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The Coast Guard’s International Training Division (ITD)

The service has become the primary training resource for partner nations.

The U.S. Navy is the world’s largest, with the only global blue-water fleet, with multiple nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines, permanently deployed in all seven seas; China and India currently are elevating their navies to regional blue-water status, but with the ability to sail far from their own shores.

Russia, the U.K., France, Germany, Japan, and others that once held global blue-water status now have ships capable of global missions, but fleet sizes that enable only limited deployments beyond their regional waters.

Overall, 40 nations currently have operational submarines – although only six (the United States, Russia, the U.K., France, China, and India) have nuclear-powered subs capable of extended range and underwater operation; the U.S. fleet is nearly as large as the other five combined. Ten nations have aircraft carriers, although none the size of the U.S. Navy’s 11 nuclear-powered supercarriers (which displace more than 100,000 tons; the next-largest displace around 65,000 tons and are conventionally powered).

The rest of the world – variously calling their maritime forces navies, coast guards, maritime police, etc. – most closely resemble the U.S. Coast Guard. Few, however, have the number or size of ships in the Coast Guard fleet, some of which are capable of global deployment (the service’s cutters and crews have served in the Persian Gulf since the start of the current war in Southwest Asia). Although it has no carriers or submarines, the U.S. Coast Guard is the world’s 12th largest naval force.

While responsible for courses of instruction, the Coast Guard’s International Training Division plays no part in choosing the nations or students receiving its training.

Those comparisons gain importance and give the U.S. departments of Defense and State goals of helping friendly nations improve their navies, regardless of size. By providing training to foreign maritime forces, they accomplish the twin goals of improving relations with those nations (including better understanding of cultures and practices on both sides) and enabling some to work with the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard, as well as other regional or allied navies, in anti-piracy and certain contingency operations.

Because those nations can best identify with the Coast Guard, rather than the U.S. Navy, the Coast Guard has become a primary training resource through its International Training Division (ITD).

“There are two primary elements of the Coast Guard international training program – a resident piece, where we bring students from overseas to train here [Coast Guard Training Center], and a mobile piece, both run out of Yorktown [Yorktown, Va.],” International Division Chief Robert Holt, a retired U.S. Navy captain, explained.

“On both sides, it has been kind of evolutionary, but has grown significantly in the last four years. This kind of training used to be done in little pieces by a lot of agencies.”


U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cliff Harrison briefs Ecuadorian sailors during a Fuerzas Aliadas (FA) PAnAmAx 2009 maritime boarding training exercise at Vasco nuñez de Balboa naval Base, Panama, Sept. 13, 2009. Harrison was assigned to the U.S. Coast Guard International Training Division in Yorktown, Va. FA PAnAmAx is an annual U.S. Southern Command-sponsored multinational exercise series that brings together participants to conduct sea, air, and land forces training scenarios that focus on defending the Panama Canal, as well as responding to natural disasters and pandemic outbreaks. U.S. Department of Defense photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class David P. Coleman, U.S. Navy

The resident effort coalesced in the mid-1990s, setting the stage for mobile to join it a decade later.

“[Then-director of International Affairs Gerard P.] Yoest was the visionary in bringing all these efforts under one USCG umbrella,” Mobile Training Branch (MTB) Mission Coordinator Robert Martinez recalled. “The deployable side goes back into the 1970s, with Coast Guard involvement through DoD [Department of Defense], the Justice Department, and some other federal agencies, doing specific missions they requested in the ’70s and ’80s, such as drug field eradication in South America because of some of the expertise we brought to the table.

“That morphed, in the early ’90s, into two distinctive teams – international maritime law enforcement and international maritime law enforcement training. In 1995, everything was brought under the International Training Division. We’ve also continued to grow on the deployable side, incorporating more and more standard Coast Guard missions. Until recently, we had quite a large outlay of training we could do, hitting almost all those basic missions.”

Resident and mobile training were brought under the new International Training Division in 2010.

“It may sound the same, but actually was a radical departure, bringing us under the same division as the International Maritime Course to provide a single, unified training structure.”

“It may sound the same, but actually was a radical departure, bringing us under the same division as the International Maritime Course to provide a single, unified training structure,” he continued. “For various reasons, we’ve moved more into our core competencies in the past couple of years, to better utilize our resources.”

Holt said the resident side, which dates back to the 1960s, is set up in two dimensions.

“In one, international students train alongside Coast Guard and other military students in the classroom. The other is international-only training – four or five courses we offer specifically to foreign students,” he said, with a similar structure for mobile. “We have four mobile training teams, in two sections: law enforcement, and boat operations and engineering. Within the 30 [MTB] personnel we have on board, we can instruct the full spectrum in both.

“We also train search and rescue [SAR] – a basic pens-and-paper, manual chart-plotting course that is applicable to 90 percent of the world. We send out a team leader and draw subject-matter experts from the USCG National SAR School at Yorktown. We also send a team leader on crisis command and control and draw on expertise from the USCG Contingency Preparedness School here.”

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