Happy Birthday, Coast Guard

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Ed Note: Suffolk News-Herald Boating Safety Column LCDR Joe DiRenzo joined hundreds of fellow Coast Guard members this past weekend at the service’s Integrated Support Command (ISC) Portsmouth, located just a few miles from the northern Suffolk border in Churchland. This commentary provides his view of the service’s 213th birthday.

Yesterday the U.S. Coast Guard celebrated its 213th birthday in celebrations around the country, from small bar-b-que at Small Boat Stations along the Mississippi, to a massive national celebration at Grand Haven Michigan dubbed, &uot;Coast Guard City USA.&uot;

Cutters at sea celebrate Coast Guard Day, Port Security units deployed to the Arabian Gulf celebrate Coast Guard day, even units stationed in Guam celebrate it. It is the one event each year that carries similar meaning to everyone connected to the service.

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The 4th of August is special to every member of the service, active, reserve, retired, auxiliary and civilian. It is on this day, back in 1790, that the fledgling Congress authorized the building of the first &uot;ten cutters&uot; which became the foundation of the Revenue Cutter Service.

The new nation needed to enforce tariffs and the Revenue Cutter Service was established to do just that.

Nowadays, we have come a long way since our humble beginning. We have grown to over 35,000 active-duty personnel and 8,000 reservists. In addition we find ourselves in a new department – Homeland Security, under a new secretary – Tom Ridge, with a renewed emphasis on port security while maintaining the service’s Search and Rescue tradition.

But why is such emphasis placed on the nation’s smallest service’s birthday?

Sure, the other Armed Services celebrate. Ever been to a Marine Corps Birthday Ball? They are incredible events, very polished, very professional…high on classic tradition. Ours is different.

To understand the tradition of the Coast Guard you need to look at the wide range of missions. Besides the new emphasis on Homeland Security we still have a deep-seated responsibility to search and rescue. Think of the history of the all African American LifeBoat Service crew at Pea Island. They put their lives on the line every day rescuing mariners in distress under conditions that were very demanding. Take a second and watch the blockbuster movie &uot;The Perfect Storm&uot; or read the daily paper. Our commitment to aiding mariners in distress has never been stronger. Our service takes time to celebrate these successes.

Besides Search and Rescue we enforce federal laws. On any given day we are on patrol in the Caribbean, and in the Eastern Pacific stopping human and narcotic smugglers. In New England and the Gulf of Alaska we enforce fisheries laws helping ensure that fish stocks continue to rebound from years of neglect.

Our commitment to the Marine Safety mission has never been stronger, nor more demanding. The tenets of the new Maritime Transportation Security Act, the new requirements for enhanced Port Security and the on-going need to inspect merchant vessels, including cruise ships, mesh with pollution response requirements to keep the service’s Marine Safety specialist incredibly busy. We celebrate their service on our birthday.

After reading all the above do you get the feeling that all the members of Team Coast, their families and friends, and frankly all of America have a lot to celebrate? I’d say so.

The modern day Coast Guard is actually the result of several mergers, transfers, and adaptations. Yes, we started as the Revenue Cutter Service, but in 1915 under an act of Congress the Revenue Cutter Service merged with the Life-Saving Service.

This was followed in 1939 when the Lighthouse Service was added moving the maintenance and operation of all these critical navigational aids to the service.

But we grew even more!

Following World War II, Capital Hill moved what was then called the &uot;Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation&uot; also to the Coast Guard. This meant that all merchant marine licensing and merchant vessel safety functions were now under the same service as the aids to navigation and lighthouses.

Our service’s history has added a new chapter this year with our service in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, both in the Arabian Gulf to back here at home. We deployed over 2,000 service members and 11 cutters including eight 110′ Island Class patrol boats. We supported Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection patrols and escorts, at a number of ports on both coasts and in the Gulf of Mexico, to ensure that war supplies were successfully protected during these critical on-loads.

More history is being written right now…which will provide even further success to celebrate in 2004. New Maritime Safety and Security teams are being commissioned, more emphasis is being placed on &uot;pushing the borders out&uot; to secure America’s 96,000 miles of coastline, we are adding more people and our partnership with other federal agencies and the Department of Defense gets stronger by the day.

Happy Birthday Coast Guard…..like the saying goes, &uot;small service…big mission!&uot;