Happy birthday, Coast Guard!

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 8, 2005

Hey boaters, did you celebrate three days ago? Celebrate what you ask? Perhaps the birth of the greatest Jazz musician of all time – Louis Armstrong who would have been 104 on Aug. 4.

No, not that birthday (although Armstrong was the best of the best). Try another – how about America’s oldest maritime agency – the United States Coast Guard, which turned 215 last Thursday.

Each year, around this time, I like to use this column to reflect on a modern organization, now part of the Department of Homeland Security, that actually is the result of several combinations, mergers and moves including; the Revenue Cutter Service, the Lighthouse Service, the Steamboat Inspection Service, the Bureau of Navigation, and the Lifesaving Service. These multiple organizations and their responsibilities are a direct reflection of what the Coast Guard is today.

Email newsletter signup

All our readers need to do is watch a 24-hour news channel like Fox, the Weather Channel’s Storm Stories, or local stations such as WAVY to see the Coast Guard in action, saving lives with dramatic rescues or conducting harbor security patrols.

But what most people don’t realize is how widely spread the service is, including posting personnel to the Far East, Guam and the Arabian Gulf or the service’s size.

I remember one course I was teaching at the Joint Forces Staff College where I asked a student how big he thought the service was. The Air Force Major answered, &uot;100,000 strong, sir.&uot; I wish!

In reality according to the Personnel Statistics provided by Coast Guard Headquarters (G-WP) as of June 2005 we have 39,000 members on active duty, 8,100 Reserve members and 7,000 fulltime civilians. (Also remember the column I just did on the Coast Guard Auxiliary and their numbers). Now remember that there are over 360 ports and 95,000 miles of coastline, am I painting a picture of this extraordinary organization?

I have found over the past few years that the best way that I can honor the Coast Guard on its’ birthday is to give you some straight facts about wahat they do for the American Public on any given day.

Specifically, the Coast Guard will save 15 lives, assist 117 people in distress, conduct 90 search and rescue cases, protect $2.8 million in property, enforce 129 security zones, interdict and rescue 15 illegal migrants at sea, board 4 high interest vessels, board 192 vessels of law enforcement interest, board 122 large vessels for port safety checks, seize 71 pounds of marijuana and 662 pounds of cocaine with a street value of

$21.1 million, conduct 317 vessel safety checks and teach 63 boating safety courses, conduct 19 commercial fishing vessel safety exams, respond to 11 oil and hazardous chemical spills, process 280 mariner licenses and documents, service 140 aids to navigation, monitor the transit of 2,557 commercial ships through U.S. ports, investigate 20 vessel casualties involving collisions and groundings

In conclusion, I will leave you with one thought about the Coast Guard on its birthday. Each year the service traditionally receives congratulatory messages from the other services. I have kept one throughout the years. My favorite message on the Coast Guard Birthday came from the Commandant of The Marine Corps (ALMAR 307/98). In 1998, on the 208th anniversary, the message stated: &uot;Since 1790, the Coast Guard has steadfastly answered our nation’s every call, and through its long years of service, exemplified its own core values of honor, respect, and devotion to duty.

Whether ensuring maritime security, executing law enforcement operations, interdicting illegal drug trafficking, or conducting search and rescue operations, the Coast Guard has always distinguished itself and, through its conduct, set the very standard for courage, professionalism, and vigilance.

&uot;The Corps remains mindful of the selfless support rendered by the Coast Guard and well remembers the sacrifices of Coast Guardsmen like Signalman 1st Class Munro who was fatally wounded at Guadalcanal while aiding in the evacuation of trapped Marines. The nation and its Corps of Marines rest content, confident that that heroic spirit lives on in today’s Coast Guard.&uot;

What a great message….. HAPPY BIRTHDAY Coast Guard! Until next week….Boat Safe…and Boat Smart!

Joe DiRenzo, a Suffolk resident, is a member of the U.S. Coast Guard. Reach him at j.direnzo@charter.net