[April 19, 2019] I’ve been on the road lately; visiting Washington DC and the U.S. Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May, New Jersey. These visits reinforced my view that large organizations are notoriously difficult to run. But it was my time with young Coast Guard Petty Officers and recruits that gave me a reason to appreciate this young generation.
Petty Officers are the NCOs of this naval component; falling under the Department of Homeland Security. In the Army, we call them Drill Sergeants who are trainers of recruits. The USCG calls them Company Commanders and they have similar responsibilities.
A colleague of mine asked one of the young Petty Officers, “What is the biggest challenge with these recruits?” The NCO said that there were two. First, they arrive with a variety of germs that must run their course throughout the “ship’s berthing” (that means the billets). Second, they are reluctant to obey directions (i.e., orders) from others.
In neither answer was I surprised. How the Petty Officers dealt with both issues is something I found intriguing. The former problem was resolved by forbidding recruits from touching their face; reinforced by having violators do extra strenuous exercises. This functioned as a tool they would see again.
In the latter, the reluctance of recruits to obey, we were told it only takes three or four days to fix, even in the most difficult case. Lack of sleep, peer pressure, and additional hard exercise convince recruits to obey at an amazing pace.
More important, however, is the assessment of the recruiting base. Each of those junior NCOs said that these men and women (some very young, some older) graduate from the 8-week course instilled with a commitment to the core values of the Coast Guard; honor, respect, devotion to duty.1
We toured a new 45-foot RBM rescue boat and a larger 65-foot cutter, the billets, operations center, and administrative areas. We also saw a close-order drill exercise; the recruits were, to put it mildly, marginally acceptable to old goats like me who’ve seen the best. But they were new.
There is a lesson for all leaders, and that is to respect the younger generation; to get it back we have to give it. They were not that different from us; with the same wants and desires. Give them responsibility and a little guidance. From that, they will make us proud.