Our busiest Naval service is the product of years of amalgamations of independent sea-going services
For almost 200-yrs, the Coast Guard was part of the Treasury Department. On 1 April 1967 it was transferred to the Department of Transportation. On 25 February 2003 another major change took place when the Coast Guard was transferred to the newly created Department of Homeland Security. This most recent shift came in the aftermath of the events of 11 September 2001, when many measures were taken to better protect the United States. The US Congress authorized the formation of the Department of Homeland Security and a central element of this major reorganization move was the incorporation of the United States Coast Guard as a major component of the new department.
As far as the US Coast Guard was concerned, it was indeed a revolutionary move, and called for rapid mobilization. Adaptive behavior by all its personnel was essential to carry out a fast and efficient transition. Never more were the core values of the Coast Guard called into play: Honor, Respect, and Devotion to Duty became the driving force in reshaping the Coast Guard to fit its new mission.
Honor resonates from the basis of absolute integrity captured in the words "We do the right thing because it's the right thing to do at all times." Respect amplifies the dignity and value of the people that are served, and Devotion to Duty heralds the Coast Guard's loyalty and accountability to the public trust that makes possible the dedication to the five elements of the Coast Guard's mission.
The USCG's Mission:
* National Defense
* Maritime Security
* Protection of Natural Resources
* Maritime Safety
* Maritime Mobility
The mission elements are in turn supported by the five major roles and the eleven statutory roles of the US Coast Guard.
Five Major Roles of the USCG
* Maritime Homeland Security
* Maritime Law Enforcement
* Search & Rescue
* Maritime Environmental Protection
* Maintenance of River, International and Offshore Aids to Navigation
Eleven Specific Statutory Roles of the USCG
* Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security
* Counter Drug Law Enforcement
* Migrant Interdiction
* Other Law Enforcement (foreign fisheries)
* Living Marine Resources (domestic fisheries)
* Marine (maritime) Safety
* Marine (maritime) Environmental Protection
* Ice Operations
* Aids to Navigation
* Defense Readiness
* Marine (maritime) Environmental Response
With such a formidable assignment one could readily suspect that somehow the Coast Guard has been over committed and could not possibly deliver quality services when and where they are called for. However, one need only look at the Coast Guard's rich history over the centuries to understand that they certainly could, and would live up to their motto Semper Paratus (Always Prepared) without fail. And yet it begs the question of how one Service could develop the depth, character and flexibility to carry out such an expansive assignment.
To best answer this question calls for delving into the past to see how the Coast Guard's capabilities were shaped, grown, and evolved over the years. Today's Coast Guard is made up of a number of diverse organizations that synergistically contribute to making the whole greater that the sum of its parts. One might draw an analogy to the formation of metals and alloys. Science tells us that the compounding of metals imparts superior characteristics to the end product. Think of what copper would be without tin or zinc, or steel without carbon or molybdenum. The US Coast Guard closely parallels the creation of metallic alloys in that each component added over the years has enhanced strength and flexibility.
On 4 August 1790, the vision of Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton resulted in Congress authorizing the creation of the Revenue Cutter Marine Service (RCMS), America's oldest maritime service. They indeed had their work cut out for them given the vastness of the North American continent and its thousands of miles of shoreline. The maritime prayer Oh God thy sea is so great and my boat so small," perhaps best captures the scope of their challenge.
Meanwhile, one year earlier on 9 August 1789, the fledgling US Congress enacted its ninth official piece of legislation by the creation of the US Lighthouse Service. Set on a parallel course of service, the USLHS spanned 150-yrs of independent operation before being amalgamated into the service we know today as the US Coast Guard in 1939. There will be plenty more on this later in the article.
As an arm of the US Treasury Department, the original mission of the RCMS was to protect the revenue of the new nation by deterring smugglers and enforcing the customs and smuggling laws. Smuggling was widely tolerated in colonial America because it ujidermined the much-hated tariffs imposed by England. Even such noted persons like John Hancock played a hand in this activity. However once the new republic became dependent of the tarins it levied on imports, something had to be done to curtail the commonplace practice.
