Building Proficiency...What Does it Mean to Us? -- by Master Chief Darrick DeWitt, USCG (Ret.)


The Commandant recently put out his “Proficiency: The Essence of Discipline” in the US Naval Institute publication. This article was in response to the “growing number of serious operational accidents and some notable incidents of individual and group misconduct.” Because of these incidents, the Commandant directed “sweeping reviews to identify and address the underlying reasons. Every incident was unique in type and cause, but each carried in common some failure of disci-pline, marked by failures of leadership and clear departures from established standards.” These themes have become a driving focus of ADM Papp’s tenure as we begin a “renewed commitment to leadership and proficiency” in our service.

This term “proficiency” has been widely discussed in the Coast Guard in recent years. The Commandant’s article lays out his definition of proficiency. In the wake of that article, I believe it’s important for us as a tactical operations community to start the conversation on what a “proficient” Tactical Law Enforcement operator really is.

Proficiency is building depth and breadth in ones tradecraft. It means knowing the finer details of the specialty while also understanding its broader applicability. In simple terms, it is earning our master's degree, and possibly PhD, in what we do. For tactical operators, this “proficiency” starts with the Maritime Law Enforcement Manual. Maritime Enforcement Specialists are looked to by our organizational leaders as the experts in Coast Guard Law Enforcement. That requires that we know OUR manual inside and out and we understand how to apply it in operations.

Although that instruction is the backbone of all we do, it can be meaningless without application. As a PROFICIENT LE community, WE TRAIN HARD. With the mindset of, “Amateurs practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they can't get it wrong.” Training hard and training to reality get us to that bachelors level degree in MLE, but to get that masters degree, at some point, we have to do the missions, boardings, etc. to be that proficient expert. We must continue to push ourselves outside our comfort zone in order to gain experience and increase our LE proficiency. Now, there’s a lot of LE specialties in the Coast Guard and we cannot be a “proficient” expert at all of them, but we should know the basics and differences between them all and be an expert in at least two.

To get your PhD, you are at that 1st class/CPO level and you've “done it all” (BO, DTL, AMI, CQCI, FRM, etc) and you've been selected to be an instructor because you now have the knowledge and experience required to teach your trade craft. To me, there is no greater way to give back to the country and the organization than to reach the pinnacle of our craft and to train the next generation of Tactical Operators the right way. MLEA and SMTC are the schoolhouses. Different students/mission, but they both need proficient tactical LE operators who can be a model for the students. It involves our attitude, character, and most importantly our leadership. The details of that are for another time, but being the best isn't enough, we have to also be a leader.

My final point on LE proficiency is it is about who we are. To be a truly proficient operator, it’s simply not just graduating from BO school and BTOC, or getting drug busts and being assigned to the schoolhouse. It’s about being “that person” all the time. Lt. Col. Grossman (author of the books On Combat and On Killing) was recently talking to a graduating BTOC class, and told them the skills that they learned during the course aren't something that they do from 9 to 5. It’s a lifestyle. Truly proficient operators never take off their uniform because it’s a part of who they are.

For example: During free time, Coast Guard Tactical Operators maintain their fitness, participate in local gun matches, and read articles and publications that enhance overall knowledge of their trade. They engage in professional conversations with peers on how to make the country safer. I can go on, but the point I’m trying to make is that proficient operator at some point no longer see himself or herself as something they do, but rather who they are.

Stay motivated.