There’s the rub. Increasingly the Coast Guard is becoming dependent on intra-service cooperation and coordination. This is driven largely by the extensive reorganization of operational field commands, since 2004, into Sectors. People from our service’s most distinct historical groups (Operations and Marine Safety; today they are wrapped into Response and Prevention) now work side by side in joint fashion. We’re also challenged with performing 11 statutory missions in a hypersensitive, media-driven era. In short, we can’t afford to fail.
This translates to people and units from all service backgrounds operating in new or unknown territory, under the all-missions concept. For example, in the Puget Sound region, operational units (crews on board cutters, boats, and aircraft) frequently team with incident-management and marine-safety professionals in response to oil-pollution cases and marine casualties. These missions arise nearly as frequently as more traditional ones such as law enforcement and search and rescue.
At operational field commands, these factors combine to make unity of effort essential. But achieving it is not accomplished simply by reorganizing our structure. We need to focus on and promote cultural change as well. In his article “Doctrine Is Not Enough: The Effect of Doctrine on the Behavior of Armies,” Paul Johnston highlights the power of culture, concluding that “those who would attempt to modify an army’s behavior need to think beyond doctrine manuals.” He notes psychologists’ belief that “to actually change someone’s mind requires an emotional experience” ( Parameters , autumn 2000, 30–39).
Therein lies our opportunity to take a symbolic step toward greater unity and a singular culture. The emotional attachment to specialty insignia is undeniable—they imbue pride by lending credibility to individuals and unifying different communities—but they create unnecessary barriers and limit our collective success when people make judgments and form opinions of others based on a pin. In today’s operating environment, success depends on the ability to break down those barriers.
So why not remove our specialty insignia from day-to-day uniforms? They are so symbolic nowadays that not wearing them might actually be more meaningful. Let’s not advertise our differences, but rather embrace the fact that we’re an all-missions service, made up of Coast Guardsmen working as one team to serve the country.