To Fight and Save

By Lieutenant Craig Allen Jr., U.S. Coast Guard

I serve the citizens of the United States.

I will protect them.

I will defend them.

I will save them.

I am their shield.

For them I am Semper Paratus.

I live the Coast Guard core values.

I am a Guardian.

We are the United States Coast Guard.

In explaining the impetus for its creation and the purpose it serves, Admiral Allen stated that the guardian ethos is part of an ongoing effort to tie the Coast Guard's military, maritime, and multi-mission character to a more tangible service identity. 1

The guardian ethos is modeled after the warrior ethos that defines the American Soldier. 2 The foundation is appropriate, as the warrior and the guardian tread similar paths. Both "protect and defend" and are entrusted with the judicious use of force and the immense responsibility that attends it. This responsibility sets the guardian and the warrior apart from other public servants. The magnitude of their responsibility to the citizens they protect requires both to constantly hone their skills in the profession of arms, demonstrate impeccable character and judgment, and maintain peak physical condition.

However, in addition to defending citizens from those who would do them harm, the guardian also shoulders the obligation of answering the call of those in peril. "I will protect them. I will save them." For the guardian, the clenched fist of the defender must also be the extended, open hand of a savior. The dual responsibilities intrinsic to guardian ethos are captured in the chorus of Semper Paratus when it reminds Coast Guardsmen of their duty "to fight and save" even if it means laying down their life to do so.

Identifying the Gaps

Gap 1: Mission-based sub-cultures - The Coast Guard's wide range of missions is both a source of pride for the service and a challenge to creating a unified culture. The communities that develop around specific areas of expertise tend to form their own cultures that reflect the nature of their mission, and some missions appear more directly linked to the guardian ethos than others. Yet while the crew of a construction tender on the Mississippi River, commercial vessel inspectors in New York, and a tactical law enforcement detachment in the Persian Gulf may appear only tangentially related in their missions, establishing a common culture within the Coast Guard requires uniting them with a common thread. Interoperability is the future of Coast Guard operations. The merging of the maritime safety, aviation, and operations ashore communities into the "sector" model and the establishment of the Deployable Operations Group are the first major steps toward a more integrated Coast Guard. The keystone of interoperability is sharing a common identity.

Gap 2: Operational versus Support Units-The divide between front-line operators and those "in the rear with the gear" carrying out important yet usually mundane support missions is reflected in the vernacular of every military branch. Most service members are familiar with a host of ignoble terms used to describe anyone who is not on the front lines. The sources of friction are easily surmised. Those who expose themselves to danger, suffer greater privation, train harder, and maintain higher readiness will naturally look askance upon those who do not. The Coast Guard is no exception.

The challenge of imbuing the guardian ethos into Coast Guard members stationed at support units is the wide gap between what the ethos represents and the day-to-day reality of a routine job. Besides the fact that everyone wears a uniform, salutes the flag at colors, and occasionally stands a 24-hour watch, very little exists to differentiate the typical staff job from a corporate workplace. Such is not the environment in which a guardian ethos can flourish.

A few years ago, a junior Coast Guard member with a healthy sense of humor parodied a Coast Guard recruiting commercial by substituting the operational footage in the commercial with a montage of him performing chores at his unit such as mowing the grass and taking out the trash while reciting "I am the line in the sand" and "I am the shield that protects." To this Coast Guard member, and thousands of others like him, the guardian ethos will resonate with irony unless it is convincingly made part of the daily routine.

Gap 3: Off-Duty Culture-Coasties generally rise to the occasion while performing their missions, and many of those missions have a direct correlation to guardian ethos. Yet doing one's job when in uniform does not by itself define a guardian. Without a cutter, helicopter, surfboat, or communications center, in uniform or out, a true guardian maintains constant readiness born of a sense of responsibility to protect and save others. Semper Paratus does not mean "sometimes ready" or "usually ready."

However, a troubling percentage of Coast Guard members do not live the guardian ethos in their day-to-day lives. Enough of them lead unhealthy lifestyles, remain out of compliance with weight standards, drink to excess and hazard themselves and others, or forsake caution in favor of recklessness, to reveal a gap between the ideal set forth in the guardian ethos and the reality of the service.

