My Coast Guard
Commentary | April 26, 2022

Electrician mates, machinery technicians: EPO afloat positions now open to both ratings

By Nicole Bertrand, MyCG Writer

Traditionally a machinery technician (MK) filled the roll of the engineering petty officer (EPO) aboard cutters. Beginning with assignment year 2023 (AY23), afloat EPOs will be available to both MKs and electrician’s mates (EM). The mid-May to mid-July deadline to get your command-endorsed qualification packages to Enlisted Personnel Management is quickly approaching.

“Both EM and MK RFMCs believe this policy change could positively impact enlisted retention, encourage more members to seek leadership positions, increase job satisfaction, provide greater geographic stability, and result in more women and minority representation,” said Master Chief Petty Officer Daniel Webster, the Electrician’s Mate Rating Force Master Chief.

Under the current policy, cutters had rating-specific assignments. For instance, EMs were assigned to an EM EPO cutter and MKs were assigned to an MK EPO specific cutter. Historically, there have been only approximately 10-15 EM EPO positions worldwide each year, whereas there have been 60-90 MK EPO positions annually. Not only has the quantity of EM EPO billets been significantly less than MK EPOs, but the positions have been in geographically limited areas. Both factors have resulted in a reduced desire on the part of EMs to seek out leadership roles in favor of non-command cadre assignments. What will matter now is whether an EM or MK is qualified to fill the EPO assignment, not if they are the “correct” rating. 

In discussing the importance of the new policy, Webster stated, “…it brings the opportunity for diversity within the naval engineering community. For years, the EPO assignment system [offered fewer opportunities] in the fact that only a specific [rating] could be assigned to an EPO billet. Now the possibility exists for an EM to serve as an EPO where there has never been an EM assigned to the cutter. Likewise, those same cutters that have always been EM EPOs will now potentially have an MK assigned. The EPO’s responsibility is the same in all instances, but the differences in our rating career paths allow our organization to use our differences to achieve success.”

Webster noted that the change brings with it the possibility and benefit of “looking through a different lens” to solve common problems, such as equipment issues or safety concerns, aboard a cutter. For example, an EM EPO would easily identify issues from the standpoint of an electrician, while the MK counterpart would see problems from a mechanic’s point of view.  

In addition to benefitting cutters by introducing varied skillsets, one of the key goals in changing the EPO process is to help EMs raise their level of competitiveness to that of their MK EPO peers to help them qualify for chief warrant officer (CWO), Master Chief Advancement Panel (MCAP), and command senior enlisted lead (CSEL). 

Currently, senior EMs don’t have any opportunities in the western rivers, Patrol Forces Southwest Asia, or the Ninth District. Webster believes the lack of EM assignments in these areas may adversely affect women. Due to the lack of EM assignments in these areas, which the new policy will. He believes the new policy may help. 

“Typically, every assignment year, there are approximately six chief electrician’s mates (EMC) EPO positions available,” said Webster. “If I have one [woman] applying, [her] choices are limited geographically. And what if she is a [co-location] or has special needs? The opportunity to meet her professional goals is hindered by the limited locations she can be assigned to an EPO position. Now we add the approximately 50 annual MKC EPO positions to which she can be assigned [and that] opens the door to geographic stability, meeting COLO concerns, and meeting any special needs. At the end of the day, we give everyone more opportunities and choices.”

The EPO screening process for AY23 for both MKs and EMs is scheduled to begin soon. Chief petty officers and senior chief petty officers who meet certain requirements are eligible to apply. Command endorsements are required. Successfully screening for EPO does not guarantee an EPO assignment, extension, or fleet-up to an EPO position. Some of the qualifying factors candidates will be judged on for consideration as an EPO are: 

  • Leadership required for independent duty.
  • Technical competence required for the job.
  • Maturity.
  • Dedication.
  • Professionalism.
  • Military bearing and appearance.
  • Adherence to the Commandant’s weight standards. 

Orders for EPOs will be issued in early October.

If you are interested in applying to become an EPO, you can contact your assignment officer.
Alternatively, you can contact your Rating Force Master Chiefs Daniel Webster or Joshua McKenzie.