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Semper Paratus

Yesterday I wrote about veterans in general, but today I want to focus on my personal favorite branch of the United States Armed Forces - the U.S. Coast Guard. These guys start missions in conditions which would shut down a SEAL team, they fly into places with almost no advance information, forcing improvisation and ingenuity to be a regular part of every team leader's regular practice. Their missions range from military (Coasties have fought in World War 2, Vietnam, and the Iraq conflict) to drug interdiction to extensive short-notice and no-notice rescue operations. A coastie therefore must not only be ready to fight, but also have medical knowledge, understand the law with regard to arrests and contraband seizure, and be able to take charge of a wide range of crisis situations.

Like the other branches of service, the USCG has an academy to train officers. But unlike West Point, Annapolis, or the Air Force Academy, having a buddy in Congress won't help you get into the Coast Guard Academy; the Coasties take academy cadets strictly by competition. And the Coast Guard does not train for what might happen someday, somewhere - a coastie knows he will see action, over and over again lives will depend on him knowing what to do and carrying it through, and he will get less press for saving a dozen lives than a Marine gets for successfully dressing himself. Coasties head full speed into conditions that would make Rangers mess their pants, and they do it all the time. Some soldiers are tough, some are smart, some are capable, but you have to be all three to be a coastie.

Semper Paratus.


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Comments (21)

Nice tribute, if a little o... (Below threshold)

Nice tribute, if a little overstated. No reason to denigrate other elite services. (conditions that would shut down seal teams?)When you find very small units of Coasties in places such as the mountains of Afghanistan or the jungles of Central America surrounded by people who literally would skin them alive if they could, you might make a better argument.

Still, over time I have come to greater admiration of the Coast Guard. In fact I reached the point that I tried very hard to get my grandson to explore service with them, mainly because I thought the mission and small unit environment would appeal to him more than the other services. Unfortunately, he would rather surf, whitewater raft, and hang out.

Thanks for recognizing the ... (Below threshold)

Thanks for recognizing the USCG and its brave men and women. I spent 8 years in the CG Reserve in the late 50's early 60's and it was a great place to learn leadership and self discipline. Most people don't know that the Coast Guard operated a lot of the landing craft and suffered the highest per capita casualty rate of any of the Military services ln WWII. Thanks again.

We used to live near enough... (Below threshold)

We used to live near enough the USCG academy that we decided to visit it one Sunday afternoon. Since we were also visiting the Navy Exchange in Groton, across the river, my dad went in uniform.

You should have seen the poor plebe who was pulling guard duty on a Sunday afternoon in the museum, when an officer shows up unexpectedly.

After a few minutes, he recovered his composure.

I have never personally had to use their services, but I am glad they are there. And my little brother got a chance to take a cruise on the Barque Eagle, their training ship.

The Coast Guard is the only... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

The Coast Guard is the only branch of the military that's specifically exempt from the Posse Comitatus Act. As such, they are not only military in the full sense of that meaning, but also law enforcement. Hey, I've seen the movie.

SeparateFly Carrion

Oldflyer, it's sort of a tr... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Oldflyer, it's sort of a tradition between services to play down the other guys, though not too badly. And it's true what I wrote - weather is a big factor for SEAL teams, and there have been a couple occasions I know about, where CG teams were sent on missions at the same time that SF teams were told to stand down because the weather was "too dangerous".

I would not seriously suggest sending a CG team trained for rescue into a firefight, or pretend that coasties are better than every other service in all situations. But I do know that there are coasties who have done impossible things, things that no one else could have done, and it was not luck - they train for those things. For example, let's say your helicopter arrives just in time to see that the boat is going under, the engine room has completely flooded and you have maybe 30 seconds before the bow goes under. You have time for one pass with the loop and three people on the boat.

Waddaya do? One guy I know rode down and grabbed all three people in one pass, hooking their vests together with a tow line he took with him. Not exactly how the book says to do it, but he saved everybody and he'd planned for that possibility before, so when he saw it he already knew what he would do.

Coasties are everything I said, at least the ones who make it past the first year.

ps thanks oldflyer for ment... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

ps thanks oldflyer for mentioning the CG along with "other elite services".

My son is a Coastie, and sp... (Below threshold)

My son is a Coastie, and spent the last ten years as a navigator on a C-130. Several years ago on a Saturday I turned on the TV about noon and every station had coverage of the JFK Jr search. I called my son, who was off duty that day and said, "Sure are a lot of aircraft in the air." He replied, "I know what you're thinking, but we'd do it for you." He went on to explain that when someone goes down in an airplane they launch everything, because they are going to find them quick or not find them alive. And if something else comes up they can divert some of those resources to the new emergency. He also said that if nothing was found in three days, then it would become political.

