Coast Guard Is Joint

By Captain Alexander J. Hindle, Jr., U.S. Coast Guard (Retired)

First, a qualifier. By "joint" when talking about the Coast Guard, we do not mean joint in the sense of the Goldwater-Nichols Act (Defense Reorganization Act of 1986). The Coast Guard is not a Department of Defense (DoD) military service, and that statute does not apply to it. However, the objectives inherent in Goldwater-Nichols are just as applicable to the Coast Guard as to its sister services, especially because the Coast Guard becomes a specialized service within the Navy during times of war or when directed by the President.

What is meant by Coast Guard jointness is day-to-day interoperability and unity of effort with DoD. It means that the Coast Guard consciously and aggressively establishes as much common ground with DoD as feasible. Jointness, however, does not mean that the Coast Guard should lose its unique identity as a military service and federal agency, but rather that there are benefits for all involved if the Coast Guard seeks to maximize its joint identity.

Coast Guard jointness underscores the service's military nature as a fundamental, enduring, and defining characteristic of the organization. Without the military framework, the Coast Guard would be just another federal agency—a small one at that—performing a multitude of disparate functions, most of which could be performed by other agencies. In a classic example of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts, the Coast Guard uses its military essence to provide an effective, efficient multimission service for the American people.

Coast Guard jointness ensures the service interoperability that has enabled the Coast Guard to participate successfully in high-profile events, such as the Cuban and Haitian operations of 1994, the 1996 response to the Brothers to the Rescue shootdown in the straits of Florida, and the 1996 TWA Flight 800 response. Jointness is the lubricant that allows such operations to proceed smoothly; that allows the Coast Guard to call upon the support of the other services when needed. The enablers of this interoperability are the common language, standards, and doctrine of jointness. Even though the Coast Guard often is first on scene during natural disasters or national security concerns, it frequently lacks the capacity to complete the mission alone. Without the capability of achieving timely and effective interoperability, the ability of the Coast Guard to perform in a crisis would be endangered, and along with that, its raison d’être.

Other factors are involved, but this operational success wrought by joint interoperability was instrumental in bringing the Coast Guard (relative) fiscal success in the difficult budgetary atmosphere of the mid-1990s. The service is ready to meet the millennium largely intact, although reduced in personnel strength by approximately 10% compared to the start of the 1990s. The annual infusion of $300 million from DoD into the Coast Guard budget, upon which the service depends, arguably is contingent on Coast Guard jointness. Jointness also provides the Coast Guard with benefits in acquisition, personnel, and infrastructure support, and helps Coast Guard personnel receive equal treatment in legislation addressing military benefits.

What Does the Coast Guard Bring to Jointness?

The Coast Guard provides a relevant, non-redundant, and complementary military capability. While its warfighting capabilities are modest, it does fill a niche in the maritime arena that is likely to expand as a shrinking U.S. Navy concentrates its assets in high-capability ships. Then-Vice Admiral James M. Loy pointed out that a projected fleet of a new class of "maritime security" cutters could represent a sizable portion of the nation's naval force by 2020. In September 1998, the Navy and Coast Guard signed a memorandum of agreement that committed the two services to cooperate in the development of a national fleet of future ships and cutters. The Coast Guard's "acceptable presence" around the world, created by its humanitarian missions, also provides the State Department and DoD with a useful maritime tool in cases where a gray hull or fuselage might not be welcome. Several Unified Commanders-in-Chief (CinCs) have recognized this and have used the Coast Guard to help shape the peacetime environments in their areas of responsibility.

The National Military Strategy, along with the National Defense Panel report, envisions increased interagency operations for the military services. The Coast Guard can assist DoD in dealing with other agencies as it addresses new, nontraditional threats under the broadening concept of national security. The Coast Guard has extensive experience in dealing with the civil sector on domestic issues with which the other services may be coming to grips for the first time. For example, the Coast Guard makes extensive use of the Incident Command System, a command-and-control arrangement widely used at all levels of the public and private sectors and which DoD is likely to encounter increasingly in future interagency operations.

What "Purple Work" Is the Coast Guard Doing?

At present the Coast Guard makes modest contributions of its assets to various joint operations and has been, upon occasion, the supported joint force commander. Recent examples of joint operations include Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Haitian embargo operations, Haitian and Cuban mass migrations, Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti, and Cuban Freedom Flotilla events. In addition, Coast Guard cutters and aircraft regularly are provided for Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) operations, and the service has deployed cutters to Europe in support of U.S. European Command initiatives with Baltic, Mediterranean, and Black Sea nations. High-endurance cutters have deployed to the Arabian Gulf in support of the U.S. Central Command, and maritime law-enforcement detachments (LEDets) assist in the enforcement of the Iraqi embargo. The Coast Guard has made similar contributions to Operation Sharp Guard in the Adriatic. Cutters, port-security units, and Coast Guard/Navy harbor defense commands are written into the contingency plans of the warfighting CinCs. In addition, Coast Guard assets regularly participate in a wide variety of joint exercises.

