Defense Media Network

Newest Defense Media Network Promotion

U.S. Coast Guard Year in Review

Ever-vigilant guardians domestically and abroad

For such a relatively small force – 42,500 active duty personnel; 8,500 reservists; and 7,800 civilians – the U.S. Coast Guard is an incredibly dynamic component of the nation’s five armed forces. The post-9/11 national security climate has added challenges and complexities to the Coast Guard’s 219-year-old flagship missions, and the year 2009 was no exception, as the service continued to become more integrated into the nation’s national security and defense command structures, both at home and overseas.

Search and rescue (SAR) is one of the Coast Guard’s oldest and highest profile missions – on average, the service saves 17 lives every day. The SAR mission figured prominently in 2009, as the service saved more than 4,747 lives and responded to 23,555 accidents. One of the most dramatic, in the winter of 2009, illustrated a growing emphasis for Coast Guard smallboat stations in its 9th District, which covers the Great Lakes region: the ice rescue. In February, when a slab of ice 8 miles long and a mile wide broke free of Ohio’s Lake Erie shoreline and stranded about 130 fishermen, the Coast Guard led the rescue effort with specialized flat-bottomed airboats from Station Marblehead, Ohio. In the largest ice rescue in U.S. history, Coast Guard rescuers ferried 92 people to an evacuation point on the ice floe, where helicopters from Michigan Air Stations Detroit and Traverse City lifted them to shore. The remainder of the fishermen were either rescued by other agencies or managed to get off the ice on their own. The lone fatality of the day was a 65-year-old man who died of heart failure after falling through the ice.

The Coast Guard, more deeply integrated in the Department of Defense command structure than ever before, has been integral to the military’s efforts in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Its Maritime Force Protection Units (MFPUs) escort Trident ballistic submarines into and out of their homeports. Its MSSTs, in addition to serving in the Gulf of Aden and in U.S. ports, perform maritime antiterrorism and force protection duties at U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In spring 2009, the Coast Guard deployed a five-person team, known as a Port Advisory Coordination Element (PACE), to Baghdad and Iraq’s only international port, Umm Qasr, in order to help Iraqis rehabilitate the port and ensure its ability to accept cargo securely. Similar contingents, the Coast Guard’s Mobile Training Teams (MTTs), deliver training and assistance to build and restore maritime capabilities in places such as the Republic of Georgia, Yemen, and Liberia, while about 250 Coast Guardsmen serve in Patrol Forces Southwest Asia (PATFORSWA) under the Central Command’s Naval Contingent, conducting patrols to protect Iraq’s offshore oil assets as well as ships transiting in the Horn of Africa region.

The Coast Guard is recognized as a leader in search and rescue capabilities, not only by its domestic partners, but also internationally. One of the Coast Guard’s key SAR technologies, the Search and Rescue Optimal Planning System (SAROPS), demonstrated a new capability in June, after Air France flight 447 – a commercial flight from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Paris – crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 216 passengers and 12 crewmembers. The recovery effort initially revealed a relatively small amount of debris dispersed over a vast geographic area. Using the new “reverse drift” feature of SAROPS, a geographical modeling and simulation software program, the Coast Guard helped to locate the plane’s fuselage. About two months later, SAROPS was installed in the headquarters of the Republic of Malta’s Rescue Coordination Center and Search and Rescue Training Center, making Malta the first foreign country to install the Coast Guard’s SAR planning tool.

In 2009, to ensure the safety and navigability of the nation’s 95,000 miles of coastline, 25,000 miles of inland waterways, and more than 3,700 marine terminals, the Coast Guard maintained a 98 percent availability rate for 50,000 short-range aids to navigation – signs, lights, beacons, fog signals, channel markers, buoys, lighthouses, and electronic aids. The service’s mariner licensing credential program, now centrally administered from the National Maritime Center in Martinsburg, W.Va., achieved a milestone when, in the center’s second year of existence, 73,168 merchant marine credentials were issued to qualified mariners. It marked the first time since the consolidation of the service’s Mariner Licensing Division that it had surpassed its own cycle-time goals for issuing credentials.

