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My Coast Guard
Commentary | Dec. 13, 2022

Meet Your RFMC Series: Spotlight on damage controlman

By Martin Berman-Gorvine, MyCG Writer 

Master Chief Petty Officer Dave Cahilly, the rating force master chief (RFMC) for damage controlmen, brings a quarter-century of experience to the role of spokesperson for the enlisted members of the rating.

Even so, when he first received the RFMC position, the Philadelphia native says, “it was an intimidating job, even though I’d been in the training world before. Learning my way around headquarters, and how to get stuff through programs, was my learning curve.”

This high position in the damage controlman rating comes with numerous responsibilities. Like all his fellow RFMCs, Cahilly’s job is to ensure the health of the rating, oversee training and qualification standards, and manage the billet structure. Additionally, he connects the enlisted workforce to the information they need, represents their interests to senior leadership, and is the headquarters’ subject matter expert on damage control and the damage controlman rating. 

The damage controlman rating specializes in firefighting and shipboard emergency response; chemical, biological and radiological warfare detection, defense, and decontamination; and repair and maintenance of ships’ hulls and shore facilities. They also do plumbing, carpentry, and welding both afloat and ashore. When asked who is best suited to be a DC, the master chief responded “We are such a diverse rating… I would say adaptability makes a good DC.”

Cahilly has held each of the “big three” positions in his rating, notes Cmdr. Kevin d’Eustachio, who oversees all RFMCs: “Master Chief Cahilly has been school chief, rating knowledge manager, and now RFMC. No one is more qualified than [the] master chief to look out for the rating and its members.” 

As school chief, Cahilly managed the apprentice-level A-school for damage controlmen. He also managed most of the journeymen-level C-schools, which teach specialized skills like advanced welding, advanced shipboard firefighting, and non-destructive inspections. 

When he was rating knowledge manager, Cahilly managed the entire A-school curriculum for damage controlmen, all the rating performance qualifications and the servicewide exam. He wrote all the tests  and maintained a constantly updated databank of questions, each of which had to have a verified answer linked to a current Coast Guard reference.

As RFMC, “I’m the advocate for my entire rating at headquarters,” he adds. That means ensuring the damage controlman C-schools are funded, billets are not being taken away erroneously, and “the jobs are in the right pay grade.” Cahilly also helps to develop and implement new or updated training. Just last summer, Training Center (TRACEN) Yorktown hosted the first run of a new Small Cutter Damage Control with Gas Free Engineering course, the culmination of two years of effort by Cahilly and TRACEN Yorktown’s Performance Systems Branch.

One of Cahilly’s responsibilities as RFMC is managing assignments to damage control C-schools. These schools are located in San Diego, Mayport, Florida, and Norfolk and Yorktown, Virginia, and teach advanced rating-specific skills. However, these schools are not just for DCs; other officer and enlisted members attend Damage Control Assistant and other classes.  

“Every year, we say how many seats are needed in the C-schools,” Cahilly says.  Some of these schools are run by the U.S. Navy, and Cahilly coordinates with the Navy for seats. One of the challenges Cahilly faces is when students cancel at the last minute and a seat is then sits empty.

Yet another part of the RFMC’s job is participating in the Rate Training Advisory Council, a team of subject matter experts that reviews training standards and compares them to what members actually do in the field. “Every rating has one, and each RFMC is the chair of that for his/her rating,” Cahilly explains. This involves “a lot of task and occupational analysis—I’m currently reviewing performance qualifications for the entire rating.”

“As RFMC, I’m similar to the other engineering RFMCs,” Cahilly says. That means he is in constant contact with these colleagues, and frequently travels with them.

But perhaps the most important part of the RFMC’s job is advocacy. “When I travel, I tell [enlisted members] all the time, I am your headquarters advocate, so let me know if there’s a problem in the fleet. Same with the officers—I tell them, ‘let me know if there’s a problem—if I don’t know about it, I can’t fix it.’”

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