Happy 220th Birthday to the United States Coast Guard!

By Lieutenant Colonel Richard Weaver, U.S. Africa Command commandant

“A few armed vessels, judiciously stationed at the entrances of our ports, might at a small expense be made useful sentinels of the laws.” – Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, in Federalist No. 12, The Utility of the Union in Respect to Revenue, From the New York Packet, November 27, 1787.  Earliest recorded reference to what would become the U.S. Coast Guard.

Hamilton’s vision became reality when on August 4th, 1790 the First Congress of the United States established a small maritime law enforcement agency to assist in collecting the new Nation’s customs duties.  For the next eight years, this Revenue Marine (later called the Revenue Cutter Service) was the Nation’s only naval force and thus was soon assigned military duties.  Over time, the Revenue Cutter Service either merged with or absorbed other federal agencies (joining the U. S. Lifesaving Service in 1915 to form the modern-day Coast Guard).  The Service acquired new responsibilities based upon its ability to perform them with existing assets and minimal disruption to its other duties.  In some cases, the Service absorbed other agencies because their maritime responsibilities were seen as intersecting with or complementing its own.  The result is today’s U.S. Coast Guard-a unique force that carries out an array of civil and military responsibilities touching almost every facet of the maritime environment of the United States.

The Coast Guard presence at AFRICOM has grown from one officer assigned in 2007 to the current complement of 8 personnel assigned to various elements of the AFRICOM staff.

 Coast Guard International Engagement? – People are often surprised when they find the U.S. Coast Guard performing duties in places far from the U.S. coast.  But increasingly, the Coast Guard must accomplish its roles and missions through international activity.  This reflects our Nation’s global security interests as well as the integration of our maritime interests within the global system of trade, finance, information, law, and people.

The Coast Guard offers three key advantages in international engagement: 

Capabilities relevant to all coastal nations – Many of the world’s navies and coast guards have a mix of military, law enforcement, resource protection, and humanitarian functions very similar to those of the Coast Guard.  A common constabulary and multi-mission nature promotes instant understanding and interoperability and makes us a valued partner for many naval and maritime forces.  The Coast Guard has a long history of providing training and support to maritime forces around the world.

Experience in whole-of-government solutions – Building effective maritime governance requires engagement beyond navies and coast guards.  It requires integrated efforts across agencies and ministries, as well as private sector commitment.  The Coast Guard has this expertise by virtue of its broad statutory missions, authorities, and civil responsibilities; membership in the intelligence community; and strong partnerships with industry.  The Service routinely engages other nations through multiple ministries and can offer a model maritime code that countries can use to improve their laws and regulations.  It also finds common purpose in multi-national forums and institutions, such as the International Maritime Organization, helping advance global standards for shipping, waterways, and port facilities.

Acceptable Presence – Because of the Coast Guard’s unique character, many countries routinely accept or request Coast Guard presence for promoting maritime safety, security, and stewardship, and developing local capabilities.  The Service’s blend of military and civil duties allows interaction at exactly the level requested, and a humanitarian reputation makes for a welcome presence in many regions and circumstances.  This characteristic of the Coast Guard reflects over two centuries of maritime service, and is sustained today through the enduring multi-mission professionalism and core values of Coast Guard men and women.

To read more about the exciting history or missions of the U. S. Coast Guard, you can refer to Coast Guard Publication 1 located at: http://www.uscg.mil/doctrine/CGPub/Pub_1.pdf

Semper Paratus!

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