When the Tariff Act of 1789 failed to bring in the anticipated revenue, Secretary Hamilton proposed "a system of revenue cutters to deter smuggling." Thus came into being the new Service with the deployment of ten cutters being ordered by the government. The largest cutter being the two-masted schooner Massachusetts launched in Newburyport, Massachusetts in 1791. Secretary Hamilton's advice to the captains of the new service was "to patrol with vigilance and firmness, marked with prudence, moderation, and good temper."
Besides their regular antismuggling patrols, the new service saw engagements during the quasiwar with France (1798-1801) with the Revenue Marine fighting alongside the US Navy. In 1797, with British and French privateers harassing American vessels on the high seas, Congress authorized President Adams to use the cutters as a separate system of defense. The following year, Congress ordered the Revenue Cutter Service to cooperate with the newly formed US Navy in times of war, or when so directed by the president. This mandate is still in force today.
As early as 1794, the Revenue Cutter Service began intercepting slave ships. Then in 1807, the Revenue Cutters were assigned to enforce the very unpopular Embargo Act of 1807 which outlawed nearly all European trade through American ports. With much relief the act was repealed later in 1807.
During the War of 1812, the RCMS was placed under the command of the US Navy and saw considerable action for its duration. With the advent of peace, the Cutters resumed their regular duties which were expanded to include protection of American shipping from pirates and the intercepting of slave runners.
In 1832, Secretary of the Treasury Louis McClain issued an order for the Revenue Cutter Marine Service to conduct winter cruises to assist mariners in need. Congress made this practice an official part of regulations in 1837. Thus began the life saving mission that the US Coast Guard would be best known for worldwide.
The Mexican-American War (1846-1848) again saw the Revenue Cutters placed under the command of the US Navy where their deployment was crucial for shallow-water amphibious operation.
On 11 April 1861, the Revenue Cutter Harriet Lane fired the first shots of the maritime conflict in the American Civil War by firing across the bow of the Confederate Steamer Nashville as she tried to enter Charleston harbor during the bombardment of Fort Sumter. Revenue Cutters served under the command of the US Navy for the duration of the conflict.
Although the Revenue Marine was first envisioned as a force of waterborne tax collectors, the ability to conduct many different divergent missions, some simultaneously, became the hallmark of the service. In all cases where they were employed, before and during the Civil War, the Revenue Cutter captains and their crews proved their versatility and utility to the nation. By their example, they laid the groundwork for the eventual incorporation of the Revenue Cutter service, the Lighthouse Service, the Lifesaving Service, and the Steamship Inspection Bureau into the United States Coast Guard.
The Revenue Cutters saw yet a further expansion of their duties when in 1867 the United States purchased Alaska and they began their assignment patrolling for smugglers, making surveys, locating fishing banks, and collecting specimens for the Smithsonian Institute.
On 18 June 1878, at the end of the Civil War Reconstruction period, Congress passed the Posse Comitatus Act with the intention of severely limiting the powers of the federal government to use the rnilitary for law enforcement. The law specifically prohibits most members of the Federal uniformed services from exercising nominally state law enforcement activities, as well as police or peace officer powers that maintain law and order on nonfederal property. The statute generally prohibits military units and units of the state national guard under federal authority from acting in a law enforcement capacity within the United States except where expressly authorized by the constitution or congress. It should be noted that The Revenue Cutter Service (and today the US Coast Guard) was exempt from this act.
The Revenue Cutter Service took on another vital role in 1914. After the Wtanic disaster of 1912, the US Navy was assigned the task of patrolling the vast Grand Banks for icebergs. Within a year, it became evident that the Navy's fleet couldn't afford to spare ships for this assignment and it became the responsibility of the Revenue Cutter Service. In 1914, the cutters Senaca and Marni were dispatched to keep close watch on the iceberg-laden waters where so many souls had perished. The International Ice Patrol was based at the Coast Guard Research and Development Center in Groton, Connecticut. The members of the ice reconnaissance team, in later years, observed ice movement from a HC-130 aircraft worked out of Newfoundland. Monitoring the location and movements of icebergs is paramount to safe sea craft travel in the shipping lanes between North America and Europe. Given that maritime safety is one of the Coast Guard's key missions they were certainly the right people for the job.
