The first month of 1995 was not yet over when national news chronicled the dramatic rescue by Coast Guard helicopter of three people from a sailboat far out in the Atlantic, 300 miles east of Savannah, Georgia. The January-typical conditions on scene were severe: 40-knot winds and 35-foot seas. The rescue swimmer had been lowered from the HH-60J helicopter into the 53° water and assisted three survivors into the rescue basket, one by one. During the third rescue, the hoist cable was damaged; the survivor was safely recovered to the comfort of the helicopter cabin, but the rescue swimmer was stranded in the water. The fuel-critical helicopter dropped a survival raft and datum marker buoy before departing the scene two hours after midnight, while a Coast Guard C-130 circled helplessly overhead. Four hours later, a second HH-60J Seahawk from Air Station Elizabeth City, North Carolina, arrived, deployed its swimmer, and retrieved the by- then comatose crewman, suffering from severe hypothermia. (See B. T. Beard, pp. 66-71, August 1995 Proceedings.)
Dramatic rescues personify the Coast Guard for most people. Search and rescue (SAR) undoubtedly is the most gratifying and rewarding task of any Coast Guardsman, but it constitutes a relatively minor portion of the day-to-day operations of the fifth member of the armed forces of the United States. To quote one recruiting slogan, the Coast Guard is truly “A military service—and more!” As the nation's only agency with U.S. law enforcement authority on the high seas, the Coast Guard has cutters and aircraft ranging from the far reaches of the North Pacific Ocean to the Western Atlantic and Caribbean Sea—carrying out their duties in fisheries and drug law enforcement and illegal migrant interdiction. Polar icebreakers operate in both Arctic and Antarctic waters; smaller ice-breaking cutters operate in domestic waters of the Great Lakes and Northeast rivers and harbors. In addition, positioning and maintaining more than 50,000 federal fixed and floating aids to navigation and operating the U.S. ground-based electronic systems require a large percentage of the Coast Guard’s total resources.
As the nation’s premier maritime safety organization, the Coast Guard promotes safe and efficient use of waterways, ports, and harbors through licensing of professional mariners, inspection of U.S. vessels and foreign vessels plying U.S. waters, vigorous port-security and environmental-protection efforts, and monitoring and directing individual vessel movements in the busiest harbors.
The Coast Guard is continuously involved in nation-building and assistance efforts worldwide, hosting more than 400 international delegations at Coast Guard facilities and providing hands-on assistance and training in 59 countries. In 1995, 175 international students attended U.S. Coast Guard schools, and Coast Guardsmen participated in 150 international conferences. Department of Defense or Department of State programs funded many of these efforts in recognition of the unique nature of the tasks and complexities of meeting U.S. objectives. Defense- related activities included contingency response, U.N. peacekeeping, joint training and operations, coastal patrol, harbor control. and port safety. A close working relationship with the Joint Chiefs of Staff affords the Commandant of the Coast Guard, Admiral Robert Kramek, frequent and routine opportunities to identify and promote Coast Guard expertise, which can provide unique capabilities in joint maritime operations. On a more formal basis, the Navy-Coast Guard Board, co-chaired by the Vice Chief of Naval Operations and the Vice Commandant, meets semiannually to review, update, define, and refine the military responsibilities the Coast Guard is committed to meet.
Among the certainties of life, in addition to death and taxes, is the inevitable flooding of land in the Midwest when heavy rains accompany the spring thaw of snow and ice. Such was the case in May, when waters overflowed the Missouri, Illinois, and Mississippi Rivers, inundating millions of acres of land. Coast Guardsmen evacuated some flood-stricken families and brought food and medical supplies to many who chose to remain in their homes. Only five fatalities (compared to 50 deaths in the 1993 flood) occurred throughout the Upper Mississippi and Ohio River basins. The lessons learned from the 1993 flood—the worst in 66 years—were put to good use by the Mississippi River Traffic Control Center, a joint operation by Coast Guard, Army Corps of Engineers, and river towboat and barge representatives. More than 1,000 barges were stranded in the Port of St. Louis when that area of the river had to be closed to traffic for nearly a month, but the Traffic Center coordinated the resumption of barge fleet operations smoothly with full participation by commercial companies.
