Distance learning program offers new path to advancement

by Petty Officer Etta Smith

For most non-rated Coast Guard men and women, finding a job field that interests them, and completing the required training to advance to the rated petty officer corps within that field, is the most important aspect of professional life.

Until recently, there were only two paths to follow to reach petty officer status.  Members put their name on a waiting list for formal training in a classroom environment, known as class “A” school, or they could strike a rate, which is completed through regimented and structured on-the job-training within their unit.

Starting Aug. 1, 2008, a new program was implemented in the Coast Guard that combines elements of both methods, providing more thorough, real-world training and experience.

“One thing we are trying to do with this program is to take the best of two worlds, striking and A school, to give our students on the job training and a strong knowledge-based background,” said Master Chief Petty Officer Lorrelle McNaught, head of the yeoman training program for the Coast Guard in Petaluma, Calif.

The yeoman field is the first rate in the Coast Guard to implement a distance learning program and, at least for now, is the only field where this opportunity exists.

Similar programs may be considered for other job fields based on how productive the program proves for training yeoman petty officers, said Petty Officer 1st Class Leon Maynard, a yeoman A-school instructor in Petaluma, Calif.

The distance-learning program usually takes about six months to complete, but the member is eligible for advancement after 16 weeks, depending on how quickly they show proficiency in the required areas.

The striker program, which can take as long as a year to complete, can present challenges to service members because they must juggle their unit workload with course material required for advancement, said, Maynard, who participated in the striker program when he was a seaman.

“I would be reading a manual then have to go work on the buoy deck for six hours,” Maynard said. “You lose something there.”

Comparatively, while yeoman A-school can be completed in six weeks, the students get very little real world opportunities to encounter and solve unexpected problems, said Maynard.

This new approach to training provides a blended learning environment by pairing a junior service member from the fleet with a senior member in the field, said Petty Officer 1st Class Debra Hamilton, a yeoman mentor participating in the program at Coast Guard Sector Northern New England.

Hamilton said the biggest difference between striking and the new distance-learning program is that the students are re-assigned to a new unit to complete their training, rather than having to split their time between learning new job skills and fulfilling operational duties at their home unit.

“They are dedicated resources, focused on learning,” Hamilton said.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Tina Bevis is the first student in the Coast Guard to participate in the yeoman distance-learning course.  Hamilton and Coast Guard Sector Northern New England hosted Bevis and can already see the benefits from the program.

“She came in with a great attitude and a great work ethic,” said Hamilton.

Bevis transferred from Coast Guard Station Yankee Town, Fla., to the sector in Portland, Maine, in August 2008 to start the program.

Transferring the member to a new unit to train benefits the member and the unit, said Hamilton. The student learns in the environment where the work is actually being performed, as opposed to a classroom, and the unit retains the service member they have spent their time training.

Additionally, the Coast Guard is able to save money since the member only has to transfer once in a two-year period, rather than transfer to A-school and then to their assigned unit.

“I was able to learn more hands on, as different situations would arise,” Bevis said. Working through problems and learning from people with 10 or 15 years experience in the field was really helpful, she added.

Bevis said she did not stand duty while participating in the program, which allowed her to study the numerous manuals in her off time that are essential to performing the tasks of a qualified yeoman.

Hamilton said one of the benefits of working with a junior member who is coming straight from an operational unit is that they have a strong understanding of the challenges that come with handling personnel tasks for members who are frequently deployed.

“Being an operational member before, she understands the struggle of personnel availability due to scheduled operations,” said Hamilton.

Currently there are 15 students participating in the distance-learning program throughout the service and Coast Guard Sector Northern New England has just taken on their second participant in the program, said Hamilton.

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