Returning to 1789 brings us back to the creation of the United States Lighthouse Service (USLHS). At the end of the American Revolution, twelve colonial-era lighthouses remained in the hands of the individual states during the period of confederation, with additional lighthouses being erected as the needs arose. On 9 August 1789, President Washington signed into law an Act of the US Congress which provided that the individual states turn over control and operation of all existing lighthouses to the federal government. The Secretary of the Treasury assumed responsibility of all aids to navigation with the creation of the USLHS.
The growth of this new service kept pace with the growth of the new nation so that by 1822, 70 light houses were in operation. Twenty-years later, the number increased to 256 and by 1852, the number stood at 331 with 42 light ships also in service.
Steven Pleasonton is a name that stands out from the early days of the USLHS. Pleasonton was its commissioner from 1820 to 1852. His tenure in office was unfortunately characterized by the fact that once he adopted a standard operating procedure or put into place the use of a new technology, he liked them to be set in stone. For example, the French scientist Augustine Fresnel invented a new lens in 1822 which proved to be significantly superior to the Argand lamp used in American Lighthouses. Congress was being bombarded by mariner's complaints on the inferiority of how current lighthouses performed, and ultimately had to force Pleasonton to test the Fresnel lens. Even after highly successful tests, the new Fresnel lens was not officially adopted in this country until the administration and oversight of navigational aids was taken out of Pleasonton's hands and assigned to the newly created Lighthouse Board in 1852. With the approval of Congress, the Board moved swiftly to apply the new technology and by 1861, all lighthouses had been upgraded. From then on, the USLHS embraced the power and safety advantages of new technology and made sure they were put into use expeditiously.
The Board prescribed uniform color schemes for buoys, ranges, and day markers and the buoy system was standardized throughout the United States. The Board also struggled to eliminate politics from its activities and slowly the USLHS became a professional career agency. The Civil Reform Acts of 1871 and 1873 further advanced this goal.
During its 58-yrs of operation, the US Lighthouse Board accomplished all it set out to do and by 1910, there were nearly 12,000 aids to navigation in the United States. During this same year, Congress again stepped in with an eye on adding civilian character to the operation. The Bureau of Lighthouses was established in 1910 under the Secretary of Commerce. The legislation authorizing this referred to the Bureau as the US Lighthouse Service (USLHS). The administration of the US Lighthouse Board had been deemed cumbersome and thus was abolished.
By the advent of World War I, there were nearly 24,000 aids to navigation in place and rapid advances in technology were frequent. Radio beacons, automated lights, automatic bulb changers, photoelectric alarms, and improved batteries were among some of the adopted innovations.
In 1939, the USLHS was incorporated into the US Coast Guard. It's important however to weave the details of the two other government entities that ultimately made up the amalgam that we call the US Coast Guard today into this history.
The first is the US Steamboat Inspection Service. On 14 August 1807, Robert Fulton first demonstrated the practicality of using a steam engine to propel the Clermont on the Hudson River in New York. The years that followed saw unprecedented growth in the application of this new technology and with it a series of disasters that Congress could not ignore. Safety inspection of US-flagged steampowered vessels had been authorized, but these laws proved to be ineffective. Congress hesitated to pass adequate safety legislation for fear of interfering with the growing steamboat industry which played a big part in the country's economic growth and development. On 7 July 1838, Congress did however pass a law written to "provide better security of the lives of passengers on board vessels propelled in whole or in part by steam." The law was enforced by the Justice Department but this legislation again fell short and steamboat disasters increased in volume and severity.
