A Brief History
On January 28, 1915, an Act of Congress created the United States Coast Guard out of the combination of The Revenue Cutter Service and the US Life-Saving Service. This new branch of the military was placed under the Treasury Department, to be used by the Department of Defense in time of war. Today, this law enforcing and life saving maritime force is under the direction of the Department of Homeland Security, and can be transferred to the Department of the Navy as seen necessary by the President.
Roots of the Coast Guard go all the way back to 1790 when the Revenue Marine was formed to mainly enforce tariffs and other customs taxes and regulations, evolving into the Revenue Cutter Service. The US Life-Saving Service began in 1848 as a sort of combination private and government subsidized life saving service for coastal areas of the US. Life saving stations were eventually built along the coasts and increased spending and manpower was allocated by the Federal Government. The Secretary of the Treasury was in charge of the USLSS as well as the Revenue Cutter Service, so the 1915 merger seemed to make common sense.
Operated along the lines of a coastal naval force, the Coast Guard retains its mission of enforcing customs and securing our borders, intercepting smugglers and infiltrators, performing search and rescue of airplanes and ships lost at sea, enforcing fisheries and environmental laws, as well as the security of our nation’s sea ports. Anti-terrorist training and missions have become commonplace. In time of war the Coast Guard may be deployed overseas as well as in territorial waters and has performed anti-submarine duties as well as surface warfare and enforcement.
Consisting of over 36,000 active duty and over 7000 reservists, the Coast Guard counts among its members an additional 7000 civilian employees and nearly 30,000 auxiliaries. With an impressive force of 287 cutters (small warships), 1500+ boats, and 187 aircraft, the US Coast Guard would rank as the 12th largest naval force in the world if it were a national navy. Many of the ships designated as “cutters” are also capable of performing as ice breaking ships. Others are specialized as towing vessels (tugs) and buoy tenders. The largest of these cutters are about the equivalent of a naval frigate or destroyer, though not as heavily armed.
With a motto of Semper Paratus (always ready), the Coast Guard is on watch 24/7 and ready to spring into action to save lives, enforce the law or combat the nation’s enemies. In its original forms and throughout the nation’s history the Coast Guard has fought in every war the US has been involved in, including the recent Middle Eastern wars. In 2014 alone, the Coast Guard saved over 3400 lives. The total number of sailors, passengers, and aircrew saved over the years must be in incredibly large number. As with the Air Force, Army, and Navy/Marines, the Coast Guard also has a service academy, located in New London, Connecticut, with an enrollment of almost 900.
Question for students (and subscribers): Do you have any tales to tell about service in or crossing paths with the US Coast Guard? If so, please share those experiences with us and your fellow readers in the comments section below this article.
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