Under the general heading of Maritime Safety, Coast Guard activity stretches worldwide. As the U.S. representative to the United Nations International Maritime Organization (IMO), the Coast Guard actively leads IMO member nations toward developing standards and practices to improve commercial vessel safety and to protect the environment while furthering national economic interests. One Coast Guard initiative, Prevention Through People, focuses industry, regulator, and educator attention on the human side of casualty prevention and maritime safety. This has been designated one of the two highest priorities by the IMO, and has the potential of becoming perhaps the most significant initiative in decades affecting maritime transportation and operations.
Ever increasing numbers of the public enjoy travel on board cruise ships. The safety record of cruise vessels operating out of U.S. ports had been excellent—in the past ten years, with more than four million passengers carried, no deaths were attributable to vessel crew activity—but without warning, a spate of foreign passenger ships experienced casualties that led to emergency evacuation of their passengers. The Coast Guard initiated a Cruise Ship Safety Task Force for the purpose of improving international safety system standards and practices, which fostered ever closer working relationships with marine classification societies and the cruise ship industry.
For the more than 5,500 small passenger vessels—such as ferries, sightseeing, excursion, and dinner cruise boats, charter and party fishing, dive boats, and oil industry offshore crew boats—the Coast Guard promulgated the most significant regulatory changes in more than 30 years, requiring improved on-board survival and fire-fighting equipment. As a result of a Coast Guard-led effort, the Port State Control program was accepted and implemented worldwide. Under this program, foreign-flag ships calling in U.S. waters are subject to inspection for compliance with international standards of safety equipment and operating practices. In fiscal year 1995, the Coast Guard used its intervention authority to delay the departure of more than 500 foreign vessels from U.S. ports until correction of safety problems discovered by inspection teams were corrected.
Operating under the authority of the Ports and Waterways Safety Act of 1972, the Coast Guard operates eight Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) centers, located in our nation’s busiest waterway systems. The purpose of VTS is to enhance the safe transit of vessels, increase the effective use of the waterway system, and protect the marine environment. In 1995, more than one million vessels transited the VTS areas, with no accidents. Recognizing the traditional responsibility and authority of the ship’s master, the service remains advisory in nature unless overriding safety considerations (typically determined on a case-by-case basis) necessitate the directing of vessel movements, which is accomplished under the authority of the Coast Guard officer who is the designated Captain of the Port. The Coast Guard has embarked as a major undertaking VTS 2000, a comprehensive evaluation of the best way(s) not only to provide the primary function of instilling good order and predictability on a specific waterway, but also to interface with other information resources and data bases currently used for law enforcement, regulatory, and licensing purposes. The current and foreseeable budget picture does not bode well for the initiative, as originally proposed. Technological advances that can drastically reduce the cost, plus alternate financing approaches, will be necessary for implementation. In addition, the question of who should own and manage the VTS system undoubtedly will have to be addressed.
On 30 January 1996, Secretary of Transportation Frederico F. Pena and the Commandant presided over a ceremony marking the initial operating capability (IOC) of the Coast Guard’s Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS) Radio Beacon Network. This system of 47 radio beacon towers serving the harbors and harbor approaches of the U.S. mainland coast. Great Lakes, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Southeast Alaska, transmits error corrections to improve the accuracy of the DoD’s NavStar GPS satellite navigation service for public and commercial use from 100 meters to less than 10 meters. The DGPS network will be expanded into the inland rivers by the Corps of Engineers, providing improved navigation and hydrographic surveys.
With the availability of Loran-C navigation systems no longer a DoD requirement, the Coast Guard transferred 15 overseas Loran stations in eight countries to host-nation operation. At the end of fiscal year 1995, all Coast Guard- manned stations were located within the 50 states. Loran has found wide favor with private users in the United States, particularly in aviation. In the late 1980s, the Federal Aviation Administration funded new stations (built and manned by the Coast Guard) to fill a mid-continent gap in coverage, specifically for use by civilian aviation. Located in Montana, Wyoming, Oklahoma, and New Mexico, these four, plus 20 other U.S. stations currently active, are scheduled to continue operation until the turn of the century as part of the radio-navigation mix, to accommodate the transition to GPS.
Another long-range navigation system, OMEGA, falls under the Coast Guard’s mantle of operations. This very-low-frequency system originally was developed by the Navy during the 1960s and later transferred to Coast Guard responsibility. The worldwide system requires eight stations, two of which are operated by Coast Guard personnel (Hawaii and North Dakota), with the others operated by Norway, Liberia, France, Argentina, Japan, and Australia. By international agreement, the Coast Guard coordinates the operation and standardization of equipment used throughout the chain. Transoceanic commercial aircraft were the primary users of the system for navigation; the meteorological community and telecommunication systems are the primary users of the accurate time signal available via the system. OMEGA is scheduled to cease operation on 30 September 1997.
