Coast Guard offering ‘unheard of’ $50K signing bonuses as recruitment plummets, 'readiness' in jeopardy
The Coast Guard admits COVID-19 vax mandates have 'exacerbated' critical shortages in recruitment, retainment
EXCLUSIVE: The U.S. Coast Guard is offering up to $50,000 signing bonuses in an effort to bolster recruitment, after the number of guardsmen has plummeted, in large part due to the military's strict COVID-19 vaccination mandate.
According to internal USCG documents obtained by Fox News Digital from October detailing fiscal year 2023 workforce planning, "Culinary Specialist," or "CS," level recruits could receive bonuses up to $50,000 each.
Active-duty Coast Guard Lt. Chad Coppin called the $50,000 CS-level bonuses, which would involve positions such as cooks, "absolutely unheard of."
Coppin, who is stationed in Juneau, Alaska, and is seeking religious accommodation to the vaccine mandate, told Fox News Digital that the military is suffering from low recruitment and retainment, in large part due to its own restrictive policies, including the vax requirement.
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"This means the USCG response to future disasters like Hurricane Ian will suffer, and lives will be lost due to lack of personnel, a readiness issue that the USCG is voluntarily compounding... overall, the USCG is short over 2,700 members," Coppin said.
"We are not meeting recruiting goals, and a service that was once difficult to get into is now offering $50K bonuses, increasing age limits and lowering standards in order to try and fill billets," he continued.
According to an internal "Retention & Recruiting Study" from September by the Office of Strategic Workforce Planning, the vaccination mandate has led directly to personnel shortages.
"Critical shortages have been exacerbated since COVID vaccines were mandated," said the study, which is produced monthly within Coast Guard headquarters.
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The Coast Guard considers a "critical shortage" to be anything under 95% billets to bodies, meaning there are more available positions that need to be filled than there are people available to fill them, say current guardsmen. According to October's analysis, the USCG is down by 2,772 people.
Another active-duty guardsman, who is engaged with search-and-rescue efforts, told Fox News Digital that recruitment bonuses used to be based on criticality, but now the USCG is using them as a way to get more recruits in quickly.
The guardsman said there were a number of service members seeking religious exemptions to the vaccine mandate who were involuntarily terminated at the end of October, and even several who were notified of their separation as recently as Friday.
The involuntary separations and general shortage of service members are affecting crews and are creating longer response times, in turn putting physical and mental strain on the force.
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If service members are sick or injured, their original unit struggles due to increased "stress and pressure" because there are not enough personnel to assist operations, the guardsman told Fox News Digital. In addition, an issue of "burnout" on the search-and-rescue team is becoming widespread as people have to leave their families for months on end, travel to new sectors such as the border, and learn a whole new job.
The guardsman added that operations at the border to assist with the influx of illegal immigrants is also being affected, especially in the Texas and Florida sectors.
Although the Coast Guard has repeatedly denied that any members have been penalized for seeking religious accommodations, it has previously confirmed to Fox News Digital that it is in the process of discharging any members without approved exemption requests.
"At the height of the pandemic, restrictions on training, travel and leave were implemented in order to protect the Coast Guard workforce and the public. These restrictions were applicable to all Coast Guard members and were at no time focused on members who had filed or were awaiting decision on religious accommodation requests," said the Coast Guard spokesperson.
However, the branch maintains that "no Coast Guard members have been penalized for seeking religious accommodations from the COVID-19 vaccine requirement."
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Fox News Digital previously reported that the USCG was issuing "virtually identical" denials of religious accommodation requests and continuing involuntary terminations of unvaccinated service members, even though the country has moved on from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Coast Guard did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the increased recruitment bonus structure or reasons for plummeting numbers.