Closing the Gaps

Defining ethos is a crucial first step in creating a common service culture, but thereafter the difficult job of bringing the words to life begins. As Mark Twain pointed out, "the weakest of all things is a virtue that has not been tested in the fire." The U.S. Coast Guard needs to create a fire by establishing a rigorous, comprehensive developmental program. The program should draw on other successful ethos-development efforts such as the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP), but tailor the training to the Coast Guard's guardian identity. 3

The proposed name for the program, Coast Guard Fight and Save Training, recalls the chorus of Semper Paratus that captures the essence of the guardian ethos. The program should focus on the full span of physical, mental, and character development, and apply it to everyone who wears a Coast Guard uniform. Existing programs that advance the development of the guardian ethos should be incorporated into CG FAST to create a synergy of effort.

Physical Dimension-The physical dimension should focus on training both in defense of self and others (to fight) and disaster/emergency response skills (to save). A tailored Coast Guard martial arts and conditioning program would serve the former, while advanced training in emergency response procedures would reinforce the latter. Furthermore, whereas the Coast Guard remains the only branch of the armed forces with no service-wide personal fitness standards for its members, a fitness test that fairly evaluates every member's ability to fulfill their obligations as guardians must be incorporated into the program.

The purpose of including martial arts training in the regimen goes beyond whatever direct applications it may or may not have in the operational environment. Both the Marine Corps and Army understand that modern combat is rarely either one-on-one or unarmed, yet both of their warrior ethos programs benefit dramatically from the inclusion of martial arts. Such training involves intense physical and mental exertion that requires the practitioner to break through self-imposed barriers and discover his or her capability to function under conditions of exhaustion and adversity. Like the warrior, a guardian must not only be capable of defending him or herself, but must also unflinchingly act to defend others as well.

The guardian mentality thus requires a sense of confidence in one's own abilities and the courage to act when the situation demands it. Since the inception of the profession of arms, these skills have been implemented by way of rigorous training in the martial arts. However, combat training has remained for the most part conspicuously absent from Coast Guard accession point and unit training requirements. Aside from annual defensive tactics certification requirements for boarding officers and boarding team members, very little exists to equip Coast Guard men and women with effective self-defense skills.

To forge a guardian ethos through intense mental and physical adversity (the crucible in which true development emerges) the Coast Guard should complete a survey of traditional martial arts and develop a curriculum that will equip its men and women with effective tools for self defense and defense of others. Martial arts that emphasize the use of leverage and redirection of aggressive force into a control technique should form the foundation of the curriculum. The training should include pushing Coast Guard members to the limits of their endurance to develop the physical and emotional stamina they may later have to draw on in the course of operational duties.

In addition to the martial arts curriculum, CG FAST should include training in rescue techniques that will serve to reinforce the guardian's duty to save those in peril. Drills designed to reinforce skills in emergency response, first aid, rescue swimming, etc. would serve both as effective physical-conditioning programs and platforms for developing the guardian ethos.

Mental Dimension-CG FAST should focus on developing the ability to think and act under conditions of physical and emotional duress. A guardian must be able to respond in an emergency and manage the stress and fear that crisis situations create. Research in the field of human stress response demonstrates that the overwhelming emotions accompanying an emergency often cause significant impairment of physical and mental acuity. The only proven inoculation to the debilitating effects of extreme stress is repetition and training under stressful conditions. 4

Coast Guardsmen at operational units often make decisions and act under high-intensity conditions as part of their jobs. However, those assigned to non-operational billets do not have the opportunity to practice overcoming the debilitating effects of stress and fear. Those whose job does not include training to operate effectively under intense conditions must create them artificially to maintain their readiness as guardians.

CG FAST should also incorporate existing programs that increase the mental acuity and professional knowledge of Coast Guard members. The Individual Development Program, Enlisted Professional Military Education, A- and C-school training, General Military Training, and the Incident Command System are programs already in place that fit into bolstering the guardian ethos.

Character Dimension-The character dimension of CG FAST should include training in core values, case studies of exemplary guardians, appreciation for Coast Guard service traditions, and a strong sense of compassion and respect for oneself and others. Developing character can and should be approached from multiple angles and methods, balancing reading, discussions, and presentations with the invaluable kinesthetic lessons learned through physical exertion.


The Coast Guard should establish a Guardian Ethos Center of Excellence to work alongside the Maritime Law Enforcement Academy, Special Missions Training Center, Training Centers Yorktown, Cape May, Petaluma, and Elizabeth City, and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy to coordinate the various aspects of the curriculum and qualify a cadre of instructor-trainers who can then teach the curriculum at their units. Earning entry-level certification should be required at all accession points, and advancement in CG FAST should be linked with advancement in pay grade to ensure senior enlisted members and officers remain fully imbued with the service's ethos.

