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U.S. Coast Guard Celebrates 228th Birthday

On Aug. 4, the U.S. Coast Guard will celebrate its 228thth birthday.

Established in 1790, the Coast Guard was then known as the Revenue-Marine. The U.S. had disbanded the Continental Navy and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton pushed for a “few armed vessels” to act as harbor sentinels. It did not take long for  the Coast Guard to become engaged internationally fighting the Barbary Pirates of Northern Africa while the country reestablished its Navy.

The newly renamed Revenue Cutter Service in the 1870 brought U.S. officials to and from the Alaskan territory and enforced hunting and fishing laws there. In 1915, the Revenue Cutter Service and the Life-Saving Service merged to form the Coast Guard with a mission to enforce maritime safety, security and stewardship.

Today, the Coast Guard’s mission is to protect the public, the environment and U.S. economic interests in the nation’s waterways, along the coast, on international waters, or in any maritime region as required supporting national security.

Interesting facts:

  • The Bridges Family, Lloyd (Sea Hunt), Beau and Jeff all served in the Coast Guard as well as Arnold Palmer, Cesar Romero and “Popeye.”
  • The Coast Guard is the only branch of military service that doesn’t belong to the Defense Department. In peacetime, it belongs to the Department of Homeland Security.
  • Commander Bruce Melnick was the first NASA astronaut from the Coast Guard.
  • Every year, 300 cadets attend the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. Attendance does not require Congressional nomination.

My work with the Coast Guard was inspiring. The Coast Guard is large enough to be effective and small enough so that everyone knows each other. The command loosely manages the operations of their units.

I remember discussing the command relationship of a 154-foot Fast Response Cutter (apparently the length of a Coast Guard ship is important as they always refer to a ship by its length) they were going to assign to us. I asked the normal questions about who would direct it and tell it where it could go or not go. The Admiral told me, “Just tell Bob Smith (the captain) what you need done and he will figure it out.”  If life in the Army and Navy was that easy!

In Iraq, the Coast Guard had the challenging mission to secure both the Tigris and Euphrates rivers from Al Qaeda infiltrators. Their day-to-day experience with drug dealers and illegal immigrants made this mission controlling Iraqi waterways easy work.

The mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon flows into the Pacific in an area historically known for some of the worst seas in bad weather. The Coast Guard rescue boats wait for the most dangerous part of the storm before heading out to sea for “practice.” Each day, the Coast Guard heads to sea and our waterways to protect us and our commerce. Annually, they respond to approximately 20,000 search and rescue cases and save about 4,000 lives.

It was an honor to work with such dedicated men and women called into action on a moment’s notice. Happy birthday, Coast Guardians!

Colonel (Retired) Kent Crossley
Executive Director of Centerstone Military Services