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Happy 82nd Birthday to the Coast Guard Reserves


On Feb. 19 the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve celebrates its birthday. While it is important to recognize the Coast Guard Reserve birthday, it is even more important to understand why the Coast Guard Reserve is important to military and maritime operations.

The Coast Guard Reserve is a flexible, responsive operational force that exists to support the Coast Guard roles of maritime homeland security, national defense (domestic and expeditionary), and domestic disaster operations. The U.S. Coast Guard depends on the Reserve force to be always ready to mobilize with critical competencies in boat operations, contingency planning and response, expeditionary warfare, marine safety, port security, law enforcement and mission support.

Reservists obtain and maintain proficiency and readiness through a combination of training and augmentation. By doing so, reserve forces achieve mobilization readiness, while providing increased capacity to the local command.

Coast Guard Reserve History

The Coast Guard Reserve was established by the passage of the Coast Guard Reserve and Auxiliary Act of February 19, 1941 which is why Feb. 19th is recognized as the Coast Guard Reserve birthday. That act also established the Coast Guard Auxiliary under its present name (the Auxiliary had originally been called the Coast Guard Reserve).

The new Coast Guard Reserve was modeled after the Naval Reserve as a military component, composed of two broad classifications: Regular Reservists and Temporary Reservists. Regular Reserve members served on active duty during World War II “for the duration,” while Temporary Reserve members consisted of volunteers and former Auxiliary members whose paid and unpaid services were still needed in a military capacity for coastal patrols and port security work.

On November 23, 1942, Congress enacted Public Law 773 establishing the Women Reserve as a branch of the Coast Guard. Members of this branch became known as SPARs, an acronym drawn from the Service motto, Semper Paratus, Always Ready. More than 92 percent of the 214,000 personnel who served in the Coast Guard during World War II were reservists, with an additional 125,000 personnel serving in the temporary reserve. They served in all Coast Guard mission areas.

Coast Guard Reserve Post-World War II

As we celebrate the Coast Guard Reserve birthday, it is important to note that at the conclusion of World War II, most Reservists were released to inactive duty or discharged. The Women’s Reserve was terminated in July 1947 but reestablished in August 1949. By 1950, funds were earmarked by Congress for the establishment of a paid drilling Reserve in support of the Coast Guard. The first organized Coast Guard Reserve unit was formed in Boston in October 1950, setting the framework of today’s Coast Guard Reserve. The Selected Reserve reached a peak post-WWII strength of 17,815 in 1969, during the Vietnam Conflict.

In the Spring of 1973, the Reserve exercised its first involuntary recall to support flood response operations in the Midwest. Some 134 Reservists were recalled. Between then and 1990, only one other involuntary recall was invoked—for the Mariel Boat Lift exodus from Cuba in 1980. The 1980s also included augmentation of the active component to enforce security zones for space shuttle operations in Florida, logging more than 5,900 person-days from 1981 to date. The Coast Guard Reserve birthday is a day to recall how the decade finished with major reserve augmentation for the massive cleanup operations in Alaska following the Exxon Valdez oil spill where 65 percent of personnel used in that operation came from the reserve.

The 1990s saw a growing demand for the Coast Guard’s unique domestic recall authority. The reserve has provided personnel to the active component to support 12 hurricane and six major flood operations, including Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Late that year, the Coast Guard also received authorization to recall reservists to respond to possible Y2K-related contingencies, but did not do so. Reservists volunteered for the 1999 search-and-recovery efforts following the crashes of a light plane piloted by John F. Kennedy Jr. and Egypt Air 990. During 2000, approximately 1,000 reservists served on active duty in support of Operation Sail. All of these notable events are worthy of reflection as we celebrate the Coast Guard Reserve birthday.

In the Coast Guard’s national defense role, 1,650 reservists, more than 15 percent of the selected reserve, participated in Operations Desert Shield/Storm. Reserve-staffed port security units also participated with the joint community in operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti. As we prepare to celebrate the Coast Guard Reserve birthday, they continue to participate in joint military exercises worldwide.

Sea Partners Program

One unique and highly successful Reserve-sponsored program, Sea Partners, has earned high marks around the country since its inception in 1994. Its primary objective has been to educate communities at large in developing awareness of marine pollution issues and improving compliance with marine environmental protection laws and regulations.

More than 300 Coast Guard reservists have participated in the Sea Partners campaign, in which teams of reservists are assigned to each of the 47 Coast Guard Marine Safety Offices across the country. New members are recruited through on-the-job or formal training at Coast Guard Marine Safety Offices.

