Sowela, US Coast Guard team up with Direct Enlistment Program

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Sowela Technical Community College students in four different programs now have a new employment opportunity following graduation.

Sowela and the United States Coast Guard signed a Letter of Intent (LOI) Tuesday that established a Direct Enlistment Lateral Entry Program.

The program will clear the path of enlistment into the U.S Coast Guard (USCG) or USCG reserves at higher ranks for graduates of the nursing, culinary arts, industrial electrical technology and vehicle maintenance and repair technology programs.

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Approved nursing graduates will enter USCG as Health Service Technicians, culinary arts graduates as Culinary Specialists, industrial electrical technology graduates as Electrician’s Mates and vehicle and maintenance and repair technology graduates as Machinery Technicians.

Sowela is the first community college in Louisiana to institute an USCG Lateral Entry Program. It is also the first in the nation to create a program like this for nursing graduates, said CDR Elizbeth Newton, commanding officer, Marine Safety Unit, Lake Charles, at the signing ceremony.

Sowela Chancellor Neil Aspinwall explained at the ceremony that Sowela prioritizes partnerships with both industry and military installations, such as Fort Johnson. The addition of a new military partner is “exciting and thrilling,” and a unique opportunity for students.

“These pathways bring much-needed expertise and skills to the Coast Guard, but more importantly, they provide great employment opportunities and careers for our students. … We believe that our nation has the greatest military and greatest Coast Guard in the world, and at Sowela we believe we have the most remarkable students in the world.”

This partnership was created to fill workforce gaps within the USCG. He said that producing skilled workers is Sowela’s bread and butter.

“We are in the workforce development business, and it makes it so much easier when our students have great opportunities waiting on them once they finish. … The Coast Guard is a quality organization.”

Newton called the program a “streamlined, accelerated recruitment process for very specific, critical roles within the Coast Guard.”

“We’re looking for those qualified candidates that have the skill and the credentials that we need to strengthen our workforce.”

After learning about the lateral entry program, RN student Terronda Gibbs and Culinary Arts student Evan Johnson said that they are grateful for an additional post-graduation employment path.

Gibbs explained that this is a prime opportunity to “serve your country while doing what you love,” and a chance to experience the best of both worlds.

“A lot of times, they (younger generations) feel that going straight to the military, they’re missing out on the college experience. Well, you can actually go to college and still get enlisted.”

Johnson said that he has had lifelong aspirations of traveling and joining the military. The lateral entry program provides him a chance to begin a secure career that achieves these dreams. He believes that this program is just the beginning.

“Opportunities like this definitely can spread like wildfire from here.”

Interested students will be screened by a recruiter to ensure they meet enlistment criteria. After approval, students entering USCG create an “immediate and lasting impact,” Newton said.

Since they will be enlisting with education and experience from their time at Sowela, students taking advantage of the program will enlist in the USCG as an E-4 as a Petty Officer Third Class or as an E-3 as a Petty Officer Second Class.

“You’re already getting ahead of the game. You’re already starting high up in our ranks.”

Following enlistment, they attend initial military training, graduate at the advanced pay grade and begin their first duty assignment. USCG has several enlistment incentive programs based on recruiting needs, with cash bonuses being as high as $75,000.

Lake Charles is home to two USCG units. She said that at any given time, Lake Charles has 60 to 70 active duty, reserve and civilian Coast Guard members.

The USCG has 11 statuary missions, including marine safety, defense readiness and drug and migrant interdiction.