Friday, February 14, 2014

Five awesome facts about the Coast Guard

I used to be in the Coast Guard, and I’d always get a lot of questions whenever I’d walk around in uniform. Questions like “How long have you been in the Air Force?” and “What time does my train leave?” These were all important questions, of course, but I rarely had the answers.


Sometimes, though, people would realize I was in the Coast Guard, and they’d ask me questions about that. Most of them were pretty basic – “Is the Coast Guard like the National Guard?” “Is it really a part of the military?” Others were more complex. “Do you deploy to Iraq?” “Do you literally just stand there and guard the coast all day?”

Much like how the Air Force is literally just a force of air.

To answer (some of) these questions, I decided to put together a quick list:


1. We’re not just lifeguards (or coast-guards)
The Coast Guard is the world’s foremost search-and-rescue organization, but that’s not all. We operate all over the world, in every ocean, on every continent. We fight pirates and drug runners, clean up oil spills, enforce laws and treaties, and explore the ice shelves at both poles. Our missions routinely take us into conditions that make other mariners turn back - into ice, into storms, into sinking ships. We boldly go where no other service wants to go.

We’re like Starfleet, if Starfleet was really cynical about everything.

2. The Coast Guard only has about 42,000 people, but protects 4.5 million square miles of ocean

That’s over 100 square miles per person.

"Still beats the Academy."

We do more than just float around, of course. We have ships and aircraft stationed everywhere from Guam to Puerto Rico, from Alaska to American Samoa. We take part in multinational military exercises, train foreign coast guards, and even protect oil platforms in the Middle East. And we do it all with outdated equipment, dwindling manpower, and less money every year than the other services spend in a week.

3. For seven years, the Coast Guard was our only navy

The Coast Guard started life as the Revenue Cutter Service. It was founded by Alexander Hamilton in 1790 to stop smugglers and pirates who were sapping the U.S. of its trade revenue. Without the RCS, the United States likely would’ve gone bankrupt before it even had its second president. Not only that, but from 1790 until the launch of the first ships of the U.S. Navy in 1797, the RCS was the only naval defense force the United States had.

That makes the Coast Guard the nation's oldest continuous sea-going service, although the Navy likes to point out that the Continental Navy, their predecessor, existed from 1775 to 1783. Since there was a 15-year gap where no Navy existed, which one of us ‘came first’ remains a hotly-debated issue.

4. The Coast Guard drove the landing craft on D-Day

And in every amphibious assault during World War II, actually. The Coast Guard’s experience piloting small boats in rough surf made them exceptionally qualified to take troops ashore. The landing craft themselves offered little protection, though, meaning each pilot had to make his runs dodging enemy fire (meanwhile, the Navy sat out of range in steel warships).

5. A Coast Guard officer once bluffed 300 Germans into surrendering a fort

Following the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944, the German army still held most of the critical port of Cherbourg, France. This included pockets of resistance throughout the city, a network of mines and boobytraps, and their main stronghold of Fort du Homet, where 300 Germans held 50 American paratroopers prisoner. Lieutenant Commander Quentin Walsh, a Coast Guard logistics officer and military planner, realized that unless the Germans were pushed out of Cherbourg, the Allies would be unable to bring in supplies to fuel the war effort. He took a team of troops and fought from house to house, capturing 400 enemy soldiers in the process. Even so, Walsh knew that unless Fort du Homet fell, the Germans would continue to shell the port. He pulled out a white scarf and walked up to the gates, where he told the Germans he had come to negotiate their surrender. With only 16 men accompanying him, Walsh convinced the Germans that he had them surrounded and that there was no escape. The Germans turned over their weapons, freed the American paratroopers, and gave up control of the fort.

To sum up...

The Coast Guard sails all over the world to carry out its many missions, and has done so since Washington was president. It may be the redheaded stepchild of the armed services, but it's full of sharp, innovative people who always find a way to get the job done. The Air Force may have airpower, and the Navy may have seapower, but the Coast Guard power.

Go Coast Guard.


  1. As someone who goes to the Academy, yes to that picture.

  2. AND we do it all with less people than the NYC police department.

  3. 100 mi^2 - that's a mighty big puddle!

  4. ^ You know nothing, Jon Snow...

  5. Shutup and squar your keystrokes cadet.