Vessel operators who expect to transport oil products in U.S. waters are required by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90) to have on file with the Coast Guard evidence of financial ability to pay for removal and certain other damages that might result from a spill of oil or hazardous material. The Coast Guard, through its National Pollution Funds Center, issued more than 9,000 Certificates of Financial Responsibility (COFR) in 1995, ensuring the unimpeded flow of crude oil and refined product. The implementation of requirements contained in OPA 90 has gone smoothly and continues to improve the safe and efficient transportation of oil in the maritime environment. The spill rate of 5.96 gallons per one million gallons shipped equates to a safety record of 99.9994%. That would normally be considered more than acceptable in almost any commercial endeavor, but the Coast Guard still directed the removal of nearly one million gallons of oil from U.S. waters in 1995. Strenuous efforts will continue to be made to reduce spills even further.
As the sole U.S. federal agency operating on the high seas to protect our marine resources. Coast Guard cutters conduct fisheries law enforcement operations in every saltwater region of economic interest to the United States. The Coast Guard conducted more than 12,600 boardings of U.S. and foreign vessels to ensure compliance with federal regulations and treaties regarding fisheries, fishing vessel safety, and endangered species. The Coast Guard seized more than 100 vessels (including nine foreign) for serious violations and terminated 74 U.S. commercial fishing vessels’ voyages because of unsafe conditions. Long recognized as one of the most hazardous occupations, commercial fishing is a $50 billion-a-year industry that has been severely impacted by rampant overfishing and other detrimental activities. Coast Guard cutters routinely patrol waters covered by treaties and agreements, enforcing U.S. and international laws. In July, the USCGC Rush (WHEC-723) investigated a 160-foot fishing vessel found 600 miles north of Midway Island that was suspected of using drift nets, which have been banned by the United Nations because of their devastating toll on marine life such as dolphins, whales, and endangered fish species. The master ignored repeated requests to stop for boarding, and the Rush maintained surveillance while diplomatic efforts in Washington took place. When the vessel, originally flying the flag and carrying the markings of China, hauled down the flag and obliterated all markings, it became legally “stateless” and subject to U.S. jurisdiction. The Rush then launched a rigid hull inflatable boat that used a section of mooring line to foul the fisherman’s screw and disable the main engine. A boarding party found illegal fish, shark fins, and more than 17 miles worth of monofilament drift net, plus the flags of 31 countries. The Coast Guard arrested the 21-man crew, seized the vessel, and towed it to Guam where she was subsequently identified as Taiwanese.
On 29 May, the USCGC Dallas (WHEC-726) took in her mooring lines and departed her home port of Governors Island, New York. Just 60 days earlier, the Dallas had been directed to prepare for deployment as the Coast Guard’s response to Commander Sixth Fleet’s request for a cutter to provide training and interaction with several littoral nations in the Sixth Fleet area of responsibility. During the three-month deployment, with an embarked HH-65A helicopter, the high- endurance cutter visited Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Tunisia, Slovenia, Italy, and Albania. Meeting and working with various host nation maritime and border guards, police, coast guards, harbor masters, port authorities, customs, and navies, the Dallas's personnel demonstrated and provided hands-on instruction in a wide range of Coast Guard expertise—the most commonly requested being Coast Guard aviation, maritime interception operations, search and rescue, and damage control. When not operating independently, the Dallas participated in exercises and operations with ComDesRon Two embarked on board the USS Ticonderoga (CG-47) and ComCarGru Eight embarked on the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71).
The Dallas's contributions to the Sixth Fleet’s Peacetime Engagement Strategy and the United Nation’s Partnership for Peace Program highlight the Coast Guard’s evolving role and value in Defense Operations and Contingency Preparedness. To a degree never before established in peacetime, the Coast Guard is both recognized for its unique capabilities and included as a resource provider in the Joint Strategic Capabilities Plan (JSCP). Following the disintegration of the Soviet Union, with the concomitant end of any perceived global threat, the Maritime Defense Zone organization, which combined specific Coast Guard forces under Atlantic and Pacific Fleet commands for U.S. harbor and coastal defense, was assigned a new role of out-of-CONUS harbor defense and port control. This tasking, included in CinC joint planning, combines the capabilities of a Coast Guard Port Security Unit (PSU) with a Mobile Inshore Undersea Warfare (MIUW) unit and an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit to form the Composite Naval Coastal Warfare (CNCW) unit under a Harbor Defense Command (HDC). Manned almost entirely by reservists (one PSU has been formed by active-duty personnel to provide immediate contingency response in the event a Reserve call-up is not authorized), these organizations performed admirably during the Persian Gulf War in the Saudi ports of A1 Jubail and Ad Dammam, and in Bahrain. A HDC deployed as an advance force to Port-Au-Prince preceding the arrival of U.S. ground forces in Operation Restore Hope, which allowed the peaceful return to Haiti of President Aristide. In July 1995, PSU-311 deployed to Korea with its four 22- foot raider boats as part of a CNCW participating in the annual DoD exercise Freedom Banner. Current CinC plans include the requirement for six such units.