The number of steamboat disasters between 1847 and 1852 reached such an darming level that serious action was the only option. On 30 May 1852, the Steamboat Act was passed and enforcement of its regulations was delegated to the Treasury Department. Under this law, federal maritime inspections were formally organized and geographic regions were assigned to nine supervisory inspectors. This law required steam boilers to have safety valves and made hydrostatic testing of boilers mandatory. It also required that pilots and engineers be licensed by local inspectors. Although the legislation appeared to have some impact, the exemption of freight boats, ferries, tugboats, and towboats allowed for even more severe disasters and loss of life.
On 25 February 1871, Congress passed another act which significantly bolstered the Steamboat Act. This act not only provided a Marine Safety Code, it also resulted in the formal creation of the US Steamboat Inspection Service. This new sweeping legislation was designed to protect crew and passengers and it applied to all steam vessels. Under the direction of Secretary of the Treasure, a Supervisory Inspector General position was created. The Board of Supervisory Inspectors was empowered to draft and require adherence to nautical rules of the road.
On 14 February 1903, congressional action transferred the Steamboat Inspection Service to the newly created Department of Commerce and Labor. After the 1913 split of this department, the Department of Commerce provided oversight to the Steamboat Inspection Service. In June of 1932, the Steamboat Inspection Service merged with the Bureau of Navigation and was renamed the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation. The background story of the Bureau of Navigation is that it was created in 1844 to oversee the regulation of construction, equipping, operation, inspection, safety, and documentation of US merchant vessels. It also investigated marine accidents and casualties, collected tonnage taxes and other navigation fees, and examined certified and licensed merchant-vessel sailors.
Congress took to the seas again when it passed The Motorboat Act of 1940. It was enacted to cover safety requirements for every vessel less than 65-ft in length that was propelled by machinery. In addition to covering safety equipment, running lights, and reckless or negligent operation, this law gave the Bureau of Maine Inspection and Navigation the authority to examine the operators of these boats and issue licenses provided they carried passengers for hire.
On 28 February 1942, as a wartime measure, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9083 - Redistribution of Maritime Functions. This meant that the functions of the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation were temporarily transfeiTed to the Bureau of Customs and the US Coast Guard. The Bureau of Customs took over all functions pertaining to the registry, enrollment, and licensing of vessels. The US Coast Guard became responsible for duties pertaining to merchant-vessel inspection, safety of life at sea and merchant-vessel personnel. This transfer was made permanent on 16 July 1946 with Reorganization Plan #3. One of President Truman's goals with this plan was to "eliminate overlapping and duplication of effort" and as a result, the Bureau of Navigation and Steamboat Inspection was officially abolished with all functions being absorbed by the Bureau of Customs and the Coast Guard. This marked the first time in the nation's history that all functions of maritime safety came under one agency - the US Coast Guard.
There is one more link in the chain we today call the US Coast Guard. This link dates back to the mid- 1800s and was known as the US Life-Saving Service (USLSS).
The 14th of August 1848 marked the formal entrance of the federal government's involvement in the lifesaving business with the signing of the Newell Act in which Congress established un-manned life saving stations along the New Jersey coast. That same year, the Massachusetts Humane Society also received funds from Congress for life-saving stations along the Massachusetts Coast. Between 1848 and 1854, several other stations were built and were adrninistered by the Revenue Cutter service. Lacking a cohesive system of management, they were run by volunteer crews much like a volunteer fire department.
Still not recognized as an official service, the system of stations languished until 1871 when Congress finally appropriated funds to operate the stations and allow the Secretary of the Treasury to employ full-time crews. In 1874, stations were added along the Coast of Maine, Cape Cod, The Outer Banks of North Carolina, and Port Aransas, Texas.
In 1878, the network of life-saving stations was formally organized as a separate agency of the Treasury Department and was called the US Life Saving Service. By this time, it included stations on the Great Lakes. By 1900, most stations were being manned year 'round and their exploits were clearly imbedded into the coastal culture of the United States. By 1915, there were 270 stations covering the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, and the Great Lakes coasts. During its life, the USLSS was responsible in aiding over 178,000 people in peril on the water. Their motto was "You have to go out but you don't have to come back."