In all the Katrina coverage I never heard anything about the helicopters flying at night, but my son and his crew circled New Orleans in the dark providing air traffic control for the helicopters. With their sensitive radar and cameras they were well equipped to direct the choppers to the people and warn them of obstacles.

It fitures that Google didn... (Below threshold)

It fitures that Google didn't originally remember the Coasties on Veterans' Day. Someone must have pointed it out to them, because they finally rectified that little omission some time later in the day. Stupid Google.

FIGURES!!! It FIGURES that ... (Below threshold)

FIGURES!!! It FIGURES that Google... etc. PIMF.

Geez DJ, wish I could have ... (Below threshold)

Geez DJ, wish I could have read your piece before I went to SFQC and 10th group.

G*d bless the puddle-jumper... (Below threshold)

G*d bless the puddle-jumpers! If it weren't for them who else would the Air Force make fun of? ;)

DJI agree with Oldfl... (Below threshold)

I agree with Oldflyer. Nice tribute but overstated. There is no single small unit act that another service can't do. The CSAR units of Air Force can do many of the rescues you talk about and do it under fire. SF A-teams can use a sling under a helicopter to extract the whole team in one pass using seconds to hook up. SF and SEAL teams usually have the luxury of being able to wait for better conditions but if needed they can deploy and operate in any weather and conditions. Infantry types live and operate in the worst conditions including hostile environments without the luxury of a comfortable bed to go to at nights.

The CG did pull me of a commercial fishing boat in Alaska once after an injury so I don't want to get into some of the jokes and stories bashing them. Praise them if you want but don't blow smoke up our backsides.

Ok, first: My uncle spent ... (Below threshold)

Ok, first: My uncle spent 4 years of his life chasing Japaneese subs in the Aelutians on a Coast Guard Cutter, whereas my dad, in the Navy, spent his entire service beyond training in Los Alamos, NM (yes he worked on the bomb).

Two: I have a fellow academic who went to the academy and outside of her years there she has spent no time at sea. The Coast Guard needs academics to teach at the academy.

Third (and finally): When I was younger I was on search and rescue in New Mexico. It was Airforce from Kirkland or Army from Sandia (same airport different bases)that supported us. One which included a very dangerous insertion (army IIRC). On the funny side, while I was watching this the little girl who we were looking for walked up to me and asked if I knew where her daddie was. Much better ending than when we retrieved an 18 year old floater from the Rio Grande.

I liked it. Just forwarded... (Below threshold)

I liked it. Just forwarded a copy to my son in the Coast Guard.

you have to go out...you do... (Below threshold)

you have to go out...you don't have to come back

the unofficial motto of the CG

In memory of Capt A.E. Carlson (a.k.a. Red)

USCG Auxiliary:The F... (Below threshold)
Mikey NTH:

USCG Auxiliary:
The Few
The Old
The Totally Unpaid

Well said! My grandfather w... (Below threshold)

Well said! My grandfather was on a USCG weather ship in the Aleutian Islands during WWII (USS Casper, PF-12) and they don't get nearly enough credit.

Your absolutely right Thatg... (Below threshold)

Your absolutely right Thatguy. Funny thing is that neither my dad nor my uncle talked about their service much. I learned my dad's story for people who where with him and still in Los ALamos as I grew up.

EVERYBODY, including his kids thought the my uncle patrolled harbors or something. When my aunt died (Conn College grad for those know New London) my dad and uncle started swapping war stories. Everybody knew it was time to shut up and listen. That's when we all (his children included) found out he patrolled the Aleutians.

Having flown in USAF CSAR i... (Below threshold)

Having flown in USAF CSAR in combat, worked collocated in remote sites with SOF, and finally USCG in the NW, perhaps I have a little more perspective than other posters.

Let me put it this way: the flyers, the mechs and swimmers in the USCG get to do a job that is at least as if not more dangerous when not getting shot at than USAF CSAR, SOF or SEALS do when they are getting shot at. And sometimes they do get shot at. They just don't have as many or as big guns to shoot back with. Which doesn't stop them from doing their job.

In a firefight I want SOF operators. In a rescue, I want the USCG. When I want my cable and IT to work in my hootch, and a head with hot showers, I call the USAF.

However, the ANG in Alaska ... (Below threshold)

However, the ANG in Alaska has the BEST CSAR unit there is. They don't count as regular USAF. I'll take them any time for combat rescue.

Agreed fully, DJ.I... (Below threshold)
Steve Schippert:

Agreed fully, DJ.

I've said before that I'd rather be dodging bullets and IED's in Fallujah than dangling from a helo to be dropped in the sea in the middle of a hurricane to save some poor schleps who would try to drown me to save themselves in panic.

Coast Guardsmen, you are the real men. The rest of us get to blow $^%! up and have fun doing it.

I don't want your job. Ever.






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