The effort at consolidating the maritime safety expertise of both the Coast Guard and its industry partners has launched the effort to establish seven National Centers of Expertise. In December 2009, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad W. Allen announced the opening of two new Centers: the Investigation National Center of Expertise (INCOE) in New Orleans and the Outer Continental Shelf National Center of Expertise (OCS NCOE) in Morgan City, La. The centers are envisioned to capture the best practices of investigations and marine safety and incorporate them into advanced training opportunities throughout the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard’s maritime safety efforts do not end once a ship is beyond U.S. borders. In 2009, for example, they extended to the Horn of Africa, where U.S. and other merchant vessels have recently suffered attacks from pirates roaming the coastal waters. When Somali pirates boarded and hijacked the cargo ship M/V Maersk Alabama in April 2009 and took the ship’s captain, Richard Phillips, hostage, it was the first successful pirate seizure of a U.S.-flagged vessel since the early 1800s. After the case’s dramatic resolution, the Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Office helped to design guidance in preventive measures – simple steps such as the use of razor wire around ship perimeters, or offensive deterrents such as water cannons – mariners can use to prepare themselves for transiting through high-risk areas.

The Coast Guard also maintained an active presence in the Gulf of Aden region throughout 2009 – in part because of their importance to the theaters of operation in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. In October 2009, Guardians from Maritime Safety and Security Team (MSST) Galveston, Texas, part of a combined anti-piracy task force aboard the Navy’s guided-missile cruiser USS Anzio, assisted the Navy in the seizure of 4 tons of illegal drugs in the Gulf of Aden worth more than $28 million.

The Coast Guard, more deeply integrated in the Department of Defense command structure than ever before, has been integral to the military’s efforts in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Its Maritime Force Protection Units (MFPUs) escort Trident ballistic submarines into and out of their homeports. Its MSSTs, in addition to serving in the Gulf of Aden and in U.S. ports, perform maritime antiterrorism and force protection duties at U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In spring 2009, the Coast Guard deployed a five-person team, known as a Port Advisory Coordination Element (PACE), to Baghdad and Iraq’s only international port, Umm Qasr, in order to help Iraqis rehabilitate the port and ensure its ability to accept cargo securely. Similar contingents, the Coast Guard’s Mobile Training Teams (MTTs), deliver training and assistance to build and restore maritime capabilities in places such as the Republic of Georgia, Yemen, and Liberia, while about 250 Coast Guardsmen serve in Patrol Forces Southwest Asia (PATFORSWA) under the Central Command’s Naval Contingent, conducting patrols to protect Iraq’s offshore oil assets as well as ships transiting in the Horn of Africa region.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the mission of protecting U.S. ports and waterways has expanded to consume a greater portion of the Coast Guard’s budget resources than any other. In 2009 alone, the Coast Guard conducted 49,276 armed patrols to protect critical infrastructure and key resources; it screened more than 248,000 commercial vessels and their 62 million passengers and crewmembers before arrival in U.S. ports, identifying nearly 400 individuals in a person-of-interest watch list.

In recent years, the Coast Guard and its federal partners have come to recognize the importance of port security as a counterterrorism measure. The Coast Guard routinely participates in National Level Exercises (NLEs) designed to test the readiness of government to respond to emergencies, and NLE 2009, conducted over a weeklong span in late July, was the first in history to focus on terrorism prevention  in a scenario that simulated an imminent terrorist threat to the U.S. Gulf Coast. Meanwhile, the Coast Guard has carefully expanded its airborne use of force (AUF) program, which places trained Coast Guard sharpshooters aboard MH-65 Dolphin helicopters and authorizes them to use deadly force against a confirmed terrorist threat. So far the AUF program has been rolled out at Coast Guard Air Stations in or near several key U.S. ports. In 2009, Air Stations San Francisco and Houston became the most recent to implement the program.

Because a clear and protected border is key to national security, the Coast Guard’s drug and illegal immigrant interdiction efforts also have received an increasing amount of attention over the last decade. Every year, Coast Guard drug interdiction accounts for more than half of all U.S. government cocaine seizures. In 2009, the Coast Guard kept 352,862 pounds of cocaine and 71,234 pounds of marijuana from reaching the United States, while taking 322 suspected smugglers into custody. In July 2009, the Coast Guard’s first national security cutter, the Bertholf, got in on the action, intercepting four drug-running boats in a single incident off the coast of Guatemala.

In the past year, Coast Guard successes have led to efforts to expand the service’s capabilities in drug and illegal immigrant interdiction. For example, a successful partnership with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in stemming the flow of drugs and undocumented immigrants along the Baja peninsula of California led to the introduction of a bill in the U.S. Congress, in October 2009, calling for the Coast Guard to help protect Texas’ riverine border, the Rio Grande.