Small teams of Coast Guardsmen have been embarked on U.S. Navy ships in the Red Sea since August 1990. These four- or five-man Law Enforcement Detachments (LEDets) bring expertise and experience in boarding merchant vessels to ensure compliance with U.N. sanctions against Iraq. In the Adriatic, other LEDets have been performing similar maritime interception duties from Navy ships enforcing the arms embargo to Bosnia.
The Coast Guard’s first mission—the reason for establishment in 1790—was to interdict smugglers who were avoiding import duties on goods. The basic premise has changed over the years, but interdiction of smugglers remains a primary effort, with two major areas of interest: illegal migrants and drugs.
In the 15 years since the United States signed a bilateral agreement with Haiti, Coast Guard cutters have interdicted more than 92,000 Haitians attempting to reach the United Sates, usually in small, un- seaworthy boats, overloaded and having literally nothing in the way of emergency equipment. In November, more than 1,100 were rescued from just two vessels (the largest being 75 feet in length) in less than one week. In lesser known operations, the Coast Guard prevented nearly 3,400 migrants from the Dominican Republic from crossing the Mona Pass and reaching Puerto Rico, with the goal of easier U.S. entry from there.
Migrant-interdiction operations are not limited to the Caribbean. In March, the Coast Guard found a 150-foot converted fishing boat 200 miles south of Ensenada, Mexico, with 106 migrants from the People’s Republic of China on board; in April, a boat 110 miles northwest of San Diego, California, with 146 Chinese migrants; in July, a 160-foot freighter 500 miles south of Hawaii with another 148 Chinese migrants.
As the nation’s lead agency for the maritime interdiction of illegal drugs, and a strong contributor to thwarting delivery by air, the Coast Guard continues its counter drug efforts at a high level, frequently in joint operations with Navy and Air Force units. Coast Guard seizures typically account for nearly a quarter of the total U.S. seizures of cocaine and marijuana. In 1995, the street value of U.S. Coast Guard-seized drugs was estimated at 2.8 billion dollars—nearly 200 million dollars more than the service’s entire operating expense budget for the year!
Search and rescue (SAR) is synonymous with U.S. Coast Guard throughout the world, and constitutes the second oldest mission of the service. SAR is funded at less than 15% of the annual operating budget, but Coast Guard personnel responded to more than 30,000 incidents (one every eight minutes), saving more than 4,000 lives and assisting an additional 100,000 people. Value of property saved was $2.4 billion, a “return on investment” to the taxpayer of more than 6,200:1 for that specific program.
On a typical day, U.S. Coast Guard personnel:
- Seized 170 pounds of cocaine and 209 pounds of marijuana.
- Conducted 191 SAR cases, saved 14 lives, assisted 328 others.
- Responded to 34 oil or hazardous chemical spills.
- Completed 120 law enforcement boardings.
- Investigated 17 marine accidents.
- Inspected 64 commercial vessels.
- Serviced 150 aids to navigation.
- Boarded 90 large vessels for port safety checks.
- Processed 120 professional mariners documents.
The Coast Guard employs slightly less than 35,700 military personnel and 5,835 civilians, is supported by 7,340 Reservists, and receives the generous assistance of more than 34,000 citizen-sailors of the Coast Guard Auxiliary. The ranks and role of the Selected Coast Guard Reservists have changed dramatically. During the past two years, the number of selected reservists has been reduced by more than 25%, and the individual reservist has been totally integrated into an existing operational Coast Guard unit. Gone are the days of paper shuffling and training for mobilization on a national scale. The number of active duty members has been reduced by approximately 2,500 people, and they are eager to accept the help in performing their myriad duties. The Coast Guard Auxiliary historically has been focused on improving the safety of recreational boating through voluntary training courses, regatta patrols, and courtesy examinations (inspections without the force of law) of boats for adequacy of safety equipment. Auxiliarists now conduct air and surface patrols, specifically looking for oil spills or other environmental pollution; voluntary dock-side courtesy examinations of commercial fishing vessels; and continue to man watchstander positions at Coast Guard stations. A new initiative. Auxiliary Search-and-Rescue Detachments, is proving effective in providing SAR response in areas where full-year active duty presence is not justified.
