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Campaign to Retain offers servicemembers a softer landing

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Kristen Wood and her husband Paul were preparing for a summer move from Virginia to Cape Cod, Mass. Paul was offered a spot by his old shop teacher to move his business, an internet woodworking channel, to a beautiful antique barn four times the size of his old studio—an expansion Wood said was a dream come true. 

Wood, a yeoman with the Coast Guard for the last five years, had planned to separate from the Coast Guard. She was excited to move into the little 1900s house that came along with the woodworking studio, but she was also sad to be leaving the service she’d come to love.

“My whole family is in the Coast Guard,” she said. “My great grandfather, my uncle, my dad, my father-in-law, my sister, her husband… Growing up, I knew that one day I’d want to join too. I love being in, and I didn’t want to leave anytime soon, but I couldn’t chance a one-time opportunity for my husband.”

Unfortunately, at the time she’d asked, the detailer didn’t have any billets available. She was prepared to fall back on her pre-Coast Guard civilian career as a historic gardener, or go back to school for a second bachelor’s degree. As the weeks ticked down to the move, Wood organized her separation paperwork and waited for medical documents to be completed.

Then, coronavirus hit, and Wood’s job prospects in a sour economy turned bleak. She didn’t know how long she’d be out of work, and grew more and more worried.

About three weeks ago, she was pleasantly surprised with an email from her detailer, Chief Warrant Officer Michael King, who asked if she’d be willing to stay in the Coast Guard. A day later, she had orders to Cape Cod.

“We reached out to everyone who was supposed to RELAD [be released from active duty] and let them know what options might be there for them,” said King. “We normally ask everyone to reach back out after the assignment season, but most of them don’t. This time we took a proactive step to reach out and find out if people were encountering snags with their plans.”

Wood is just one of many service members encountering very different circumstances today than when they’d planned to separate or retire from the service over the past year.  With millions of civilians filing for unemployment, the service is greasing the skids for its recruiters and assignment officers to offer options to its high-performing members.

The Commandant’s “Campaign to Retain” officially kicked off last week. Given the challenges that COVID-19 has posed to the Coast Guard’s ability to recruit and train personnel, the Campaign to Retain seeks to preserve the Coast Guard’s unique talent and extend opportunities for members that were planning to leave the Service this year. Especially for those in critical enlisted ratings and officers in critical specialties, this campaign provides opportunities to continue service and carry out the Coast Guard’s vital missions. Though the service maintains the highest retention rate of all military services, it’s streamlining the ability for members to put their transitions on hold for a year or two.

“All options are on the table,” said King, who is helping members with high-year tenure waivers, short-term extensions, extensions to their temporary separation (TEMPSEP) program, open billets, and early transfers for those not tour complete.

“We’re trying to work every angle we can to try to retain qualified folks,” said King.

King said another of his members, Vincent Guerra from Base Honolulu, was ready to both start college and start a civilian career while his wife, who is also a Coast Guardsman, moved to her new unit. With the coronavirus outbreak, both his new job and his classes were put on hold. The detailers worked with him to find a job co-located with his spouse.

“That just worked out,” said King, who continues to find ways for other members to either do a short-term extension or affiliate with the Coast Guard Reserve.

Keeping trained, qualified Coast Guardsmen like Wood and Guerra not only offers members a gentler landing in an uncertain time. It also helps the Coast Guard mitigate the accession and training impacts caused by COVID. These specialized petty officers can continue to fill billets, while newly-produced A-school graduates can be sent to other units.

“I’m thankful for the opportunity I was given,” said Wood. “I try to do my best every day, and I like being able to help others.”

Wood and her husband plan to begin their new jobs in Cape Cod in July.

For more information on finding choice, flexibility and stability in your career, contact your detailer.

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