In the “Transit Zone” – the maritime approaches to the United States from Central and South America – Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET) teams work in partnership with the U.S. Navy to deter drug smugglers. Such partnerships are a hallmark of Coast Guard operations, allowing it to leverage the expertise of service members and the capabilities of its assets, and they are increasingly undertaken in all of the Coast Guard’s mission areas, with international and domestic partners. Some 2009 examples:

• The Coast Guard’s fisheries enforcement mission, which charges it with protecting fish stocks in U.S. waters (an area comprising 3.4 million square miles of ocean), as well as within waters protected by international agreements, is a challenge. In the summer of 2009, the service gained a valued partner in its fight against illegal fishing in the Pacific: the U.S. Navy. On June 15, law enforcement officers from the Coast Guard’s 14th District (Hawaii) joined the crew of the USS Crommelin, a Navy frigate, to support fisheries enforcement in Oceania. For more than a month, the Coast Guard and the Navy monitored and deterred illegal fishing during the Crommelin’s transit, which included visits to the Marshall Islands and Micronesia.

• The Coast Guard achieved a milestone in international cooperation in May  2009, when it formally adopted a mutual agreement with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to allow law enforcement personnel from both agencies to conduct joint patrols on the U.S./Canadian international border. The agreement, which formalized a successful program that had been piloted in 2005, promises not only to increase capabilities in the Great Lakes, but in the Pacific Northwest, as Canada prepares to host the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

• In the Arctic – a region of increasing concern for the United States, given the growing interest in the northern passages that have accompanied the loss of polar ice – the Coast Guard’s two operational polar icebreakers (most recently the CGC Healy) have supported research missions sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Increased maritime activity in the region has rekindled debates over Arctic sovereignty and exclusive economic zones (EEZs) in the Arctic, and the Coast Guard is eager to maintain a presence in the region.

Given the growing interest in the Arctic, the Coast Guard’s aging icebreaking assets are undergoing a careful analysis by the Coast Guard. In the meantime, the service’s $24 billion recapitalization program continues apace. 2009 saw the preliminary acceptance of the second National Security Cutter, the 418-foot USCGC Waesche, in November. By the end of 2009, the service had taken delivery of 17 (of a planned 180) Response Boat-Medium (RB-M) vessels, SAR assets intended to replace the service’s 41-foot utility boats – many of which have been in service for nearly 40 years. The Coast Guard’s MH-65 Dolphin helicopters, which enable further implementation of the AUF program, continue to be upgraded with gun mounts, M-14T rifles, and machine guns. The Coast Guard’s 42 medium-range Jayhawk helicopters, used for search and rescue, are also being upgraded with newer hardware and software technology, including a “glass cockpit” of all-electronic instrument displays. The first upgraded Jayhawk was delivered to the Coast Guard in June  2009. On Dec. 15, the Coast Guard awarded a contract option to Bollinger Shipyards of Lockport, La., to produce the service’s first three Sentinel-class cutters. The lead cutter, a 154-foot patrol boat to be named after Coast Guard hero Bernard C. Webber, is scheduled to be commissioned in the fall of 2011.

The Coast Guard welcomes these 2009 arrivals as long-awaited tools to help carry out its 11 statutory missions. As the smallest of the nation’s armed forces, the Coast Guard is also proud of the many resourceful initiatives and programs that have leveraged its assets – and those of its partners – to protect Americans, their allies, and their valued resources.

By

Craig Collins is a veteran freelance writer and a regular Faircount Media Group contributor who...

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-144">
    J. M. (DUKE) Dusch, MCPO USCGRET

    I have often said the American tax payer gets more bang for his/her dollar from the United States Coast Guard than any other branch of government. We used to have an old saying in the Coast Guard ” if we can’t buy it , we will make it, and if we can’t make it, then we will learn to do the job without it. I have always been very proud to have been a part of this great organization, and am still proud of the men and women whoserve our country as United Sates Coast Guardsmen.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-145">
    Chuck Oldham (Editor)

    It’s been an honor to have worked on an annual publication for the Coast Guard for the past several years. When you consider that this is an organization smaller in manpower than the NYPD, and then look at what it achieves year after year in lives saved, protection of natural resources, national defense, homeland security, and other missions, you are absolutely right that no service can claim a bigger “bang per buck.”

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-146">
    Barbara Malkas

    I am a proud parent of a USCGA SWAB (first year Cadet)! The heroes of the world are often not thought of until we personally need them. My daughter is entering into the proud tradition of service.
    Semper paratus
    Go Bears!

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-147">
    Karen Lamphere

    I am also a proud parent of a USCGA Swab Class of 2014!! I remember passing by the Academy on my frequent trips to New England and thought, “What a cool place!” I can’t believe my daughter is now there. What a great service, what a great mission!!!
    God bless all these young men and women…the best of the best!