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My Coast Guard
Commentary | Oct. 31, 2022

How one member moved from the silver Auxiliary ranks to the gold bar of ensign

By Coast Guard Auxiliary Public Affairs Specialist John Saran

Auxiliarist Michael Barth received his commission as an ensign in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve July 6. He made this transition after more than five years of service in the Coast Guard Auxiliary. Highlights of his service include being named the Auxiliarist of the Year in 2019 and being featured as a special guest of the Commandant at the 2021 Coast Guard Festival. Throughout his Auxiliary career, Barth used his professional training and time management skills to navigate both a Wall Street career and his Auxiliary service, which in 2019 resulted in over 2,000 hours in public outreach and recreational boating safety activities in the New York City area. He also used his time in the Auxiliary to build a vast network of active duty, Reserve, and Auxiliary contacts that prepared him for his journey to the Reserve. The Auxiliary Public Affairs Directorate caught up with Barth for an interview prior to his initial reporting to Coast Guard Sector New York.

The following is the author’s interview with Barth.

What inspired you to transition from the Auxiliary to the reserve?

I had an incredible experience in the Auxiliary and have had the opportunity to take part in a multitude of Coast Guard missions. I wanted to continue my service to the Coast Guard and take on additional responsibility, as well as have opportunities to deploy and take part in law enforcement and defense operations. I am excited to report to the incident management division of Sector New York and plan on qualifying in my specialty areas while also working on additional qualifications that will serve me well as a response officer. I look forward to actively seeking deployment opportunities to oil spills, hazardous material releases, hurricanes, and other incidents while exploring other support roles for the Department of Homeland Security.

Did any training or experiences from your Auxiliary service prepare you for this transition?

My five years in the Auxiliary have allowed me to learn the inner workings of the Coast Guard organization, including its structure, missions and core values. Along the way, I picked up specific job-related tasks such as writing awards, learning public affairs policies, engaging in response and prevention augmentation roles, and earning qualifications that will pay dividends in my Reserve career. My incident command system qualifications will carry over, which will provide a nice foundation for my training. We are also eligible to wear the federal military awards earned during our Auxiliary service, such as the Coast Guard Unit Commendation.

Tell us about your experience going through the Reserve Officer Candidate Indoctrination (ROCI) course over those five weeks at the Coast Guard Academy. What was the greatest challenge and your greatest accomplishment?

It was an incredible experience. The overarching mission of ROCI is to prepare officer candidates to serve effectively as officers. Candidates face mental, physical, and academic challenges, and are expected to digest a significant amount of information, master uniform preparation, and serve in leadership roles. Oftentimes, short notice is given before taking on an assigned duty, and you must learn the ins and outs of the role quickly. The biggest challenge was working through competing deadlines with homework assignments, leadership roles, exams, and other military obligations, but with proper time management and dedication, it’s both doable and rewarding. My biggest accomplishment was being voted in as the executive officer of my company’s Honor Make, which showed the unit’s confidence in my leadership. I had the honor and privilege of leading the company with the company commander through our final week and into graduation.

What was the significance of the place and attendees at your oath ceremony?

I actually had two oath ceremonies. First, I enlisted into the Coast Guard Reserve on May 3, during a ceremony at the Battery Park World War II Memorial in New York City. Both of my grandfathers were World War II combat veterans and my grandmother served as an Army officer during the war. Being surrounded by the names of those who fell in the war—including the names of some of my grandparents’ friends—was deeply meaningful. Their legacy was one of the factors that inspired me to join the military. The memorial is located directly across from the Statue of Liberty, which has a deep symbolic meaning for those who served, those entering service, and the country at large. My grandparents crossed the waters between the memorial and the Statue of Liberty on their way to fight. Our sector commander, Capt. Zeita Merchant, brought me into the Coast Guard. She is an inspirational leader and role model for the Coast Guard at large and is an officer I have a deep respect and admiration for. I invited several people to my oath ceremony including Dr. Victor Wong, a close friend of mine for over 23 years; Auxiliarist Alexander Rico, my former flotilla commander and one of my closest friends; my recruiter, Petty Officer 1st Class Leslie Morales; and recruiters from the New York Recruiting Office.

Next, my commissioning ceremony took place July 6 at the Leamy Hall Auditorium at the United States Coast Guard Academy. Our entire officer corps is trained at the Coast Guard Academy, and being commissioned there is an incredibly high honor. I am thankful to my friends, family, and shipmates who attended the ceremony.

Do you have any advice for Auxiliarists considering active duty or reserve careers?

Try to get as much exposure as you can with Coast Guard missions. Augment your local units and work towards active duty qualifications or the Auxiliary’s equivalent. Response, prevention, recruiting, and public affairs are all great avenues. Build a network in the fields you would like to enter. It will significantly benefit your career ahead. Do not be afraid to try something new or something that may interest you. The Auxiliary provides a low-risk environment to experiment with different career fields. Speak to an Auxiliarist who has made a transition to the active duty or Reserve components of the Coast Guard. Take the leap and do it. It will serve you well and you will not regret it!

As Barth points out, Auxiliarists with special skills and backgrounds can take the leap to help the Coast Guard fill critical reserve personnel needs. This transition aligns with the Commandant’s intent for 2022 of transforming the Coast Guard workforce by leveraging talent and resources already within the organization. Seasoned Auxiliarists like Barth can more quickly adjust to a reserve role given they already embody the core values, have existing institutional knowledge, and likely have served in augmentation roles with local units. Moreover, reservists can remain members of the Auxiliary which provides a bridge for Auxiliary units to better integrate within Team Coast Guard.