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New London — The officers who command the Coast Guard’s major cutters are meeting at the Coast Guard Academy for the first time this week, rather than at a place where many of the service’s senior leaders work.
These officers, who carry out the Coast Guard’s missions around the world, are “arguably the most important group an admiral wants to be in front of,” said Rear Adm. Sandra L. Stosz, the academy superintendent. When they hold their annual conference in Washington, D.C., or at the headquarters for the Atlantic Area or Pacific Area, many of the admirals in the area address them.
In New London, with fewer senior leaders in attendance and fewer briefings, the officers can spend more time consulting with each other on some of the hard issues they confront, including sexual assault and alcohol use, said Capt. Raymond “Wes” Pulver, who commands the barque Eagle and helped organize the conference.
On Wednesday, the officers gathered in small groups to talk about sexual assault prevention and response, alcohol, proficiency, readiness and the development of junior officers. Two-thirds of the commanders of the major, or largest, cutters, about 50 to 60 people, and the officers who will take command of some of the cutters this summer attended. The rest were at sea.
“The breakouts are great because we can get an issue, wrestle with it, and come up with possible solutions so that we’re just not here talking, we can actually get things done,” said Capt. Caleb Corson, commanding officer of the Cutter Gallatin in Charleston, S.C.
Only a few of the Coast Guard’s key senior leaders addressed the group, including Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., the commandant; Master Chief Michael P. Leavitt, the senior enlisted adviser to the commandant; Vice Adm. Robert C. Parker, the Atlantic Area commander; and Vice Adm. Paul F. Zukunft, the Pacific Area commander who has been tapped as the next commandant.
Parker said in an interview that the Coast Guard is facing many tough, persistent challenges, including budget pressures and operational threats. The leadership is working on “the people side of the challenges,” including sexual assault, he added, with a workforce that is “hands down” the best the service has ever had.
With the constant turnover at Coast Guard units, Parker said it was particularly important to have the prospective commanding officers at the conference so they can learn from the current commanding officers. Parker, who will retire this summer, also said he thinks Zukunft will be a terrific commandant.
Corson said it was important to listen to the vision of the senior leaders and then get to work, so “we’re not faced with another year of the same problems.”
“This is a group of professionals who all have the same challenges going to sea,” he said. “When you pull away from the pier, there’s nobody to help you. It’s just you. This is an opportunity to share our experiences.”
Capt. William Lane, who will soon take command of the cutter Morgenthau in Honolulu, Hawaii, said he attended to seek advice from the current commanders so he will be ready to go back into the fleet.
Stosz, in welcoming the group, urged them to spend time with the cadets who work on their ships in the summer and with the new ensigns who are assigned to them immediately after graduation, to “ignite that spark,” so there will be a generation of officers with a liking for the sea and its lore, who want to spend their careers on cutters. She also encouraged them to rely on the cadets and ensigns as they are working to prevent sexual assault on their ships because cadets receive many hours of training on the topic.
The conference ends Friday. Stosz said she hopes to host it again in the future.