Coast Guard Wrapping Up Study on Why Minority Members Leave the Service

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U.S. Coast Guard signs a memorandum of agreement with Virginia State University as part of Minority-Serving Institutions Partnership Program, October 4, 2017. (U.S. Coast Guard)
U.S. Coast Guard signs a memorandum of agreement with Virginia State University as part of Minority-Serving Institutions Partnership Program, October 4, 2017. (U.S. Coast Guard)

The Coast Guard will wrap up a study examining why minority service members are leaving its ranks and publish its initial findings by June to try to thwart retention gaps, the service's vice commandant said Wednesday.

During the Surface Navy Association's annual symposium outside Washington, D.C., Coast Guard Adm. Charles Ray said the service's goal over the past year has been to explore which policies can be adjusted to prevent people quitting the coastal defense mission.

"We cannot afford to not take advantage of all the talented people in our nation," Ray said. He cited a study the Coast Guard completed last year in partnership with the Rand Corp. that analyzed female retention and subsequent solutions to keep more women serving as Coasties.

"There was clear evidence that women were leaving the service at proportionately higher rates than men," Ray told Military.com following his speech.

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Some of those factors included the stresses of being a mother and a service member, being geographically separated from a spouse, and adhering to weight and fitness standards, he said.

For example, "About 40% of our female Coast Guardsmen are married to other Coast Guardsmen and so we weren't giving enough attention to how we assigned them," Ray said, adding that the findings spurred officials to have conversations with their Coasties earlier to understand preferential assignments to be near family.

The Coast Guard is now looking at how its operations tempo and policies may adversely affect other groups, such as minorities, he said.

Of the service's roughly 41,100 members, about 14.6% are women, 13.7% are Hispanic and 5.9% are African-American, according to a report from The New York Times.

"We'll get an initial report out in June [because] we're not going to wait two years to study this," Ray said. "We're going to get an initial report ... to see if there are actionable items that we can take from that to increase things that will improve retention, and then the official report on that will be next summer."

Ray said the service has begun to see one positive trend after implementing changes suggested by its first study: More pregnant women are choosing to stay instead of separating.

"We think people are deciding that there's a way they can have a family and be in the service, and that's increased beyond what we've historically seen," he said. "I think that's significant."

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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