Since June 1994, Sea Partners teams have reached more than 2 million individuals in personal contacts and many thousands more through print media, radio and television coverage. They have distributed more than a million pieces of printed literature on various marine pollution topics.

The popular Officer Snook campaign has educated hundreds of thousands of children on marine pollution prevention. Through the Sea Partners program, reservists coordinated numerous beach and shore cleanups around the country in fiscal year 2000. Working relationships have been established with community and local government groups, such as the North Carolina Big Sweep, the Dade County, FL Department of Environmental Resource Management and the Pacific Oil Spill Prevention Education Team. Even though it is the Coast Guard Reserve birthday it seems they are giving the nation gifts and not vice-verse.

The vision of the Coast Guard Reserve remains the same on the Coast Guard Reserve birthday. It is the Coast Guard’s only dedicated surge force and it is a contingency-based workforce, trained locally and deployed globally to meet Coast Guard mission requirements. And on the Coast Guard Reserve birthday the mission of the Coast Guard Reserve will continue to be to provide operationally capable and ready personnel to support Coast Guard surge and mobilization requirements in the Homeland and abroad.

U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary: A Brief History

US Coast Guard Auxiliary History

The US Coast Guard Auxiliary was established by Congress in 1939 under Title 14 U.S. Code, subsection 23. When the US Coast Guard Reserve was authorized by act of Congress in June 1939, the US Coast Guard was given a legislative mandate to use civilians to promote safety on and over the high seas and the nation’s navigable waters.

Two years later, on Feb. 19, Congress amended the 1939 act with passage of the Auxiliary and Reserve Act of 1941. Passage of this act designated the Coast Guard Reserve as a military branch of the active service, while the civilian section, formerly referred to as the Coast Guard Reserve, became the US Coast Guard Auxiliary.

When America entered World War II in December 1941, recruits poured into the US Coast Guard Auxiliary. In 1942 legislation allowed Auxiliarists to join the Coast Guard Reserve. Throughout the war, around 50,000 Auxiliarists were members of the Reserve. These reservists, and newly enrolled civilians, performed coastal defense and search and rescue missions. They patrolled bridges, piers, docks, and beaches. They also fought fires, made arrests, guided naval vessels, and conducted anti-submarine warfare. Their volunteer numbers allowed active-duty Coast Guard personnel to serve overseas.

By 1950 the four traditional US Coast Guard Auxiliary cornerstone missions were public education, operations, vessel examination, and fellowship. Each year, the public education program trains thousands of boaters in seamanship and basic boat piloting.

Trained and qualified crew members support Coast Guard missions by conducting search and rescue missions in their own boats. US Coast Guard Auxiliary pilots and air observation crews search for distressed boaters, water hazards, pollution spills, and ice-locked vessels. Communications watch standers handle distress calls at Coast Guard and Auxiliary radio stations. Vessel examiners conduct vessel safety checks on recreational vessels to ensure federally required equipment and systems are present and properly installed.

During the past decades, the US Coast Guard Auxiliary has grown in membership. In 1996, the Auxiliary’s role was expanded to allow members to assist in any Coast Guard mission, except direct law enforcement and military operations, as authorized by the commandant.

Since 9/11, members of the US Coast Guard Auxiliary have been integrated into the Department of Homeland Security and they have performed a variety of port security functions. As interest in recreational boating has increased over the past decades, the US Coast Guard Auxiliary has kept pace with boating trends. Members helped implement the provisions of the 1958 Federal Boating Act. In the 1970s, they formed flotillas in sole-state waters to meet local demands for water safety. They introduced new courses such as those for sailors and personal water craft operators as their numbers increased.

The US Coast Guard Auxiliary is the largest volunteer marine safety organization in the world and has fostered similar ones in foreign countries.

US Coast Guard Auxiliary Mission

The mission of the US Coast Guard Auxiliary is to promote and improve recreational boating safety, provide trained crews and facilities to augment the Coast Guard and enhance safety and security of ports, waterways, and coastal regions, and to support Coast Guard operational, administrative, and logistical requirements.

The US Coast Guard Auxiliary is the uniformed volunteer component of the US Coast Guard. The US Coast Guard Auxiliary is a force multiplier, working alongside of and supporting active duty and reserve component US Coast Guard units.

The US Coast Guard Auxiliary is responsible for safety and security patrols, search and rescue, mass casualty or disaster responses, pollution response and patrols, homeland security, recreational boating safety, commercial fishing and vessel exams, platforms for boarding parties, recruitment for all components of the US Coast Guard, and lastly, the US Coast Guard Auxiliary operates in any mission as directed by the commandant of the US Coast Guard or secretary of homeland security.

