As a recruiter, Chief Petty Officer Hillary Zarack always enjoyed mentoring new recruits just as much as she did inspecting vessels as a marine science technician (MST). So, when she hit the mid-career mark a couple years ago she spent a long time deliberating whether her best path to further her career was to promote to chief warrant officer as a subject matter expert in her field, or to progress along the enlisted track remaining a chief petty officer and advance to senior chief.
But once she chose to promote to chief warrant officer, her next step was a no-brainer. If she applied and was accepted to the Coast Guard’s Enlisted Marine Inspector Training Program (EMITP), in three years, she’d not only be a journeyman marine inspector, but also earn an appointment to chief warrant officer.
“It gave me an opportunity to do what I love,” she said, “and to reach my ultimate professional goal.”
The U.S. Coast Guard has long trained enlisted personnel to be marine inspectors -- the backbone of a service that is tasked with promoting safety at sea. What makes the EMITP different is that it offers this training much earlier in a member’s career. Previously, enlisted members couldn’t choose this specialty until after they had been commissioned as a CWO. As a result, notes, Lt. Cmdr. Amanda Styles, by the time someone received that training they often only had a few years to apply this knowledge before retiring. “Now we get them when they have the maturity to do the job, but still have a number of years left,” she said. “It’s better for the inspectors and for the Coast Guard.”
Since the program was launched four years ago, 52 Coast Guard members have received inspector training, with the first class of 10 graduating this past Spring. The EMITP has quickly become the most popular way to learn to be an inspector, says Christopher O’Neal, a marine inspection training officer in Sector Virginia.
It’s also the most competitive. In the program’s first year, he notes, more than 400 applicants vied for 10 spots. “The goal is to take the best of the best,” he said. “We’re looking for the people who have already gone beyond their pay grade—those who have shown they can do even more.”
Do you have what it takes?
Applications for the upcoming year’s EMITP class were due in August, and acceptances will be announced later this month or in early October. The number of slots available depends on service requirements and has ranged from 10 in 2018, to 22 last year. To be eligible, enlisted members need to be mid-career E-6s or E-7s from the following ratings: MST, boatswain’s mate (BM), aviation survival technician (AST), machinery technician (MK), damage controlman (DC), and electrician’s mate (EM).
Inspection experience and time served underway are definitely preferred, but not a requirement, according to O’Neal, who advises applicants without this background to call their local training office and volunteer to go out on inspections. Other qualities, he adds, such as leadership, good communication skills and administrative ability can be just as critical to becoming a good marine inspector.
“A good work ethic and maturity and willingness to study go a long way,” O’Neal said.
Training to be a marine inspector requires a four-year commitment. During that time, students learn about U.S. and international maritime laws, regulations, policies, treaties, and the maritime industry. They also work towards earning the three qualifications required to become a marine inspector. Training is conducted at one of 21 different feeder ports, which new students select from available openings each year. Members also choose whether they want to focus on deck inspections (MSSD) or engineering (engine room) inspections (MSSE).
Classes are primarily online, with heavy emphasis going to on-the-job training, according to O’Neal. Much of that time is spent inspecting vessels. Since students arrive with different backgrounds, trainers customize the program for each of them to fill in the gaps. Zarack, who is now in her second year, came to EMITP with substantial inspection experience on ships in U.S. coastal waters. She also had a reputation for building rapport with mariners and industry. What she lacked, she says, was experience inspecting foreign vessels, which will be a focus in her curriculum as she works towards her MSSD.
The best part of the program for her: Getting out on vessels every day. “Back at my job I was in charge of a shop,” she said, “so it’s been a treat to be able to immerse myself and step outside the supervisory role to just do inspections.”
The most difficult part has been the volume of work, a sentiment she shares with fellow students. “Knowing all the different regulations that go into inspections and being able to decipher the differences from one platform to the next is a challenge,” she said. In addition to learning the regulations, she’ll also need to know how to apply them based upon how they are written, according to O’Neal. That’s why the process of earning even one qualification – as a small vessel inspector, for example – can take six to seven months.
Zarack said she understands this, and remains enthusiastic. “My goal is to do inspections until they won’t let me do them any longer,” she said, “If I could be in the Coast Guard for 30 years, I’d love it.”
Enlisted Marine Inspector Program at a glance:
- What is it? A four-year program for enlisted members to earn qualification as a journeyman marine inspector, and an accelerated promotion to CWO
- Who should apply? Top-performing enlisted service members with inspection backgrounds/aptitudes and 13-15 years of experience
- When does it take place? The message comes out around the first of July and, applications are due each August; accepted students notified in late September/early October annually
- Enlisted Marine Inspector Training Program Solicitation ALCGENL 144/20 AY21
- Update to Enlisted Marine Inspector Training Program (EMITP) Manual and Appointing Warrant Officers Manual ACN 078/21
- Enlisted Marine Inspector Training Program Commandant Instruction 1500.6