As part of the curriculum development process, select Coast Guard personnel should complete at least the basic and intermediate sections of existing service ethos programs such as MCMAP to glean best practices. To that end, the Coast Guard could harness the cross-training opportunities that exist where its units are collocated with Marine Corps commands such as Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.

CG FAST must be weaved into the daily routine of all members of the Coast Guard to have the desired effect. Therefore, the deployable training team model employed for law enforcement recertification should be rejected in favor of placing resident instructors at every unit. The possibility exists with the creation of a new law enforcement rating to incorporate the CG FAST instructor competency within that rating, thus ensuring each unit with a law enforcement rate billet will have a qualified instructor.

Benefits to the Service

CG FAST will strengthen the cultural foundation of the Coast Guard and provide a stabilizing force to balance the dynamics of the service's ongoing modernization process. Change is a tempest that strains the lines mooring an organization to its identity, and the long-term forecast for both the Coast Guard and the United States calls for heavy change. The Coast Guard's modernization initiative begun by Admiral Allen will involve the most dramatic organizational realignment since prior to World War II. 5

"Change" was the watchword of the 2008 presidential election and remains the theme of the new administration and legislature. The Coast Guard could emerge from its transformation a much more adroit organization with a common core identity. However, the forces of entropy created by the competing demands of a multi-mission organization will leave the Coast Guard a cultural hodgepodge if not controlled. Even more than its organizational structure, logistics process, or operational paradigm, the enduring success of the Coast Guard hinges on the commitment of its members to a common identity-that of the guardian.

In addition to providing a stabilizing force to balance the dynamics of change, CG FAST will significantly enhance the readiness of Coast Guard personnel to respond to major disasters such as 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina. The first decade of the 21st century has proved to be a cruel teacher. Among the lessons learned for the Coast Guard is that times of national crisis require all hands on deck. That means that every Coast Guard member, whether assigned to an operational unit or not, is likely to be called on to respond. A Coastie processing travel claims one day could be pulling a flood victim out of the water or manning a .50-caliber machine gun at a check point the next.

Preparation for dealing with the demands of being a maritime guardian begins at the accession point and should never cease. Coast Guard members who train constantly at the edge of their physical and mental endurance, who have confidence in their ability to defend and render aid to others, and who truly see themselves as guardians, will be more effective than any technological innovation on the horizon.

Finally, CG FAST has the potential to significantly enhance the morale and retention rates of Coast Guard personnel. Most Coast Guard members join the service because they feel a calling to a noble profession. After accession point training, however, many junior members find themselves performing duties that are quite different from what they originally imagined. (Recall the member smirking about being the shield that protects as he carried out the trash.)

The reality of a Coast Guard career is that not everyone is crashing through breakers on surf boats, fast-roping out of helicopters, or shooting the engines out of a narcotics trafficker's speedboat. Even if one is at the spear point for the time being, everyone takes his or her turn "on the beach." Yet every Coast Guard member remains a guardian. When the demands of the job do not enforce that mentality, CG FAST must fill in the gap. As the member internalizes the service ethos on a daily basis, attaining heightened levels of confidence and awareness, the guardian identity will set in along with the corresponding pride that attends it. 

1. ALCOAST 366/08

2. U.S. Army Field Manual 3-21.75, "The Warrior Ethos and Soldier Combat Skills," January 2008.

3. See CAPT Jamison Yi, "MCMAP and the Marine Warrior Ethos," Military Review, November-December 2004, for an overview of how MCMAP develops "Warrior Ethos" for U.S. Marines.

4. See Bruce K. Siddle, Sharpening the Warrior's Edge-The Psychology and Science of Training (Belleville, IL: PPCT Research Publications, 2005), pp. 87-108.

5. See Art Pine, "Admiral Allen's Blue Tsunami," U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, August 2008, p. 28.

Lieutenant Allen is an instructor in the Professional Maritime Studies department at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. He previously served as assistant operations officer on the USCGC Venturous (WMEC-625) and executive officer of the USCGC Tornado (WPC-14).

Lieutenant Allen is an instructor in the Professional Maritime Studies department at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. He previously served as assistant operations officer on the USCGC Venturous (WMEC-625) and executive officer of the USCGC Tornado (WPC-14).

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