Due to the growing demand for cyber expertise, the Coast Guard is now directly commissioning cyber officers to help secure both its own network and that of the entire Marine Transportation System.
The Direct Commissioned Cyber Officer (DCCO) program was launched at the beginning of fiscal year (FY) 2022 to attract more cyber specialists to the service. Previously, Coast Guard Cyber relied on a combination of directly commissioned engineers and special assignment berths for staffing. “But we’ve grown to the point where that doesn’t work anymore,” said Lt. Cmdr. Robert Pickering, team lead for the cyber workforce. “The Coast Guard rotates one-third of its workforce every year, so we end up with gaps quite frequently.”
At a time when its aging IT infrastructure faces growing cybersecurity threats, it is also simultaneously competing for talent with private industry. The Coast Guard already offers bonuses to retain cyber professionals and leadership is considering creating a dedicated Coast Guard enlisted cyber rating.
Another recent cyber officer milestone: the Coast Guard Academy will graduate its first class of cyber systems major this spring. “Direct commissioning is another tool in our tool kit to build a cyber workforce,” Pickering said.
Who can take part?
You don’t have to be in the Coast Guard to qualify for the DCCO program. Members of other military branches and civilians with cyber experience can also apply if they meet the requirements.
The two primary qualifications:
- You must have at least five years of experience working in a cyber-operational role and the necessary certifications.
- You must possess a current top-secret security clearance, specifically, a TS/SCI clearance.
In addition, applicants need to be between the ages of 21 and 41 and meet physical fitness, educational and other requirements as outlined at GoCoastGuard.com.
What are the benefits?
If you’re an E-5 or above and have more than four years of experience in the Coast Guard, the direct commissioning program allows you to advance in rank more quickly than you could on a normal track. This gets you higher pay and more responsibility – in addition to an immediate role in Coast Guard cyberspace operations. You can be commissioned as an ensign, lieutenant junior grade or lieutenant, based upon your background.
If you come from another military branch, becoming a DCCO offers a chance for promotion and the ability continue to serve your country in a cyber capacity, Pickering notes. “Someone who enlisted in the Air Force and feels they have the leadership chops, can apply and would come into the Coast Guard as an ensign,” he said.
For civilians, serving as an officer in the Coast Guard offers a mission-oriented work environment along with an attractive package of healthcare, retirement, and other attractive benefits.
How does it work?
If you’re interested in the program, instructions on how to apply are here. You’ll also need to find a local recruiter, who can provide you with application materials, which must be completed by Feb. 22, 2022. After you’ve turned in your application, the recruiter will schedule you for a formal interview with a panel of Coast Guard officers who will make a recommendation. In May, a selection panel will review your application. Decisions are expected by June 2022.
If you’re selected, you’ll be commissioned and briefly sent to your first post. Within 30 days, you will head to New London, Conn., to take the required DCCO course and training. Upon completion you’ll return to your unit and start your assignment.