US Coast Guard Auxiliary Organization

The US Coast Guard Auxiliary has units in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Guam. Under the direct authority of the US Department of Homeland Security via the commandant of the US Coast Guard, the US Coast Guard Auxiliary is internally broken down into four organizational levels: Flotilla, Division, District and National.

US Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotillas

The Flotilla is the basic organizational unit of the US Coast Guard Auxiliary and is comprised of at least 15 qualified members who carry out the day-to-day missions of “Team Coast Guard.” Every US Coast Guard Auxiliary member is part of a Flotilla.

US Coast Guard Auxiliary Divisions

Flotillas in the same general geographic area are grouped into Divisions. The Division provides administrative, training and supervisory support to Flotillas and promotes district and national policy.

US Coast Guard Auxiliary Districts

Districts provide administrative and supervisory support to Divisions, promote policies of both the District commander and national committee.

US Coast Guard Auxiliary National Level

The national staff officers are responsible, along with the commandant, for the administration and policy-making for the entire US Coast Guard Auxiliary.

There are roughly 23,500 members of the US Coast Guard Auxiliary located in 793 community based units. The US Coast Guard Auxiliary contributes 3.8 million hours per year in support of the US Coast Guard. The US Coast Guard Auxiliary conducts classroom training, supports ramp and pier operations, and operates roughly 1,800 vessels, 160 aircraft, and 1,400 radio facilities.

Overall administration of the US Coast Guard Auxiliary is the responsibility of the Chief, Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety (BSX). District administration of the Auxiliary is the responsibility of the Director of Auxiliary (DPA) in each District. In addition, each Sector has a Sector Auxiliary Liaison Officer assigned as a collateral duty.

Happy 230th Birthday U.S. Coast Guard

Painting of US Coast Guard rescue diver saving woman in the the sea with Seahawk helicopter overhead

The U.S. Coast Guard celebrates 230 years of service to the nation August 4 and today, like most days, they will be busy impacting the lives of Americans through their missions.

Each day the Coast Guard investigates 45 search and rescue cases, saves 10 lives and more than $1.2 million in property, as well as seizing nearly 900 pounds of cocaine and more than 200 pounds of marijuana.

Yet because of its law enforcement and rescue missions, and the fact that it is a part of the Department of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard is often dismissed as a military service, and many incorrectly believe it is not a part of the U.S. military. While it is true that the Coast Guard is a part of the Department of Homeland Security and not the Department of Defense, it is officially a part of the U.S. military.

Title 14 U.S. Code states that “The Coast Guard as established January 28, 1915, shall be a military service and a branch of the armed forces of the United States at all times. The Coast Guard shall be a service in the Department of Homeland Security, except when operating as a service in the Navy.”   

Title 14 U.S. Code also states: “Upon the declaration of war if Congress so directs in the declaration or when the President directs, the Coast Guard shall operate as a service in the Navy, and shall so continue until the President, by Executive order, transfers the Coast Guard back to the Department of Homeland Security.”

The Coast Guard’s beginning can be traced to August 1789, when Congress created the Lighthouse Establishment. According to the Coast Guard, the U.S. government “accepted title to, and joined jurisdiction over, the 12 lighthouses then in existence, and provided that the necessary support, maintenance and repairs of all lighthouses, beacons, buoys and public piers erected, placed, or sunk before the passing of this act, at the entrance of, or within any bay, inlet, harbor, or port of the United States, for rendering the navigation thereof easy and safe, shall be defrayed out of the treasury of the United States.’ Prior to this time the lighthouses had been paid for, built and administered first by the colonies and then the states.”

A little less than a year later, on August 4, 1790, the U.S. Congress authorized the construction of 10 cutters known variously as the system of cuttersRevenue Service, and Revenue-Marine, it would officially be named the Revenue Cutter Service in 1863. The cutters were placed under the control of the Treasury Department to enforce federal tariff and trade laws and to prevent smuggling. August 4 became the official Coast Guard birthday.

In 1915 the service received its current name when the Revenue Cutter Service was merged with the Life-Saving Service, providing the nation with a maritime service dedicated to saving life at sea and enforcing the nation's maritime laws.

When the United States entered World War I, it sent the Coast Guard under the operational control of the U.S. Navy. In 1918, the Coast Guard cutter Tampa was attacked by a German submarine in Bristol Channel and the ship sank with all hands aboard; 111 Coast Guardsmen, four U.S. Navy sailors, and 16 passengers.

During World War II, the Coast Guard augmented the U.S. Navy and at Guadalcanal on Sept. 27, 1942, U.S. Coast Guard Signalman 1st Class Douglas Munro earned the Medal of Honor posthumously. He is the Coast Guard’s only recipient of the Medal of Honor.