Admiral Kramek wears a second hat, that of the President-designated “U.S. Interdiction Coordinator.” In that role, he reports to retired Army General Barry McCaffrey, the newly appointed Director, Office of National Drug Policy. Far from being a “paper” position, by his own estimate Admiral Kramek devotes at least 20% of his day on issues that often require close coordination and cooperation among, for example, DoD, State Department, Customs, Drug Enforcement Agency, FBI, CIA, the Intelligence Community and the National Security Council. The basic approach to interdiction still contains the strategy of combating the flow of drugs at the production source, during transit, and at U.S. arrival points. In his office on 14 March, the Commandant described a four-month-long operation named “Green Clover,” which utilized resources from Atlantic Command, Southern Command, Central Intelligence Agency, and Columbia’s Air Force to suppress the small airplane shuttle of coca paste from Peru and Bolivia to the processing plants in Columbia.
After large-scale destruction of aircraft, both in flight and on the ground, drug pilots were understandingly refusing to fly the coca paste, regardless of the pay. The success of the operation was irrefutable; the price of coca leaves received by the farmer fell below that of normal, legal agricultural crops, while the street price of cocaine in the United States rose dramatically. In the Admiral’s own words, “we flat shut them down.” Unfortunately, funding ran out, and the operations ceased on 15 December. The flow of coca paste immediately resumed. Not exactly the way to fight a war!
The Commandant brought a fresh dose of leadership to a Coast Guard in need of open communication between the top and all levels of the organization. Admiral Kramek has received marching orders from his political leaders, and has made no bones about it; reduce the cost of providing services by eliminating 1,000 people and cutting the operating budget by $100 million each year; essentially a 12% reduction in both during his tenure. But the same orders allow for no commensurate reduction in or elimination of missions, requirements, or responsibilities! To achieve that goal, epochal changes in the organization have been made, with more under way. Technological solutions to manpower-intensive activities are aggressively sought. Fiscal year 1994 and 1995 reductions totaled 2,300 people and $149 million savings, primarily through consolidation and reduction of 15 cutters and 14 aircraft.
The fiscal year 1996 Streamlining Plan has identified an additional 870 people and $82 million in savings, with a further reduction in number of vessels and aircraft. By the end of summer 1996, Coast Guard personnel will have essentially vacated and will no longer maintain Governors Island, New York, which for 30 years has been the home of the senior operational commander for two-thirds of all Coast Guard forces. Three of the ten Districts will be disestablished or encompassed within Area Commands. Headquarters in Washington will be reduced from its current size of 2,400 by relocating 300 staff members and eliminating 300 more and by restructuring the 11 operating or support programs into five directorates. Support services for operational field units will be further consolidated; training and leadership development will be revamped; and Centers of Excellence will consolidate C3/1RM, restructure R&D, and combine military and civilian personnel management.
Recapitalization is proceeding quite well in several areas. The first of 16 oceangoing buoy tenders, the Juniper (WLB-201) class—225 feet in length and equipped with state-of-the-art propulsion and navigation systems, plus oil spill recovery capability designed in—has completed builders’ trials. The first of 14 coastal buoy tenders, the Ida Lewis (WLM-551) class, 175 feet in length, was launched in October. When delivered, the combined fleet of 30 tenders will replace the 37 existing operating units, and require some 400 fewer crew. The Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore, Maryland, the only federal shipyard to achieve ISO 9001 certification, has been directed to begin construction of the first of 34 49-foot buoy boats, which will completely modernize the Aids to Navigation (ATON) fleet of the Coast Guard. Taken together, these programs comprise the largest single capital investment plan of the decade and will position the Coast Guard well in the 21st century for fulfilling the ATON mission, which accounts for nearly 20% of the operating budget today.
The Coast Guard’s performance of duties and accomplishments can still justify the claim of being “the world’s premier maritime safety organization,” but there has been an undeniable impact on the people who are the Coast Guard. Downsizing has truncated the officer pyramid structure, eliminating many senior billets. Decommissioning or mothballing ships and aircraft, closing stations, and consolidating functions are all relatively straightforward decisions reached after careful analysis of effectiveness and workload. The suddenly excess military and civilian workers, however, present a profound dilemma to a small “family” organization that historically has prided itself on being an employer of choice.
