Sunday, July 21, 2013

Assignment Year 2014

We've got lots of years in the Coast Guard...calendar years, Assignment Years, fiscal years, promotion years...they all serve their individual purposes, but I'm particularly excited about Assignment Year 2014 (AY 14). Actually, I'm not sure "excited" is really the right word. Nervous, maybe; anticipating, yes; frustrated, maybe a smidge.

An Assignment Year encompasses the whole military personnel assignment timeline, from Personnel Service Command (PSC) kick-off in early summer to actually changing jobs the next summer. The timelines are ever so slightly different when comparing the enlisted and officer corps because of Promotion Year impacts on the officer side -- the enlisted folks tend to get their orders (which means knowing where they're going) two to four months earlier than the officers. And just because I understand from a system perspective *why* that is, doesn't mean I particularly like it very much.

Now, I haven't had an AY like this one in a while...like since 2008, when I was leaving HAMILTON. Even then, I found out super early (Christmas-time!!) where I was going because I had to head to pre-deployment training less than two months later. And the AY before that I didn't take seriously because I didn't expect to receive orders because I would be short-touring from the D14 Command Center. And the AY before that was a no-cost transfer from the WASHINGTON to the D14 CC; figured it was an easy box to check for the Detailer.

Oh, so more scene setting -- Detailers, or Assignment Officers, are the folks at PSC, Officer Personnel Management (OPM) more specifically for me (Enlisted Personnel Management (EPM) for the enlisted side), that actually do the grunt work of figuring out where everybody should go. They have "slates" they have to fill, all the jobs that will be empty the following year that they have to shuffle people into from the list of people available. I've never done it, but it sounds like doing a puzzle, in 3D while underway in a hurricane...in the forward berthing area of a WPB 110 (what we call the "anti-gravity chamber")...with maybe some of the pieces missing...and the picture changing while they're working on it.

The last few transfer seasons for me have been relatively easy. When I left HAMILTON, going to MAUI, I knew I shouldn't have any troubles getting my first choice afterwards. And after KISKA, I knew I had grad school all lined up, deferred so I could take the command opportunity. And after grad school, I knew I'd be somewhere at HQ. Some of the details may have been fuzzy, but not the level of uncertainty I'm facing this go-round.

This AY is different for other reasons too. I'm at the point in my career where I have to start looking at assignment possibilities with some strategic intent. This next job has impacts on the job after it, which will affect the one following...and so on. I haven't really looked at my assignments like that before, instead just kind of bouncing from one thing to the next based on what sounded good right then. Luckily, and probably unwittingly, I made some really good choices. But I guess I realized, or it sunk in, sometime when I was on HAMILTON, that I am a Cutterman. And a Cutterman should be afloat. And for me that means that when my career is over and I'm retiring, it should be from the deck of a ship, not from some land-based office job, no matter how important. So that became my goal -- to retire as CO from a ship. I haven't settled on whether that will be as an O-5, or if I have the where-with-all to shoot for an O-6 command, but at least the concept is sound.

But that means that this next job, coming off a staff tour, has to be operational. I would want it to be anyway. I've been away from the sea for three years already, which is too long. I want to go back afloat -- so for me right now that means an XO on a WMEC, either a 210 or a 270, or OPS on a WMSL (the newest ships in the fleet -- the National Security Cutters). The last conversation I had with the afloat detailer was all about how the O-4 XO slate was one of the most competitive in his portfolio. Lots of highly qualified and dedicated people all jockeying for a limited number of positions...no pressure there. And if I get a 210, does that limit my ability to get a 270 CO ride as an O-5? And if I don't get a 270 CO ride, how does that affect my chances of getting an O-6 command? I know what the conventional wisdom is, but I've seen some instances where conventional wisdom didn't explain the whole story.

So I've narrowed it down that far. There are still more choices, though. How do I prioritize the list of probably 15 boats that are open next year? 210s have better homeport locations, 270s have better operational capabilities. I don't have any Atlantic Area experience to speak of, so at least that narrows the field some. And I don't really care for cold weather, so D1 (New England area) will go on the list, but down towards the bottom. I've never done D7 ops, so Florida boats will likely be at the top of the list.

And there are the tours in between. Being in the same place for three whole years so far has given me the taste of stability, and I find that I really like it. It would be particularly divine to find a place to call home for the next few tours until I retire. Unfortunately, a premium is placed on operational diversity for senior officers; homesteading can sound a death knell faster than all but a handful of other things. So there are few places that I can ask for this time and expect even one follow-on tour, never mind two or three or four.

In my quest for a rational means of further prioritizing the list, I've researched other important characteristics of my top candidates. What is their maintenance schedule? Most, if not all, of these boats have been through a mid-life extension project (MEP), so I shouldn't have to mess with that. But they still have regularly scheduled drydocks and docksides, and based on previous experience, I really don't want to give up any more days of being operational than I have to sitting high and dry on blocks in a drydock or at the pier with a gaggle of yard-bird contractors infesting the ship.

And I've looked at who is CO, or slated to be CO. A few of the boats are on a rotational cycle where both the CO and XO change out the same year. What is more distressing: going into the unknown, or knowingly walking into a tough leadership situation? I don't think I know the answer to that one.

That's about the extent of what I care about when it comes to picking where to go. But again, this year is not like other years. All I get from the Rocket Scientist is that he likes Florida. Which is helpful, but definitely places the necessity to make a decision squarely back on my lap...or rather the Detailer's lap.

It's kind of funny in a really frustrating sort of way. For all the worrying and fretting and fake planning and stressing and analyzing and loss of sleep and..., you get the idea, it really doesn't matter where I get assigned. I just want to know where it is so all the rest of things can start falling into place. Looking for a place to live, narrowing the Rocket Scientist's job search to a general locality, and finally, when it gets a little closer, settling on a departure date and report date. All that stuff is still so far off in the future. And in the meantime, I'm stuck on the endless loop of prioritizing and reprioritizing my top five boats...move one to three and two up to one and three to four and five to six.

The shopping list comes out 1 Aug; e-resumes are due 1 Sep. Until then, I can't do anything *but* ponder and plan. And then...wait. Yup, that about sums up AY14.