Defense Media Network

Interview: MCPOCG Michael P. Leavitt

As the service’s highest-ranking enlisted member, Michael P. Leavitt, master chief petty officer of the Coast Guard, advises the commandant on issues relating to the enlisted workforce. But he also is both mentor to and advocate for enlisted Coast Guard men and women and their families.

Leavitt, serving the same four-year assignment as Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., the commandant who appointed him, began his tour in May 2010 with a vow to “enhance and instill professional and personal growth within the workforce.” The long-term goal, espoused by both Leavitt and Papp, is to produce a new generation of leaders with greater knowledge, social skills, and strategic foresight to carry the Coast Guard forward through the 21st century.

In an interview with Coast Guard Outlook last year, Leavitt said his immediate goal was to use the Chief’s Mess and Chief Petty Officer (CPO) Academy to “align our leadership continuum” and determine what role CPOs will play in the Coast Guard in the 2020s and beyond.

This year, Leavitt responded to a series of follow-up questions from Faircount senior writer J.R. Wilson on what was accomplished during his first year, but also on who is the Coast Guard.


J.R. Wilson: What do you consider your primary role as Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard?

MCPOCG Michael P. Levitt: As the service’s senior enlisted member, I advise the commandant on issues relating to the enlisted workforce and advocate for military benefits and entitlements. I listen to and address the concerns of our members and their families, and work to resolve various issues throughout the workforce.


Leavitt and Papp proposed 2012 budget

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., and MCPOCG Michael P. Leavitt testify before the House of Representatives subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation concerning the Coast Guard’s proposed fiscal year 2012 budget at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C., on Mar. 1, 2011. The Coast Guard’s proposal is part of President Barack Obama’s federal government-wide budget submitted to Congress Feb. 14, 2010. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley

What have you done since assuming this post last year?

I, along with a great group of Gold and Silver Badge Command Master Chiefs have had the opportunity to visit with many of our Coast Guard men and women and their families over the past year and a half. We’ve listened to the many challenges they face, including their struggles in obtaining affordable or adequate housing [and] medical and dental care. Also, child care providers can be scarce and in many cases, very expensive.

The commandant designated this year as the Year of the Coast Guard Family, and we continue to work to improve our support programs in that regard.

We have made some progress in the housing arena as well. The Coast Guard’s fiscal year 2011 budget included $2 million for the acquisition of three homes in Montauk, N.Y.  Acquiring these homes resolves a long-standing housing deficit and improves quality of life for Coast Guard families assigned to this high-cost resort community.

Additionally, the Coast Guard recently contracted a comprehensive national assessment of our entire family and unaccompanied housing inventory.  This assessment will evaluate facility condition, configuration, housing demand, and availability, and energy usage.  The results from this assessment will be formed into an integrated framework of information and policies to improve the management and maintenance of Coast Guard family and unaccompanied housing.


How many full-time Coast Guard men and women – officers and enlisted – are in the service today and how does that compare to pre-9/11, both total numbers and ratio?

Currently the Coast Guard has 8,437 officers and 34,880 enlisted members, for a total active-duty force of 43,317. Pre 9/11, we were at 7,033 officers and 28,046 enlisted members for a total active-duty force of 35,039.



MCPOCG Michael P. Leavitt. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley

Who is the average new Coast Guard recruit – age, sex, education, where raised, previous job, including previous military or law enforcement service, etc.?

During the period of Oct. 1, 2010, through Sept. 30, 2011, the total number of recruits was 3,568. Their average age was 22.3; there were 80.24 percent male, 19.7 percent female, and 6.1 percent had an associate’s degree, while 14.5 had a bachelor’s degree.

Recruits come from all over the United States and U.S. territories and protectorates. Less than 1 percent of Coast Guard recruits have prior service experience, and they range from right out of high school to having various degrees. All new recruits are assessed using the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery [ASVAB] test.

The ASVAB is broken down into specialized components that measure aptitude for various Coast Guard [and Department of Defense (DoD)] occupational fields. The Armed Forces Qualification Test [AFQT] score is based on math and English, writing, comprehension skills, which are also components of the ASVAB. The AFQT score determines whether or not a person is qualified to join the service.


What do you consider the most important things a potential recruit should know about life in the Coast Guard?

Potential recruits need to understand that the Coast Guard is an armed force and they should be willing and able to perform the duties associated with that role. Likewise, they need to understand that the Coast Guard has high expectations, reflected in our core values of honor, respect, and devotion to duty.

They should arrive at recruit training ready to meet the programs physical and mental challenges. Recruits who arrive in shape and ready to focus on training are less likely to get injured and are more likely to complete the program successfully.

After completing their basic training, they can expect to perform tasks of national importance at any number of our commands in the U.S. or around the world including the Caribbean, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, where they could be saving lives, protecting and patrolling U.S. and international waters, or guarding our borders.


How much understanding of the full sweep of Coast Guard missions do most new recruits have?

Their initial understanding of Coast Guard missions is limited – often based on Hollywood images, contact with local units, and what they read on the Internet. Coast Guard recruiters work hard to honestly and realistically educate applicants about our mission sets so that recruits aren’t surprised later. Likewise, the recruit-training curriculum includes familiarization with the entire range of Coast Guard missions and assets [boats, ships, aircraft, etc.].


Leavitt and Niece at Coast Guard Academy

MCPOCG Michael P. Leavitt meets with Command Master Chief Petty Officer John F. Niece before speaking with Coast Guard cadets at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., Jan. 6, 2010. Of the current total active-duty force of 43,317, 34,880 are enlisted members. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley

What does the Coast Guard do for its enlisted personnel – from professional training to personal support issues?

After completing recruit training, personnel may put their name on an “A” School list where they will eventually get their initial technical/occupational specialty training [and receive a rating].

The Coast Guard offers 20 different rating or occupational specialties for our enlisted members to choose from.

That said, learning never stops. As leaders, it is our job to enhance professional and personal growth within the workforce. The Post-9/11 GI Bill is an option for our members, and many use tuition assistance benefits to help them complete their degree while serving in the Coast Guard.

Coast Guard members also have access to a wide variety of personnel support through the Health Safety and Work-Life program. We have Family Resource, Employee Assistance, Transition and Relocation, Family Advocacy, and Health Promotion programs with information available at


Do most enlisted personnel want to make the Coast Guard a career or only serve one or two tours?

Traditionally the Coast Guard does have a good number of enlisted members who chose to make a career of the Coast Guard and our current numbers show strong retention.


What would you tell a prospective recruit’s parents, friends, and loved ones about what the U.S. Coast Guard is and does – including its relationship to the DoD services and a Coast Guardsman’s possible assignment to combat?

Families and friends should be proud of their prospective Coast Guard recruit. Our Coast Guard men and women perform tasks every day of national importance by saving lives, protecting, and patrolling U.S. and international waters, and guarding our borders. While a much smaller service than those in the DoD, Coast Guardsmen can serve anywhere in the world, including the Caribbean, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, and are at times collocated with DoD personnel.

This interview was first published in Coast Guard Outlook: 2012 Edition.


J.R. Wilson has been a full-time freelance writer, focusing primarily on aerospace, defense and high...