With high retention throughout the rates and ranks (81% after second and subsequent enlistments, highest of all five services; officer retention "historically high) even small changes in numbers of people on the active rolls has a significant affect. A 12% reduction in just four years presents monumental challenges, particularly when the amount of work to be done remains the same. Undoubtedly, the sense of accomplishment and pride in service to the nation is a strong motivator in much of what the “standard day” activity describes, but an improvement to a 68-hour duty week at SAR stations and 135 days duty-free in home port each year for watchstanders on major cutters remain an elusive goal for this Commandant—as it was for several of his predecessors.
Individual high performance does not necessarily ensure continued employment; only 50% of the 0-6s who were reviewed for continuation could be retained. Under the “High Tenure” program, mandatory promotion threshholds (“up or out”) have been set for E-4 through E-9, while at the same time limiting the maximum enlisted career opportunity to 30 years—essentially the same as has long been the scenario for officers.
To its credit, the leadership has made the hard decisions while working aggressively to improve and increase work- life programs that are an acceptance of responsibility for training and education of all hands for both active duty and post- Coast Guard life. For example, in the near future, no one will be designated or advanced in the Aviation Machinist (AD) rating unless the individual has completed the requirements and received a Commercial Airplane and Powerplant (A&P) license from the FAA. Remaining the employer-of-choice in competition with the DoD services that have more money will remain a daunting challenge.
For those now required to shoulder ever-larger shares of the load, the stress is evident. Total Quality Management (TQM) has been firmly ingrained in the work environment for several years and is given appropriate kudos for dismembering much of the “stovepipe” mentality, but there is some undercurrent of feeling that it may be taking on a life of its own. Perhaps there are too many quality action teams looking at scenarios that should remain within the province of experienced and responsible individuals exercising their own prerogative.
The Coast Guard has taken its share of downsizing hits and still maintains an enviable record of stellar service to the public. Its strength lies in its being a tightly knit military service, with clear lines of responsibility and authority. Its small size is a major advantage in being able to react quickly to an emergency or suddenly identified contingency operation. At the same time, the Coast Guard’s small size but diverse responsibilities require a high degree of round-the-clock readiness, 365 days a year. There can be no 24-hour safety stand-down—because some people would die.
The flat-line budget apparently has not yet had an unacceptably adverse impact, but that point is rapidly approaching. Recapitalization will require large amounts of Acquisition, Construction, and Improvements (AC&I) funds. Service life extension (SLEP) and replacement of worn-out cutters and aircraft must go forward in a coherent fashion, particularly as crew size and manning levels are being reduced. The concept of “crew to operate and return to shore for maintenance” may be sound for some types of vessels in specific modes (ferry boats and cruise ships, for example), but routine deployments and traditional response flexibility present problems that ultimately may end up on the crew’s back. Having limited number of ships (and aircraft) and expecting them to be multi-mission capable require a degree of effort not apparent to administration or congressional program reviewers. As is the case with U.S. Navy forces, the employed assets must be proficient and equipped to respond adequately to the most demanding scenario, at any time they are under way.
The Commandant appears confident that the steps taken to date, plus the provisions included in the fiscal year 1997 budget now before Congress, will allow the Coast Guard to meet its responsibilities, but he emphasizes there is no more to offer up without declaring specific shortfalls in service to the public. For example, the performance standard for SAR response today is to arrive on scene within two hours of notification of distress; effect the rescue of 90% of the people; and save 70% of the property. If the administration and Congress do not provide adequate resources; if modernization of equipment is delayed; or if dedicated and highly proficient people start to be in short supply because the Coast Guard is not a competitive “employer of choice;” the risk for those in peril on the seas will be greater than it is today. As another admiral described it, “Today, the Coast Guard is like a banjo. Still in tune—but one more tightening, and the strings may start to snap.”
For a service with a strong though generally untrumpeted pride in answering all calls, every time, it is inconceivable to contemplate being a banjo that could not respond with a rousing rendition of “Semper Paratus!”
Prior to retiring in 1991, Admiral Thorsen was Commander, Coast Guard Atlantic Area, and Commander, U.S. Maritime Defense Zone Atlantic. He is a consultant and serves on the boards of several business and non-profit organizations.