Painting of US Coast Guard fighting in WWII landing boats.

Approximately 240,000 men and women served in the Coast Guard during WWII. More than 600 died in combat and almost 2,000 Coast Guardsmen were decorated for their service, six received the Navy Cross. The Coast Guard returned to the operational control of the Treasury Department in January 1946.

During the Korean War, the Coast Guard helped evacuate the Korean peninsula during the first North Korean attack. The Coast Guard also established several long-range navigation stations in Korea and Japan that assisted United Nations forces.

In 1967, the Coast Guard was transferred to the Department of Transportation and the Coast Guard was mobilized again. President Lyndon B. Johnson deployed Coast Guard vessels to the Vietnam War, and they conducted interdiction and combat missions. The Coast Guard also provided port security, Explosives Loading Detachments, installation and maintenance of aids-to-navigation, established long range navigation stations in both Vietnam and Thailand and Coast Guard pilots conducted search and rescue missions with the U.S. Air Force.

Roughly 8,000 Coast Guard personnel served in Vietnam, supporting both combat and traditional service missions. Seven members of the Coast Guard died in the Vietnam War and approximately 60 were wounded.

In August 1990, the Coast Guard was sent overseas for Operation Desert Shield to support the enforcement of United Nations sanctions. Later that month 550 members of the Coast Guard Reserve were called to active duty in support of Operation Desert Shield. This was the first involuntary overseas mobilization of the Coast Guard Reserve. By war’s end, more than 900 Coast Guard reservists would be called up.

In January 1991, the Coast Guard took 23 prisoners while patrolling oil platforms in the Persian Gulf and during Desert Storm Coast Guard aircraft flew environmental protection missions in the region when Iraq intentionally spilled oil into the ocean.

In 1999, the Coast Guard deployed to the Adriatic Sea in support of Operation Allied Force and Operation Noble Anvil. The Coast Guard provided surface surveillance and search and rescue response and force protection.

After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the Coast Guard was transferred from the Department of Transportation to the Department of Homeland Security in 2003.

During Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, the Coast Guard deployed cutters and primarily assisted in force protection and search and seizures of suspected smugglers in Iraqi and international waters. Coast Guard military advisers trained and mentored the Iraqi Navy and they provided technical assistance to Iraqi officials on the implementation of international port security standards and requirements. 

The Coast Guard sent Redeployment Assistance and Inspection Detachment teams to both Iraq and Afghanistan. The teams assisted the units of other services with the proper declaration, classification, labeling and packaging of container shipments as well as the inspection of containers for structural integrity to ensure each one is seaworthy to cut down on potential shipping problems.

In April 2004, Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan B. Bruckenthal, became the first Coast Guardsman to die in a combat zone since the Vietnam War. He was killed in a suicide boat attack on a Basra oil terminal off the coast of Iraq performing maritime security.

At the height its involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Coast Guard deployed more than 1,200 men and women, including about 500 reservists, 11 ships, four port-security units, law enforcement detachments, and other specialized teams and support staff in order to perform a wide range of operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, and the Persian Gulf.

When it is not at war, the Coast Guard is the primary federal agency responsible for maritime safety, security, and environmental stewardship in U.S. ports and waterways. The Coast Guard protects and defends more than 100,000 miles of U.S. coastline and inland waterways, and safeguards an economic zone encompassing 4.5 million square miles stretching from north of the Arctic Circle to south of the equator, from Puerto Rico to Guam, encompassing nine time zones.

In addition to its role as an Armed Service, the Coast Guard is a first responder and humanitarian service that provides aid to people in distress or impacted by disasters whether at sea or ashore. The Coast Guard is a member of the intelligence community and is a law enforcement and regulatory agency with broad legal authorities associated with maritime transportation, hazardous materials shipping, bridge administration, oil spill response, pilotage, and vessel construction and operation.

“Recently, the Coast Guard has been integral in overseeing the disembarkation of 250,000 from cruise ships to reduce risks under COVID-19 emergency,” U.S. Coast Guard Spokesperson Lt. Commander Brittany Panetta said. The outbreak of COVID-19 on cruise ships triggered the Coast Guard to enable 31 life-saving medevacs.

War and maritime service aside, two Coast Guard personnel have gone on to become NASA shuttle astronauts, Bruce Melnick and Daniel Burbank. Also, several Coast Guard members attended U.S. Navy SEAL training under a 2010 agreement between the Navy and Coast Guard. The program has since been discontinued.

As they celebrate their birthday, there are more than 42,000 members currently serving in the U.S. Coast Guard in a fleet of 243 Cutters, 201 fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, and more than 1,650 boats.