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My Coast Guard
Commentary | Feb. 6, 2023

MK RFMC connects members in the field with headquarters policies 

By Martin Berman-Gorvine, MyCG Writer 

Master Chief Petty Officer Michael Huggins took over as rating force master chief (RFMC) for the machinery technician (MK) rating just five months ago, but he already has ambitious plans to improve communications between the enlisted members and policymakers.

He was previously the first E-9 engineering petty officer (EPO) aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Morro Bay, and has held assignments on small boats, surf stations, and large cutters. He served as contracting officer representative (COR) for the response boat medium project office. He even had a tour aboard the U.S. Navy’s Sea Fighter (FSF-1) littoral combat ship. 

“Doing all these various things, multiple tours of each, and knowing the lingo gave me the background to do this position the most effectively I can,” he said. However, he added, Coast Guard Headquarters speaks a different language, one he is still learning. That way, he said, he can “speak for the entire workforce.”

Like his fellow RFMCs, Huggins is tasked with ensuring the health of the rating, overseeing training, and filling billets. He also connects the enlisted workforce to the information they need, represents their interests to inform leadership, and is regarded as the lead subject matter expert for machinery technicians. 

“The ability to interact with programs and the people who make the decisions is what’s exciting for me,” he said. “When you’re out in the fleet, policies come down from headquarters, and quite frankly, it can be frustrating. It’s exciting for me to go to meet with the people who make the policies and get them to change them so that they make more sense [out in the field].”

An example of a policy change, he said, was working with the damage controlman RFMC, Cutter Forces (CG-751), and the Naval Engineering Workforce Policy Manager to start offering training specifically geared to MKs and electrician’s mates (EMs) at Training Center Yorktown. Prior to this arrangement, members in these ratings were attending a Navy course that didn’t quite meet the needed training objectives. “This did two things for us,” Huggins said, “keping the training in house saves money and provides a more qualified technician [who] can go to work immediately with the skills they learned. Win-win!”

Another challenge Huggins confronted was the Coast Guard’s switch to the Defense Department’s internal email system, which he said, “killed our ability to communicate directly” with the workforce, because distribution lists that used to work based on members’ rating and rank took out the rating portion, listing only a person’s rank. This created a problem because members were not identified by their rating community. “This stopped the email lists from getting to the workforce in a specific manner, so we created a Teams page and have been slowly getting members added as the word gets out.” 

He uses the Teams page to post any policies that affect the workforce. A SharePoint page for the rating is also available. He adds anyone who would like access to the Teams page just needs to request access. “We will get them the information they need.”

Nothing can replace the personal touch, so Huggins frequently travels to take time to talk with both trainees attending A-school and enlisted members in the field. “We usually brief big picture Coast Guard information to all hands, and then depending on what RFMCs are travelling together, we break up into rating groups for career guidance and Q&A sessions,” he explained. “If folks from other ratings attend and ask questions we can't answer, I usually bring that back to that RFMC for an answer. That works pretty well.”

Huggins recently traveled to Coast Guard Base Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and answered questions for the MKs there, “giving them a better understanding of why they’re doing the job they’re doing. One of the RFMC’s primary responsibilities is this force management outreach, he said. “Conducting unit visits allows us direct contact and quick answers to questions that may not normally be asked via email or phone call.”

Huggins also visited the A-school at Yorktown, Virginia, with its MK training center. "I sit down for a roundtable discussion with these folks answering their questions, taking notes of anything I need to follow up on for them. I have found that when you’re grinding through 13 weeks of A-school, it can be hard to see the end of it. I hope that my visit brings perspective of what is to come once they reach their first unit as a rated MK.”

Another initiative Huggins is working on is providing engineer petty officers (EPOs) competency-based assignments both afloat and ashore. “That should help streamline the selection process for EPOs and standardize the knowledge base,” he said. Additionally, he is pushing EPO prequalification standards (PQS) to get MKs certified for things like rebuilding engines. “The idea is, you get it signed off, it goes on your record, and you can be assigned as an EPO.” 

Huggins is also working to put senior enlisted MKs in the right positions, as master chiefs or senior chiefs. For example, he said he wants master chief petty officers serving as supervisors at the Maintenance Augmentation Teams (MAT). With this rank structure in place, the master chief interacts with people aboard the cutter they support who are the same rank or higher, creating better communications.  

Looking ahead, Huggins is excited for new technology coming online on new waterways commerce cutters, offshore patrol cutters, and polar security cutters. That requires revamping the A-and C-school curriculum for MKs so they have the knowledge they need to do their job.

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