More than 55% of the Coast Guard's liaison billets can be characterized as joint or interagency billets. Another 25% of the billets are assigned with the Navy, and most of them enjoy some degree of wider joint exposure. Key among the external assignments are the Coast Guard flag officers assigned as commanders of JIATFs East and West. Other joint assignments are the captains assigned to the unified CinCs, the Pentagon Joint Staff, and the Secretary of Defense Strategic Study Group. A commander is well placed in the Pentagon Joint Doctrine Division (J-7).

The Coast Guard assigns only a select few of its senior officers to joint senior services schools. Five senior officers are sent each year to joint courses at the National War College and Industrial College of the Armed Forces. An additional six commanders are sent to the Army, Air, and Naval War Colleges for the senior courses, where they receive valuable exposure to joint issues.

The Coast Guard has been actively involved with the Pentagon process that is expanding upon the concepts in Joint Vision 2010 . The Coast Guard Director of Operations Policy is a member of the flag-level Joint Vision Working Group that is overseeing the process. Other representatives from Coast Guard Headquarters attend meetings of the Coordinating Authorities that are addressing the new operational and enabling concepts of Joint Vision 2010 . The Coast Guard's vision document, Coast Guard 2020: Ready Today . . . Preparing for Tomorrow , published in May 1998, parallels the thrust of Joint Vision 2010 .

How Could the Coast Guard Be More Purple?

The Coast Guard already does a great deal in the area of military jointness, but will current levels be adequate for the future? If predictions of increased joint operations prove to be true, more jointness will be required of the Coast Guard. Progress is possible in the following areas:

Joint Operations . The single greatest contribution the Coast Guard can make to jointness is perhaps its most difficult to deliver. The demand for Coast Guard assets regularly outstrips available resources. Nonetheless, the Coast Guard must be as responsive as possible to requests from the joint community for personnel, aircraft, and cutters. Coast Guard leadership must be prepared to address the political questions that often accompany such use of Coast Guard assets. Area commanders should ensure that their force allocation models include appropriate weighting for joint operations and exercise requests. They should be prepared to make directed asset allocations to joint exercises and operations if necessary.

Joint Experimentation . Under a charter from the Secretary of Defense, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Atlantic Command (CinCUSACom), has assumed responsibility for joint experimentation, which includes the Joint Vision 2010 implementation process. The Coast Guard is being provided the opportunity to participate in joint experimentation, as it was for Joint Vision 2010 . The Coast Guard should develop concepts of how it could employ its capabilities in support of future joint force commanders. These concepts should be offered to CinCUSACom as candidates for joint experimentation. The Coast Guard also should be prepared to make a commitment of resources to joint experimentation field exercises when the opportunity arises.

Defense of the Homeland . The NDP report places great emphasis on homeland defense as a 21st-century security challenge. If the nation's leadership adopts that strategy, the door effectively will have been opened for the Coast Guard and Navy to revisit the coastal defense role embodied in the maritime defense zone (MDZ) mission. The domestic MDZ role largely has been shelved in favor of an expeditionary harbor-defense command role in support of the warfighting CinCs. The defense-of-the-homeland concept offers the Coast Guard an outstanding opportunity to demonstrate its jointness and interagency interoperability. The Coast Guard should use the Navy/Coast Guard Board to explore the role of the MDZs under the emerging defense-of-the-homeland concept.

Coordination of Efforts . For much of its history, the Coast Guard conducted independent unit operations. However, as the nature of its missions evolved over the past 20 years, the ability of the service to work alone has dissipated. Operations such as drug and alien interdiction must be conducted in concert with DoD and other agencies to be effective. Nonetheless, the Coast Guard sometimes still fails to appreciate the interest that the CinCs have in its operations within their areas of responsibility. Conversely, the CinCs sometimes fail to understand that the Coast Guard may have legitimate missions in its areas of responsibility outside of DoD purview. The Coast Guard should, in accordance with the recommendation of the National Defense Panel report, more closely couple its international activities with the CinCs' regional stability programs.

