The Coast Guard has a long and illustrious history dating to the early days of the republic. When the average citizen thinks of the service, though, the first image that no doubt comes to mind is that of a cutter or helicopter rescuing wayward mariners or perhaps seizing a cargo of illegal drugs. Few probably realize that the Coast Guard has also repeatedly answered the nation’s call in wartime. That’s especially true over the past decade—a period perhaps unmatched in the service’s history in terms of reorganization, growth, and new responsibilities. The Coast Guard has fulfilled all the missions we have come to expect while also taking on the new (and daunting) homeland-security role.
While the service has performed all of these in exemplary fashion, it’s a never-ending process to maintain that edge. How do they do it? We’re fortunate this month to welcome another sea-service leader to our pages to tell us. With one word—“proficiency”—Admiral Robert Papp Jr. sums up his vision for the Coast Guard. The Commandant says that proficiency in craft, proficiency in leadership, and the resulting discipline are his service’s anchors—a triumvirate of attributes that culminate in the disciplined initiative required for mission success. This is what will sustain the service through choppy waters and help all Coast Guardsmen “meet our duty to honor our profession.”
With all the hoopla this year surrounding the bicentennial of the War of 1812, from Fort McHenry to the U.S. Navy’s victories over the Royal Navy, it might be easy to overlook the important part played by the Coast Guard (then known as the Revenue Cutter Service) in the conflict. Vice Admiral Robert Parker, Lieutenant Commander Jamie Frederick, and Dr. Joseph DiRenzo III remind us that the service’s role today in many ways mirrors the actions of its forerunner in the War of 1812. But that rich heritage—carrying out a variety of missions with limited resources—has its limits, they say, in making their case for a new and more capable fleet of cutters.
Coast Guard Atlantic historian William Thiesen also pitches in to commemorate the bicentennial with a rundown of the contributions made by the usually unsung Revenue Cutter Service. The revenue cutters performed valiantly against smugglers and Royal Navy warships throughout the war, but they also suffered devastating losses. Here, they finally get the recognition they deserve.
Among the modern successors to those vessels has been the Island-class cutter, one of the true workhorses of the service, which “has stood a taut watch over three dynamic decades and established a venerable legacy,” notes Coast Guard Lieutenant Craig H. Allen Jr. Now, the Island class is preparing to make way for the promising Sentinel-class fast response cutter (FRC), which boasts “significant upgrades in size, seakeeping, endurance, capability, and habitability over its legacy predecessor.” The first FRC was commissioned in April, and two more are slated to be by year’s end. For Coast Guard cuttermen, it is the dawn of a new era.
Meanwhile there is no shortage of demand for Coast Guard assets, from the frigid Arctic to the balmy waters of the Caribbean. Lieutenant Commander Brian Moore argues that the United States should have a much greater presence in the increasingly active Arctic. But it’s not exactly flash traffic that we have a dearth of ice-capable vessels. He details how we can quickly and cost-effectively equip the Coast Guard to provide assistance when and where needed and patrol the seas, using existing technology and joint operational arrangements. In particular, he recommends refurbishing the icebreakers, committing to new vessels, deploying unmanned reconnaissance drones, using high-speed response aircraft, and working with Navy submarines.
The Coast Guard, observes Captain Douglas M. Fears, also “has the broadest-reaching authorities of any U.S. maritime law-enforcement organization—perhaps of any law-enforcement organization.” With maritime interdiction as a time-honored and experience-refined capability, the service is absolutely indispensable in combating the criminal drug trade. It is in the maritime realm that the greatest amount of cocaine is halted, Captain Fears notes; he also points out how the Coast Guard’s counter-drug framework “is an effective model for interdicting any maritime illicit traffic, in any of the global maritime commons.”