On 28 January 1915, President Wilson signed the "Act to Create the US Coast Guard" merging the Life Saving Service with the Revenue Cutter Marine Service. It's important to note that during WWI, the Coast Guard was again made part of the Navy for the duration of the war.
You'll remember that the United States Light House Service was created when President Washington was in office. It remained a separate entity until 9 May 1939 when President Roosevelt announced a sweeping reorganization plan under which the Bureau of Lighthouses would be transferred from the Department of Commerce to the Department of Treasury for consolidation within the the US Coast Guard. With the approval of Congress, it became official on 1 July 1939. The transfer meant that the civilian USLHS employees would be moved into a military organization. Lighthouse personnel were given the option of being brought into the Coast Guard or remain as civilians and retire immediately. About half of the personnel chose the military Coast Guard route. The merger netted a savings of almost 10% of the annual USLHS budget.
Roosevelt's reorganization may have appeared to have all the trappings of a routine administrative procedure, but not when the events of that time are considered. With what was taking place in Europe, President Roosevelt was anxious to put the country on a wartime footing and, at the same time, help England. Stymied by both the Neutrality Acts which governed his position and a lack of funds to carry out any measures that could strengthen America's position, Roosevelt took a different approach. Very quietly, he re-allocated a large piece of the Lighthouse Service's budget to strengthen the Coast Guard. In addition, the USLHS had a fleet of 64 buoy tenders which were subsequently armed and became Coast Guard Cutters. The USLHS had a budget that many considered to be bloated. With the takeover, it allowed Roosevelt to spend monies and bridge the gap until Lend-Lease became a reality in 1941. Lend-Lease was the program under which the United States of America supplied the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, China, France, and other Allied nations with vast amounts of war material between 1941 and 1945 in return for, in the case of Britain, military bases in Newfoundland, Bermuda, and the British West Indies.
During WWII, the Coast Guard was again assigned to serve under the US Navy. Its exploits are legend and are documented in numerous histories. It was the crew aboard a Coast Guard cutter that captured the first German prisoners of war.
One of the many war-related jobs of the Coast Guard was to guard the shore line of the country. With the help of volunteers and career Coast Guard personnel, the Beach Patrol was formed. Its mission was to patrol the shore, guarding against enemy incursion, and rescuing victims of submarine warfare. The Coast Guard also organized and operated extensive Captain of the Port activities to safeguard the extensive wartime logistical activities that were carried out in our nation's ports.
During the post-war years, the Coast Guard continued to develop and introduce new technologies. Both short-range navigational aids (SHORAN) and long-range navigational aids (LORAN) were installed in both the Atlantic and Pacific areas. Large navigational buoys (LNB) began replacing lightships in the 197fls and by 1990, all lighthouses had been automated.
In 1964, a new insignia featuring a blue, white, and orange stripe with the CG logo was designed. In 1967 this new Coast Guard "racing stripe" was first used on the hulls of vessels. Today, all CG craft display the very distinctive racing stripe.
An extensive system of weather stations was established by the Coast Guard during the war, serving both the Atlantic and Pacific areas of operation. These oceanic stations continued to be manned and operated by Coast Guard ships through the 1970s. During this post-war period, the Coast Guard also took on an expanded oceanographic role, equipping their high-endurance cutters with oceanographic labs and extensive deep-water sampling equipment.
For the past 60-yrs, the the US Coast Guard has worked in many instances as a stand-alone military force and in partnership with all of the other US and Allied armed forces on many military missions throughout the world. Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and other theaters of operation have seen extensive use of Coast Guard assets. This level of active participation has made for a seamless transition to the Department of Homeland Security. The amalgam of traditions and expertise acquired over the years have given today's Coast Guard the strength and flexibility needed to adapt to our country's changing needs. One must only look to the origins and evolution of the Coast Guard to gain a sense of confidence in its ability to carry out its expanded mission and to meet any challenge it confronts. Honor, Respect and Devotion to Duty resonate loudly as values which have driven and continue to drive the amalgam of organizations which comprise today's United States Coast Guard. Semper Paratas! SC…