Joint Liaison Duty . The key to services' mutual understanding—the taproot of jointness—is effective liaison. But within the Coast Guard, liaison duty has a schizophrenic cast: the service trumpets the importance of such duty, but sends entirely different signals when the performance of the officers in liaison billets apparently is discounted by promotion selection boards. Consequently, such assignments often are undertaken with a great deal of trepidation by members of the officer corps. Other oddities of Coast Guard liaison duty are the unrealistic expectations the service has about what the assigned officers can accomplish. Commanders and below assigned to liaison duty are likely to wind up as staff officers. If the Coast Guard wants true liaison officers—unburdened by action-officer duties—it must assign captains. Conversely, it must accept the idea that a cost of jointness is the assignment of personnel to action-officer status who will do "purple work" that may have no direct connection to day-to-day Coast Guard business. The Coast Guard must leverage joint billets to extract the maximum benefit to the service by assigning officers of the appropriate grade. The Coast Guard needs to understand the differences among action-officer, liaison, and special-program billets and develop memoranda of agreement for each billet to provide a common basis of understanding about the billet's responsibilities. It should increase the attractiveness of joint duty by ensuring that promotional and other selection panels understand the value of the contributions of joint-duty officers.

Joint Education . Understanding joint issues is an appropriate professional development requirement for Coast Guard leaders. Generally, it takes the assignment of a Coast Guard member to a billet that exposes the person to joint issues and operations for that member to realize the value of jointness to the Coast Guard. The service would be well served in having a larger portion of its ranks conversant on joint issues, which would enhance the Coast Guard's ability to function in the joint arena. The fact that the Coast Guard has joint responsibilities is something that should be impressed upon the officer corps at the points of accession. In addition, the Coast Guard Leadership Development Center should include Coast Guard jointness in the assortment of courses that will be taught. The Center should also add Joint Force Quarterly magazine to its suggested leadership reading list for middle- and senior-grade officers and senior enlisted. Also, the service is forgoing an opportunity to expand its cadre of joint-trained officers by not availing itself of the Armed Forces Staff College. The Coast Guard should reprogram a billet for the instructor staff at the Armed Forces Staff College, as that apparently is the quid pro quo for the Coast Guard to resume sending students to the school.

Doctrine . The Coast Guard has been reluctant to codify its procedures in doctrine, despite the existence of numerous internal directives and manuals that prescribe how it shall conduct its business. In addition to its internal value, doctrine would help define the capabilities of the Coast Guard for the other services, facilitating joint planning at the operational and tactical levels. The common misconception is that "doctrine is dogma," and that by formalizing doctrine, the flexibility and adaptability for which the service is renowned would be lost. However, doctrine—while authoritative—requires judgment in its application. The Coast Guard apparently has recognized this shortcoming, as a December 1997 message announced that it was developing handbooks for counterdrug and alien migration interdiction operations that would be published concurrently as Commandant Instructions and Naval Warfare Publications (NWPs). The Coast Guard has also begun to address the issue of doctrine with the ongoing development of Coast Guard Pub 1. This document will provide a common understanding of the fundamental principles and values that define its existence. The Coast Guard should undertake a program to systematically capture its operating principles and procedures in a formal body of doctrine. This is not a project that can be undertaken in the spare time of headquarters and area operations staffs. The best approach, in light of staffing and time constraints, would be to contract out the effort.

Flag Officer Visibility . The role of the flag corps is preeminent in firmly establishing the concept of Coast Guard jointness. The Coast Guard flag and senior executive service leadership should seize every photo opportunity to promote publicly the service's commitment to jointness. Recognizing that not every flag selectee may have had exposure to joint issues prior to selection, the Coast Guard should ensure that its new flag officers attend the Capstone Course prior to promotion or frocking.

Jointness can be expanded to the greater future benefit of the Coast Guard. As the Department of Defense studies and begins to shape its 21st-century future, the Coast Guard is in a position to influence those areas that will directly affect it. The value of the Coast Guard lies, in part, in its complementary and non-redundant contribution to national security—a role likely to grow in importance as the term "national security" comes to include matters beyond defense. However, the Coast Guard must seize the moment to solidify and expand upon its joint role in national security matters. Failure to do so will jeopardize the Coast Guard's role as a meaningful contributor to national security—and perhaps the Coast Guard's very existence.

Captain Hindle retired in 1997 after nearly 29 years of service. He served in a variety of operational and staff assignments, including three command-at-sea tours, and served a joint tour as U.S. Coast Guard liaison to the U.S. Southern Command, Quarry Heights, Panama. He currently is employed with OC Incorporated as a senior research analyst in the U.S. Atlantic Command Joint Experimentation Directorate (J-9).

 

 
 

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