ross-merrill - September 2, 2016
Everyone knows about the four main branches of the US Armed Forces. Within that organization, people are fascinated by Delta Force, Army Rangers, Seal Team 6, and other select groups.
A branch that often gets forgotten is the Coast Guard. Maybe people don't know it's been part of the Department of Homeland Security since 2003. Maybe people think of it as the Navy's little brother. Maybe people think it's a reserve force that doesn't operate full-time.
People are wrong. I'm here to tell you that the Coast Guard is awesome. Here are some reasons why.
You know how other countries have "security forces"? Federal law prohibits that in America, so the army doesn't have police powers and the police don't wage war. The Coast Guard is the only exception, responsible not only for coastal security against terrorists but also law enforcement against drug lords. Since Coasties also handle search and rescue at sea, they're like EMTs too. How cool is that?
The Coast Guard was founded in 1790 by no less a man than Alexander Hamilton, who created what was called the Revenue Marine to collect customs duties from US ports -- he was secretary of the treasury, after all. This fleet became the US Revenue Cutter Service in 1860 and then merged with the US Life-Saving Service in 1915 to become the Coast Guard. It is the oldest continuous seagoing service in the country, since -- believe it or not -- the Navy was disbanded for about a decade after the Revolutionary War.
The USCG has been involved in every US conflict, from the War of 1812 through Iraq and Afghanistan. Guardsmen protected Iraq's maritime oil infrastructure, trained the Iraqi navy, and still roam the waters of the Middle East in year-long tours. Coasties landed in Normandy on D-Day and patrolled the rivers of Vietnam. And then there's the armed conflicts of the Drug War. As the military website We Are The Mighty puts it, "[Coast Guardsmen] involved in mission areas like drug interdiction and other law enforcement operations are arguably more likely to use their weapons than the average fleet sailor."
The military protects Americans in the general sense, but the Coast Guard saves lives almost every day -- 200 in 2015, along with 3,800 lives "assisted," and an estimated $5.3 million in property saved, mostly private boats and aircraft. The organization's mission includes search and rescue, aids to navigation, and marine safety. The Guard rescued survivors of Hurricane Katrina and was most recently active during the Baton Rouge floods. When you're in trouble on the open water, you don't call 911. You call the Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard's fleet includes the 420-foot Icebreaker that can ram through eight feet of ice; a 418-foot National Security Cutter (above) that looks like a small battleship and commands six machine guns and a massive 57mm gun; and a Long-Range Interceptor boat that can hit 40 knots (about 46 mph). In the air, the Coast Guard deploys the gigantic Super Hercules cargo plane; the Ocean Sentry plane for surveillance; and Dolphin and Jayhawk helicopters for search and rescue. The Guard has plans for a "Deepwater" initiative, which will expand its capabilities in areas beyond 50 miles from shore.
Sinbad the mutt was more than a mascot for the crew of the cutter Campbell. He was a full enlisted member, with signed paperwork, a rank, a uniform, and his own bunk. According to the Coast Guard's official history of the dog, Sinbad also "caused an international incident in Greenland, another in Casablanca, and was busted in rank a few times for minor infractions." He even battled the Nazis when the Campbell encountered a German submarine during WWII. After the cutter was hit by a torpedo and most of the crew evacuated, he bravely stayed on board. He rose to the rank of Chief Petty Officer before being retired to a station on land.
Do you know any fun facts about the Coast Guard? Is there a Coastie in your family? I'm ready for the call in the comments.