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High-level Command

High-level Command

By Collin Hall

Bradley Conway, executive commander of Coast Guard Station Cape May, outlined some of the biggest issues facing the Coast Guard.
Timothy Tamargo
Bradley Conway, executive commander of Coast Guard Station Cape May, outlined some of the biggest issues facing the Coast Guard.

Bradley Conway talks of responsibilities, rewards of his work at Training Center Cape May

Commander Bradley Conway serves as executive officer of Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, a job that puts him second in command under Capt. Warren D. Judge of the fifth-largest Coast Guard base in the country. A typical workday begins at 6 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m., but the work itself is gratifying and puts Conway face to face-with some of the Coast Guard’s biggest hurdles.

Conway outlined for the Herald some of the higher-level struggles that the Coast Guard is working to overcome, chief among them a recruitment deficit that affects every branch of the American military. Although recruitment initiatives are planned by the Recruiting Command in Washington, D.C., every enlisted recruit who joins the force will come to Cape May. That puts the job of preparing the recruits right in his backyard, where more than 85% of the Coast Guard’s workforce come for training.

Bradley Conway said he makes it a point to participate in as many local parades as he can.

Conway said that much of the shortfall can be attributed to a generational resistance to military service. The current generation of eligible recruits, he said, is less eager to join the service than was his generation, or the one before his. He remembers the intense recruitment uptick that came after 9/11 and said that much of that fervor has disappeared.

Much of this can be addressed, he said, by better signaling the benefits the Coast Guard has on a service member’s life. He explained that joining the Coast Guard gives service members great health benefits, a tangible career path and latitude to choose what kind of education they receive and how they can use their skills to serve their country.

The Coast Guard offers up to $75,000 worth of recruitment incentives and deep educational opportunities through “A” schools, which are specialized programs that teach service members how to perform specific tasks. A comms specialist in the Coast Guard might attend Operations Specialist school, and someone interested in aviation might attend training at the service’s base in Mobile, Alabama.

And the work, most of it domestic, has an impact on communities across America.

“Think of police, firefighters, AAA, paramedics and road work teams. Those are all what the Coast Guard does on the water,” he said.

Conway works with the Coast Guard’s top brass all the way down to individual recruits. If a recruit is in danger, he wants to know about it. Though it is rare, he is immediately notified when a recruit is taken to Cape Regional Medical Center for an emergency.

“Taking care of our people and knowing where our people are is our number one priority. We can do all of the strategic stuff, but if we lose a recruit, that’s one of the worst things that can happen,” he said during a one-on-one in his office.

Conway and those under him work to make the base the best place it can be for recruits and the service members who work there. He outlined several capital improvement projects that can increase the base’s recruit throughput from 3,200 to the Coast Guard’s goal of 5,000 a year, such as increasing the physical footprint of the barracks. These goals would support the local economy by bringing well-paying construction projects.

He is always looking for opportunities like that to synergize with the broader Cape May County community. He sees the county as the “home base” of the service, but only two or three recruits come from the county itself each year. He hopes that will change; he said that much of his effort, and the effort of the Cape May County Coast Guard Community Foundation, is spent to strengthen the base’s relationship with the communities that surround it.

Conway is in a position of senior leadership, but he never envisioned staying in the service for so long. He joined because he “wasn’t ready for college,” he said. “I would have just gotten into trouble and wasted money.”

After signing up he soon was sent to Honolulu, where he met his wife Michelle and spent over a decade in and out of full-time service. He took a break from full-time service to get an education; he was a member of the Coast Guard Reserve during that time.

Once he joined the service full-time again, he spent several years in San Francisco, where he helped draft national contingency plans for natural disasters and the mass evacuation that might ensue. He later helped develop the Coast Guard’s national search and rescue plan while he was stationed at the service’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Conway spends much of his time thinking about the high-level operational responsibilities the Coast Guard is tasked with — and how to make improvements. But he makes as much time as he possibly can to spend with his family. He and his family visit Morey’s Piers as often as they can, and he mentioned a particular affection for MudHen in Wildwood.

He’s also a surfer, something he loves to do with one of his two daughters. “I love the fact that even though I lived in Hawaii, my daughter picked up surfing in Wildwood,” he said.

He stressed one thing before the interview came to a close: Have a good attitude, and always try your best. The mantra is simple, but he said that with a good attitude and a willingness to pick oneself up when the going gets tough, anybody can succeed in the Coast Guard.

“You have to have a good attitude about life,” he said. “Things outside of your control will always happen in life. But if you keep that positive attitude, you will overcome them. I tell that to every recruit who comes here.”

To reach the author, Collin Hall, give him a call at 609-886-8600 ext. 156 or email him at chall@cmcherald.com

Content Marketing Coordinator / Reporter

Collin Hall grew up in Cape May County and works as a content manager for Do The Shore, as well as a reporter. He currently lives in Villas.

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