Enlisted personnel serving on cutters will receive the most significant boost in Service Wide Exam (SWE) credits in almost 30 years under a new incentive program designed to help compensate for the hardships involved in sea duty.
Beginning in Fiscal Year 2022, crewmembers will earn increased points for each 12-month period served at a Level 4 or 5 afloat unit, depending on the size of cutter they are posted to:
- Sea Pay Level 4 Cutters: 2.5 points (up from 2.0). Includes Coast Guard Cutter Eagle (WIX 327), 210-foot Medium Endurance Cutters (WMECs), PATFORSWA Patrol Boats (WPBs) and Fast Response Cutters (FRCs), Patrol Forces Southwest Asia (PATFORSWA) Cutter Support Team personnel, Offshore Patrol Cutters (WMSMs; except for Alaska homeported WMSMs), and members serving permanent duty on Sea Pay-eligible US Navy and foreign Naval vessels.
- Sea Pay Level 5 Cutters: 3.0 points (up from 2 and 2.3). Includes 270-foot and 282-foot WMECs, Polar Ice-breakers (WAGBs), Polar Security Cutters (WMSPs), National Security Cutter (WMSL), and Alaska homeported WMSMs.
- Sea Pay Level 1-3 Cutters: Members assigned to Level 1-3 cutters will continue to accrue Service Wide Exam points at a rate of 2.0 points per 12-month period.
“Folks assigned to bigger cutters have a tough job,” said Master Chief Petty Officer Pablo Mendoza, a member of the Sea Duty Readiness Council (SDRC), which crafted the incentive. “They work hard underway and just as hard in port. So, we’re saying, here’s our way to assist you on the next exam so you can advance more quickly to the highest pay grade.”
Along with mastery of rate qualifications, the SWE is a necessary step for personnel to advance from E-5 through E-8. Traditionally, it has been offered twice a year in May and November. Beginning in May 2022, however, it will only be administered once in the spring. “While a half-point increase might not seem significant, it can mean the difference between advancing or not advancing when things are close,” Mendoza said. The 2022 SWE credit is the most significant points increase for cutter personnel since 1994, and the first for all but National Security Cutter crews (who received a .333-point boost in 2016).
The new SWE points increase is one way the Coast Guard is working to improve life underway. The service is also testing a variety of connectivity options on cutters, such as the goal of easing family separations by providing reliable internet at sea. In August, the Coast Guard tested a prototype WIFI provider onboard Cutters Tampa (WMEC 902) and Waesche (WMSL 751) to allow crews to communicate with friends and family while underway. Additionally, the Office of Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, and Intelligence (C5I) is developing a process guide for crews of higher-bandwidth cutters to video chat with loved ones over Dod365 Teams on the Coast Guard network.
Leadership is also seeking ways to reduce workloads for cutter crews, both underway and once they return to port. Even after the mission is ended, there is little reprieve for cutter crews who immediately begin work on maintenance lists, inspections, and drydock or dockside periods to prepare for the next patrol. For example, National Security Cutters are designed with more upgrades and weapons capabilities than previous cutter classes, which all require a significant amount of work to maintain. “Combined with training and prep work for the next patrol,” Mendoza said, “it can seem never ending. We definitely want to do something for this.”
Capt. John Driscoll, chief of the office of cutter forces, spoke about the Coast Guard’s efforts to improve life for seagoing members. “We are continually looking for ways to improve the shipboard experience for our cutter crews – both in port, and underway. Initiatives to address in port workload, improve cutter connectivity, and offer targeted incentives are a great start, and are now well underway. Cutters already offer a tremendous opportunity for those looking to advance, and the new increases in service-wide exam points make it that much easier for our crews to move forward in their careers.”
The Coast Guard especially recognizes the need to provide the best possible support for cutter crews as the fleet is expanding and crews are undertaking more diverse missions. Driscoll continued, “This is an exciting time to be part of the cutter fleet. Our ships are in demand globally. Our crews execute every Coast Guard mission, every day, around the world.”
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