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Rear Adm. Steve Branham Interview

U.S. Coast Guard District 7 Commander

The U.S. Coast Guard’s District 7, based out of Miami, Fla. , covers approximately 1.8 million square miles of ocean, from South Carolina through Georgia and Florida into the Keys and the Caribbean. Due to year-round favorable weather, countless small coves, tiny islands and other places to anchor in relative privacy, D7 has been the center of more than 90 percent of all Coast Guard drug interdiction operations since 1973.

It also is the nation’s busiest cruise ship, cargo (especially container) shipping, private recreational boating, fishing, offshore oil and human smuggling locales in the service’s jurisdiction. As a result, the district maintains regular – in some cases daily – contact with 31 other nations and dependent territories, from the Bahamas down the Atlantic coast of Central and South America. It performs, to some degree, 10 of the Coast Guard’s 11 primary missions (the lone exception being ice-breaking).

To accomplish those tasks, D7 employs 5,500 active duty, 5,500 Auxiliary and 1,000 Reserve Coast Guardsmen. They fly 45 fixed- and rotary-wing multi-mission aircraft (nearly 30 percent of the service’s fleet) and crew a fleet of more than 60 boats, from rigid-hull inflatables to the new 153-foot patrol boat scheduled to enter service in early 2010. Those operate from five group offices, one section office, four air stations, four bases and 20 multi-mission stations.

D7 conducts more than 10,000 law enforcement boardings each year. It also is responsible for 7 of the 22 largest container ports in the United States and the world’s number one cruise ship port – Miami. Overall, it typically ranks at the top of all Coast Guard districts in number of drug seizures, quantity of drugs seized, migrants interdicted and number of Search and Rescue (SAR) cases.

Rear Adm. Steve Branham, a 1977 graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and subsequent Master’s degrees in Business Administration from Case Western Reserve University and National Security Strategy from the National War College, took command of the 7th District in May 2008, having previously served as Assistant Commandant for Resources and Chief Financial Officer of the Coast Guard. Following up an interview he did for the 2009 edition of Faircount’s annual Coast Guard Outlook publication, Branham recently discussed some of the district’s major roles with senior writer J.R. Wilson.

J.R. Wilson – What are some of District 7’s primary responsibilities?

Rear Adm. Steve Branham – We regulate and work with the cruise industry – about 14,500 passengers pass through District 7 ports each day – along with about 100 commercial ships, each requiring at least some awareness of what they are doing and their security requirements. Roughly half of those are container ships, but we also have liquefied natural gas [LNG] carriers docking in Puerto Rico and Georgia.

One other area we focus on that may not be widely recognized is there are at lest two ports of embarkation to transport military cargo to and from Southwest Asia; we provide the security for all that. We also provide security escorts for high-value U.S. Navy units – aircraft carriers, submarines and others that might need it – from their moorings to sea, which can be as far offshore as 100 miles, depending on the type of unit.

To accomplish those tasks, D7 employs 5,500 active duty, 5,500 Auxiliary and 1,000 Reserve Coast Guardsmen. They fly 45 fixed- and rotary-wing multi-mission aircraft (nearly 30 percent of the service’s fleet) and crew a fleet of more than 60 boats, from rigid-hull inflatables to the new 153-foot patrol boat scheduled to enter service in early 2010. Those operate from five group offices, one section office, four air stations, four bases and 20 multi-mission stations.

We are on watch every hour of every day throughout the year, doing all those missions – and more – working very hard with many other federal, state, county, regional and international partners to ensure the security of the United States and compliance with U.S. and international law to keep mariners and civilians safe at sea.

How far at sea does Coast Guard response go?

We’re limited by endurance, but we have responded to mariners in distress up to 1,000 miles east of the Windward Islands. It just depends on the situation. But the notion that the “coast” in Coast Guard means “coastal” does not capture the full realm of our operations. There is a huge amount of effort that goes on in the coastal zone, but we are worldwide capable.

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J.R. Wilson has been a full-time freelance writer, focusing primarily on aerospace, defense and high...