The United States Coast Guard (USCG) has two major missions, one of which is military in nature, while the other is related to law enforcement. It is one of the branches of the US military tasked with enforcing maritime law. It is able to conduct its charter both in domestic waters as well as in international waters. During peace, it functions under the Department of Homeland Security. However, when there is a war, the President or Congress can issue a directive that transfers the Coast Guard to the US Navy. This transfer has occurred two times. Once during the First World War and the second time during the Second World War.
The Coast Guard was established by a Congressional decree in the eighteenth century—the 4th of August, 1790 to be precise. Alexander Hamilton requested its creation, and when it was created it was known as the Revenue Marine. Alexander Hamilton was the Secretary of Treasury at the time. He was in charge of the Revenue Marine, which was task with ensuring the collection of custom duties at all the seaports. As the years rolled by, the Revenue Marine came to be called the U.S Revenue Cutter Service. By the 1860’s no one was using the name ‘Revenue Marine’.
The United States Coast Guard was born when the United States Revenue Cutter Service merged with the United States Life Saving Service. This occurred on the 28th of January, 1915. The Coast Guard at the time was still under the Treasury Department.
The USCG has fought in virtually every war that the United States has been involved with, right from the war in 1790 to the Afghanistan war. There are about 36,000 active duty personnel in the Coast Guard as of 2014, out of which more than 7,000 are civilians. If the US Coast Guard were a navy by itself, it would be the twelfth largest navy in the world.
The roles of the United States Coast Guard include:
- Maritime Homeland Security
- Maritime Law Enforcement
- Search and Rescue
- Maritime Environmental Protection
The United States Coast Guard has a decentralized organization. This organization burdens junior officers with a lot of responsibilities. However, the USCG has always been praised for its quick responses to emergencies and its ability to adapt to any kind of emergency. The USCG is known for its flexibility that has been recognized even by the press.
One mission that the United States Coast Guard is known for is Search and Rescue, however this isn’t necessarily its oldest mission. The USCG is the federal agency responsible for Search and Rescue operations at sea, while the United States Air Force is responsible for search and rescue operations on land. These two agencies work in tandem to ensure a coordinated effort in Search and Rescue. They also jointly train SAR planners.
The United States Coast Guard also runs the National Response Center, which is the only US facility that collects information concerning all forms of environmental spills in the US or any of its territories. They mostly collect and gather information concerning radiological, chemical, oil, biological or etiological incidences. They are also responsible for distributing these information to the Federal On Scene Coordinators.
The United States Coast Guard is a military service. Personnel of the USCG are governed by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. This means they are paid the same way members of other branches of the armed forces are paid. Before being transferred to the Department of Homeland Security by the directive of then President George W. Bush, the United States Cost Guard had been under the Department of Transportation. The USCG fought in World War II and participated in the D-Day landings. They fought in the Vietnam War. They also took part in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Aside from being a military service, the United States Coast Guard is also a law enforcement agency. This makes it different from other branches of the Armed Forces, which are prevented by the Posse Comitatus Act to function as a law enforcement agency. USCG personnel are also empowered to function as customs officers. Personnel are also entitled to carry a firearm, which they can carry on and off base.
A uniformed member of the USCG is referred to as a Coast Guardsman. This refers to both male and female uniformed officers. There are no medical officers in the USCG, neither are there chaplains. These services are rendered to the USCG by the US Navy.
Citizens who want to join the Coast Guard have to go through a four year period of training at the USCG Academy, which is located in Connecticut. This academy graduates about two hundred cadets every year. These cadets graduate with a degree as well as a commission as an ensign. This commission comes with a minimum of five year required active duty service in the Coast Guard. People who already have degrees may skip the USCG Academy and enter into the Officers Cadet School of the Coast Guard. This school is also located at the Academy. This Officers Cadet School is seventeen weeks long. Most graduates of this school are commissioned as ensigns, but those with graduate level degrees (such as a masters or a PhD) are commissioned as lieutenants. These gradaunds have to serve in the Coast Guard for a minimum of three years under active duty. Members of other branches of the armed forces who want to transfer to the USCG may be commissioned as an officer if they go through the Direct Commission Officer program.
Although all other branches of the armed forces have an ROTC program, the USCG does not. The core values of the United States Coast Guard include honor, respect, and devotion to duty. The USCG has a Motion Picture and Television Office that is tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that the public is aware of the Coast Guard’s functions and missions. This office cooperates with the entertainment industry to towards this end.