everything from replacing a light to balancing loads for a whole power supply for a unit. There's just so much stuff and that's what I like."

Being an EM involves reactionary problem-solving, collaborative teamwork, and some serious devotion to duty.

Hovis has been an EM for over 10 years. While in college, he worked a part-time maintenance job which sparked his interest and made him want to learn more about electricity. He decided to join the Coast Guard to become an EM and went straight from boot camp to A-school in Yorktown, Virginia. Following his initial schooling, Hovis experienced a variety of shore units and spent three years stationed on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Northland, a 270-foot medium endurance cutter home-ported in Norfolk, Virginia.

“Anything can happen at any moment; especially on a boat,” said Hovis.

There were times underway when the power supply went out and Hovis was up all night working in sewage. There were days when the small boat broke and he worked all day with boatswain’s mates. If something in the engine room failed, he worked alongside the machinery technicians. If something on the bridge broke, he worked with the commanding officer.

An electrician’s mate currently stationed at Sector Detroit, Petty Officer 1st Class Taylor Luebke echoes the sentiment that being an EM requires self-guided problem solving, while at the same time emphasizing that he welcomes the variation in the day-to-day work. 

“As EM’s we can come to work expecting to do a minor wiring of a light circuit, or routine maintenance of electrical systems by cleaning and tightening all the wiring connections,” said Luebke. “Then [we] discover a whole generator component needs re-wiring or an intermittent electrical problem needs to be trouble-shooted on the ship’s propulsion system.”

Recently, the EM rating was designated as “critical” in the Coast Guard.

Master Chief Petty Officer Daniel Webster, the rating force master chief with over 22 years of experience as an EM, explained that a rating becomes “critical” when less than 95% of the rating’s workforce is staffed. The rating dropped below that percentage approximately six months ago. Retention isn’t the issue, but rather the pool of people joining has dwindled.

“Desirability has a lot to do with it,” said Webster, referring to the reason why he thinks their numbers have gone down. “People want to do computer stuff . . . and the ‘magic of electricity,’ well you can’t really see it.”

Webster said it is a “trade” rating and has a lot to offer, both personally and professionally.

Hovis corroborates that sentiment. He said he has learned so much new information while in the rating from the many C-schools available to EM’s which he has attended. He’s learned about cutter consoles, fiber-optics, national code and other electrical skills. The knowledge that he gained from the schools, along with his 10 years of real-world experience from different units, enabled him to attain his electrical license in North Carolina and start a part-time business.

He plans to complete 20 years in the Coast Guard and then use that knowledge and experience to run his own company. Hovis recognized his opportunity to apply his knowledge and education to a certification and set him up for future success when he retires so that he can "walk out of the Coast Guard and right into a job.”

“I didn't know about all the different school opportunities or the stuff that I would learn when I pulled the trigger on EM,” said Hovis. “I wouldn’t have learned anything about electricity if it wasn't for what I've learned here. I really became passionate about that stuff because of the Coast Guard.”

Webster says there are incentives now. A recruit can join the Coast Guard, spend eight weeks at Cape May, go straight to EM A-School and, upon graduation, receive $10,000 as a bonus, with no prior-experience necessary. Plus, there is a $10,000 signing bonus after the first tour of four years.

“In addition, advancement to E-5 is on the higher end for the Coast Guard,” Webster said.

From a practical standpoint, being an electrician’s mate is good for the bank account. The skills Hovis learned have translated into routine household maintenance and everyday life.

“It's just little things that we learn can save you so much money at home or with your vehicle or with your personal boat or RV,” said Hovis. “I really, really enjoy it and I'm going to make a profession out of it after my days in the Coast Guard are done.”

This is a rating with great opportunities for advancement, learning trade-skills and traveling in the Coast Guard. EM’s help keep the boats running, the lights on and the radios live. If you want to learn a trade that will set you up for life both inside and outside of the Coast Guard, consider the electrician’s mate. Electricity is everywhere, but EM’s are running low on power.