Role of law enforcement rating developing

By Amy McCullough - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Dec 29, 2008 11:38:55 EST

As the Coast Guard’s four new master chief maritime enforcement specialists transition into their new roles, many questions remain about the direction of the new rating and its role in the Coast Guard. But few question the necessity of a law enforcement-focused specialty in the post-Sept. 11 world.

Commandant Adm. Thad Allen announced the three active-duty billets and one reserve master chief billet — the first-ever MEs — during a ceremony Dec. 16 at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington. The decision came six months after the new rating was announced in a servicewide message.

The maritime enforcement specialists rating, slated for full implementation in January 2010, is expected to absorb nearly all of the 1,200 reserve-only port security specialists. Officials estimate the rating will include 600 to 1,000 active-duty members and 600 to 1,200 reservists, Lt. Clayton Beal, ME implementation project manager, has said. Besides the port security specialists, the rest of the ME rating will be made up of lateral movers from other job fields.

The first members of the new rating are MECM Gordon Muse, rating force manager; MECM Steven Lowry, non-resident course writer; MECM Randy Krahn, ME A-School chief; and MECM Sam Allred, who is the port security rating force manager.

“We manage the bulk of our people through ratings, and our existing personnel system could not effectively support this capability without one. I believe the creation of this rating is the single most important action the Coast Guard needed to maintain expertise and operate these units’ [high-end tactical capabilities] safely,” Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Charles “Skip” Bowen wrote in a guest post on the commandant’s blog.

As the Coast Guard’s maritime security responsibilities evolved, Coast Guardsmen throughout the service saw an increase in collateral duty, including boardings and other law enforcement activities. For some, the collateral duty occupied close to 100 percent of their workload. It is likely they will be the ones to make the lateral move to the new rating.

That’s not to say the collateral duty will no longer exist, Bowen wrote.

“One question is frequently asked, ‘Will MEs take over most of the Coast Guard boarding activities?’ The answer is absolutely not,” Bowen wrote in the blog post.

While various ratings will continue to conduct boardings, canine handlers eventually will be fully integrated into the ME rating. As of now, any rating can train to become a canine handler.

But the biggest effect may be on the reserve force. The reserve-only port security specialist previously was the service’s only law enforcement rating, so anyone interested in joining the Coast Guard with a law enforcement focus had to consider another career or go into the reserve, Allred said.

Those reservists who did go into the port security rating often had problems integrating into the active-duty workforce during weekends.

“When we went into drill weekends, there was never anyone there that understood totally our rating. We were dealing with gunner’s mates, boatswain’s mates, who also were dealing with law enforcement,” Allred said. “Now when we go in, we’re on equal terms as far as the terminology, the skill sets. We’re one family.”

The ME billet locations are still under consideration, but Bowen said it is unlikely many of the “law enforcement focused stations will have more than one.”

Coast Guardsmen interested in making the transition should look for a solicitation message expected to be released in July. Selections are expected to be announced in November, Beal said.

Beal said there also are discussions underway to create a parallel career path for officers or establish a corresponding chief warrant officer specialty for the law enforcement rating.

“On the officer side, we are still in the preliminary discussions. We need to find out what is the impact of the new rating. We expect this to be a period of growth for the Coast Guard,” Beal said. “It’s going to take us a few years to get all of our ME billets populated, then we can start to get a better feel for the overarching impacts for the service as a whole.”

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