Retired Coast Guard Master Chiefs: Washington Is Failing Our Service

Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf crewmembers aboard a 26-foot Mark IV small boat approach the cutter during a counterdrug patrol in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, March 8, 2018. (U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew S. Masaschi)
Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf crewmembers aboard a 26-foot Mark IV small boat approach the cutter during a counterdrug patrol in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, March 8, 2018. (U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew S. Masaschi)

Rick Trent served as the 7th Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard, from 1994 to 1998. Vincent Patton held the post from 1998 to 2002. Frank Welch served as the 9th Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard from 2002 to 2006. Skip Bowen served in the position from 2006 to 2010.

For 28 days, 800,000 government workers have been either furloughed or working without pay, including more than 56,000 active-duty, reserve and civilian members of one of our nation's armed services, the U.S. Coast Guard.

Active-duty Coast Guard servicemen and women remain on the job, devoted to their work of saving lives and defending our nation's waterways and coasts, even as they and their families go without compensation.

No one joins the military to get rich. Contrary to popular belief, the pay is not high, particularly at the entry-level pay grades. In fact, the base pay of more than 14,000 junior members of the Coast Guard (which is about one-third of the active-duty workforce) is considered at or just below the established poverty level. Most of these members do not have the resources to go without pay over any extended period of time.

To assist our unpaid Coast Guard personnel, many military support organizations and spouses' clubs have set up food banks near Coast Guard installations throughout the country.

The Coast Guard itself is trying to grapple with the situation in myriad ways. For instance, at Training Center Cape May, New Jersey, the Coast Guard's only "boot camp," many recruits are being held after graduation because the service is unable to give them travel money to send them on to their first duty stations.

Resources directly focused on the service, such as Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, Coast Guard Foundation, Coast Guard Enlisted Association, Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Association, and Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officers Association, as well as many other "military support" organizations, are being stretched to the limit.

We all served with pride and honor with the U.S. Coast Guard, a branch of the armed forces as defined by law under Title 14, U.S. Code Section One.

Its members, as well as those of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force, swore an oath to "... support and defend the Constitution of the United States." This oath requires military personnel to be ready and willing to serve whenever and wherever our country needs them. That's 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year anywhere in the world.

Our government leaders also took an oath to support and defend the Constitution, and to "well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office" that they now hold. We believe they are derelict in those duties.

We speak from our collaborative experience of 127 years of service in expressing our anger over the fallout of this government shutdown. During the course of our tenures in the senior enlisted position of our service, we have traveled to all four corners of the world, have met with the hard-working individuals of the Coast Guard and witnessed the diligence and devotion with which they carry out their duties and responsibilities as exceptional stewards to our country.

They don't deserve to have their pay held hostage by their own government leadership, who are refusing to sit down at the table and work out a deal that will get the government reopened and its people paid.

The opinions expressed in this op-ed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Military.com. If you would like to submit your own commentary, please send your article to opinions@military.com for consideration.

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