Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Five MORE Awesome Facts About the Coast Guard

The Coast Guard is a misunderstood service. We get called water police, shallow-water sailors, or puddle pirates. And while all of those are accurate, they’re not the whole story.

Those of you who read my original post – Five Awesome Facts About The Coast Guard – may recall that the Coast Guard is one of the five branches of the U.S. military. It’s responsible for a variety of important jobs, ranging from maritime law enforcement, to drug interdiction, to search and rescue, to maintaining buoys and lighthouses.

It’s left us with a lot on our plates.
In the end, though, doing all of these different jobs has made the Coast Guard into a very versatile service. It’s given us the opportunity to go a lot of places and play a lot of roles most people don’t expect. Whether we're heading into a raging storm or dangerous combat zone, we'll go wherever it takes to get the job done.

To give you some examples, I made another list.


1. There are Coast Guard astronauts

When you think about it, being in orbit is kind of like being off the coast: you can see land, but you can’t get back to it without getting eaten by sharks exploding in a vacuum. Okay, so it’s not a perfect analogy. But the Coast Guard has nevertheless fielded two NASA astronauts, who crewed the Space Shuttle and International Space Station. They credit their success in space to their unique experiences in the Coast Guard: working with small crews in tight quarters, solving problems using limited resources, and learning to fight off large, tentacled monsters that threaten to destroy your vessel.

2. The Coast Guard holds the record for longest overseas deployment

In 1952, at the start of the Cold War, the Coast Guard teamed up with the State Department to launch Coast Guard Cutter COURIER, a converted military cargo vessel housing the largest broadcast antenna ever placed on a ship. COURIER spent twelve years operating in the waters around the Greek island of Rhodes, never once returning to a U.S. port. She broadcasted news reports, jazz music, and cultural information to the citizens of the Soviet Bloc, helping to pierce the Iron Curtain and provide an alternative to Soviet propaganda.

COURIER so frustrated the USSR’s leaders that they actually threatened to send submarines to sink her. None ever succeeded - but maybe they just had a soft spot for jazz.

3. The Coast Guard enforced the oil embargo on Iraq

When the U.N. placed an embargo on Iraq following the Persian Gulf War, the Iraqi government started sending smuggling ships to run oil to Iran. The money from this illicit trade funded the rearming of Saddam Hussein’s military as well as filled his personal bank account. Meanwhile, the Navy lacked the specialized training and authority to board and capture vessels in peacetime.

So, they called in the Coast Guard. Leveraging 200 years of experience tracking down smugglers, Coast Guard teams operating from Navy ships used grappling hooks and disabling fire to board and capture oil runners on their way to Iran. This prevented billions of dollars of oil from falling into the wrong hands, and put a huge dent in criminal smuggling operations.

That’s what the Coast Guard does, though. When we get the call – even on the darkest nights or in the stormiest seas – we swoop in with our grappling hooks and utility belts, to fight crime and save lives.

We’re pretty much Batman.

4. The Navy once used us in their recruiting poster

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. A Navy helicopter crewman stares wistfully out across the flooded streets of New Orleans, knowing he’s done his part to save lives. At the bottom of the poster, a caption urges you to join the Navy, where you can “provide aid to the victims of natural disasters” and “fight sea piracy.” Sounds pretty cool, huh?

Except it’s not a Navy helicopter crewman, or even a Navy helicopter. It’s a Coast Guard petty officer, riding in a Coast Guard helicopter, doing Coast Guard things.

Now, I don’t want to fault the Navy too much. They play a huge role in disaster relief efforts, like the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia. But seriously, Navy: you have aircraft carriers, jet fighters, and submarines, yet you decided to skip all of those things and use a picture of one of our guys, in one of our helicopters, to advertise yourselves?

Thanks. We love that you realize how cool we are.

5. The Coast Guard helped create the Navy SEALs

Alright, I just ribbed the Navy for using our missions to highlight theirs, so I’m going to take a moment to rib (RHIB?) myself and acknowledge how cool the Navy’s missions are. Because nothing beats the Navy SEALs. But did you know the Coast Guard played a major role in developing the techniques and tactics that the SEALs are based on? (Yes you did, because I told you in the title of this section.)

During the Second World War, the Office of Strategic Services (forerunner to the CIA) recognized the need for maritime intelligence-gathering, infiltration, and covert operations to combat Axis forces. What it created was the OSS Maritime Unit: a special operations cell dedicated to developing, testing, and executing covert warfare missions at sea. Of the 226 men assigned to the unit, roughly a third were Coast Guard. The OSS specifically recruited them, citing their skills in small-boat handling, swimming, and communications as being vital to the success of the program. Following their training, the members of the Maritime Unit deployed to Europe and Asia to carry out covert operations on behalf of the Allies.

The methods, tactics, and tools developed by these covert pioneers would later provide the basis for the Navy SEALs, as well as all combat swimmers. In recognition of their contributions, in 1998, the Special Operations Command inducted the unit’s members as honorary members of the Special Forces. And, to make the circle complete, in 2010, two Coasties became the first non-Navy personnel to complete SEAL training and become full-fledged SEALs.

That's pretty awesome, no matter who you are. (Well, unless you're a terrorist. But I don't think many of my readers are.)

As I said at the start, the Coast Guard is a misunderstood service. We get called puddle pirates and shallow-water sailors because so much of our work takes place close to shore. Some people think this makes us a weak service, but the truth is, the shoals are the most dangerous part of the ocean. The skills we developed after all those years of working right up against the rocks are the same skills that make us an indispensable member of the Armed Forces.

Besides, have you ever been to the middle of the ocean? Not a lot happens out there. If you want action, come to the puddle.

Go Coast Guard.

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  1. One other fact: It only takes one Coastie to turn an entire US Navy Destroyer into a CG Law Enforcement platform.


  2. I love that part about the Navy Seals. Back during the first Gulf war, when George W. Bush's father was President, my CG Reserve Unit from Louisville, Ky was sent to Denver Colorado for Nuclear and Chemical warfare training. We were the first CG Reserve unit ever to receive this type of training. (Sounds crazy, I know, but it's true.) I gave our unit the nick-name, Coast Guard "Otters". I told all my friends that the Otters were a Top Secret unit, which is why nobody ever heard of them, and that we were so bad that we actually trained the Navy Seals. Then, while I was doing BTM training in Petaluma in 2003, the Otters returned to action. Thanks for confirming that the CG Otters were responsible for the existence of the Seals.

  3. Except they are taking away our helicopters away leaving the closest protection for tourists and fishermen over an hour away from our frigid waters.

  4. THANKS SO MUCH FOR POSTING THIS INFORMATION..........too many times 'we the people' forget how important and what great things our COAST GUARDS accomplish.