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Commandant Adm. Bob Papp's message to cuttermen was clear: You'll still have a job when the new ships get here.
Papp spoke about manning opportunities for officers in the Coast Guard's surface fleet — at a time when funding is limited and ships are expensive — Thursday morning at the Surface Navy Association's annual symposium in Arlington, Va.
"The concern for my cuttermen within the Coast Guard is: Is there a future in our community?" he said.
The Coast Guard is replacing 12 Hamilton-class high endurance cutters with eight national security cutters; 42 Island-class patrol boats with 58 fast response cutters; and 30 medium endurance cutters with 25 offshore patrol cutters.
Though the Coast Guard will come out with more ships — 91 instead of 84 — there will be four fewer NSCs than Hamilton-class cutters, which are the largest ships and can hold the most crew.
However, the eight NSCs will have 11 rotating crews, allowing the ships to spend more time underway — 225 days a year instead of 185. That means only one fewer O-6 command position, Papp said.
More ships overall means more commanding officers, many at the lieutenant level aboard fast response cutters.
"The point of this is our fleet is not going to be diminished," Papp said. "We're going to have a few less ships out there, but they're going to be more capable, we'll be able to keep them underway longer and for all our hard-charging cuttermen, there's plenty of opportunities and a great future for all of you out there."
The new ships will also allow more junior officers to get time at sea, Papp said. The fast response cutters will each have a stateroom that can accommodate two ensigns. If the service gets funding for all 58 planned fast response cutters, that will open up 116 more afloat billets than currently available.
Papp said he is hoping that time at sea for junior officers will "hook them into wanting to have a career at sea, but at a minimum, giving them some confidence, some experience that will help them in their Coast Guard career."