GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — The Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival is underway but a major challenge the military service faces is finding enough recruits.

The United States Coast Guard is looking to fill about 4,000 openings this year but is expecting to bring in about 3,000.

Captain Richter Tipton oversees Coast Guard recruiting and says the armed forces are all facing challenges.  

“Somewhere between 70, 75% of our young Americans aren’t physically able to serve,” Tipton said.

He said of those that are able to serve, only between nine and 12% have the desire to.

“I think we’re one of the best kept secrets in government service right now and it is my goal to change that. I don’t want to be the best kept secret,” Tipton said.

In addition to physical challenges, Captain Richter says they are seeing more people entering the private sector in a strong job market.

The pandemic also moved much of recruiting to virtual platforms and prevented high school visits.

The Coast Guard is offering a $2,000 base sign on bonus which can increase to between $10,000 and $40,000 based on a recruit’s skill level. Additional bonus money can be provided in situations where a recruit agrees to start earlier.            

Ensign Austin Tuomi, a new officer aboard the Hollyhock, was onboard for the Coast Guard Festival Parade of Ships as it arrived Monday afternoon in Grand Haven.

“I wanted to join something that had a direct impact on the community and that is something that the Coast Guard does every day,” Tuomi said.

Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew Higbee says the work can really make an impact.

“The ability to go out and do the missions on a daily basis. Whether they be law enforcement or protecting water ways or breaking ice, just something you’re actually going out and doing instead of just training all day,” Higbee said.

For more information on openings, visit the the U.S. Coast Guard recruiting page.