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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.

Coast Guardsmen Earn Distinguished Flying Crosses, Air Medals

Four Coast Guardsmen in Full Dress Uniform

On Aug. 6, 2020, the U.S. Coast Guard presented helicopter crew members from Coast Guard Sector Humboldt Bay with the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal for a daring rescue in 2019 in California.

The pilot of the MH-65 Dolphin, Cmdr. Derek Schramel and aviation survival technician (rescue swimmer) Petty Officer 1st Class Graham McGinnis received the Distinguished Flying Cross. Their fellow crewmates, co-pilot Lt. j.g. Adam Ownbey and aviation maintenance technician Petty Officer 3rd Class Tyler Cook, received Air Medals. 

The crews rescued two injured firefighters who were unable to evacuate from a burning mountain during a wildfire in the early morning of Sept. 6, 2019. The U.S. Forest Service requested Coast Guard assistance in rescuing the firefighters who had been injured by falling rocks in the Trinity Alps Wilderness Area in Northern California.

The crew flew over the area in the early morning darkness as fires raged below them. They conducted hoist operations and a rescue swimmer was lowered and recovered the injured firefighters who had been struck by a “car-battery-sized rock” and had sustained a broken femur, head lacerations and neck injuries. The injured were flown to the Weaverville airport and transferred to ambulances.

The injured firefighters were extracted just 10 yards from the fire line in a clearing that fire crews had cut to enable the extraction. The victims were hoisted from more than 200 feet above the scorched earth.

A video of the rescue shows the rescue with fires burning under the crew. The audio is of flight mechanic and pilots coordinating aircraft movements; discussing hazards such as nearby trees, fire and smoke: and tracking progress of the rescue swimmer deployed to the ground to hoist the injured.

“It was just the best example of what we aspire to in naval aviation, in Coast Guard rescuing and in lifesaving operations,” said Rear Adm. Brian Penoyer, the Eleventh Coast Guard District commander. "Devotion to duty is embodied in this rescue by the aircrew’s decisions.”

These military medals aren't easy to earn. The Distinguished Flying Cross is the nation's highest award for extraordinary aerial achievement. As a valor decoration, it is awarded to recipients for heroism while participating in an aerial flight.

The Air Medal is a prestigious award that is presented to an armed forces member who has distinguished themselves by heroic or meritorious achievement in aerial flight.

According to the award citation, "the flight crew's outstanding airmanship and devotion to duty reflect great credit upon themselves and was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Coast Guard."