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CG warrant specialty opens for environmental disaster experts

Oct. 18, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Marine Science Technician 1st Class Michael Shannon takes a sample near a Sewaren, N.J., oil tank that was damaged by Hurricane Sandy. MST1s and other Coasties may qualify for a new warrant officer program.
Marine Science Technician 1st Class Michael Shannon takes a sample near a Sewaren, N.J., oil tank that was damaged by Hurricane Sandy. MST1s and other Coasties may qualify for a new warrant officer program. (Coast Guard)
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Environmental response experts looking for leadership opportunities now have a chance to move up, thanks to a brand new warrant officer specialty.

The Coast Guard is looking for marine science technicians, boatswain’s mates and existing warrant officers with pollution response training to take positions in the marine safety specialist response specialty, which will begin board selections next year.

An Oct. 7 servicewide message, ALCOAST 434/13, outlined the new job, explaining that an MSSR chief warrant officer will fill in some of the gaps in the service’s marine environmental response capabilities, which have declined in the past decade.

The message cites the Cosco Busan and Deepwater Horizon oil spills, in addition to Hurricane Katrina, as examples where leadership expertise would have helped the service better respond.

“During responses, a lot of times, there’s not always an awareness at the leadership level of what an MER response is or how that capability works,” program coordinator Lt. Renee McKinnon told Navy Times.

An in-house chief warrant officer can help close the expertise gap between enlisted specialists and officers, McKinnon said.

“You usually have ensigns, [lieutenants junior grade], even lieutenants, that may or may not have done a tour within an incident management division or [marine environmental response], to have the ability to really gain that expertise as a leader.”

The specialty is also a win for enlisted Coasties focusing on environmental response, she said. They now have a new leadership role to fill within their specialty.

“They could do chief and senior chief, but there was no warrant officer specialty for them, so they didn’t have a lot of ability to take that expertise and then use it as a leadership level, other than being a chief in the office,” she said.

Members of the MSSR specialty can be stationed at sector or marine safety unit response incident management divisions, strike teams and the National Pollution Funds Center.

The Coast Guard will start with a board for the lateral transfer of Marine Safety Specialist Deck warrant officers next year, followed by enlisted boards at a later date.

Petty officers first class who are eligible for promotion to chief can apply for the program. They must:

■Hold an Operations Section Chief Type 3 qualification.

■Hold a Federal On-Scene Coordinator Representative or Response Supervisor qualification.

■Have served in a position within a pollution response unit during the past five years.

McKinnon said she couldn’t specify the number of warrant officers and enlisted members already eligible for the new specialty, but she said most marine science technicians and many boatswain’s mates regularly complete FOSCR and RS qualifications.

Those selected will be eligible to move once they’ve finished their tours or could take over if an existing MER billet at their duty station is converted to an MSSR billet.

There are 17 active-duty and 18 Reserve billets open, but McKinnon said that number will grow — up to 50 total openings in the next few years and more than 80 as the program progresses.

“What we see for this specific specialty is the ability for it to grow,” she said. “So our units will have the ability to look in-house and say, ‘I think it would be great to have an MSSR here instead of maybe a chief or [lieutenant junior grade].’ That’s something that each operational unit is going to have to decide.”

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