U.S. Coast Guard Organization and Missions
The U.S. Coast Guard is a military, multimission, maritime service within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and one of the five U.S. armed services. The service’s core roles are to protect the public, the environment, and U.S. economic and security interests on international waters, along U.S. coasts, and in U.S. ports and waterways. The Coast Guard operates along 95,000 miles of U.S. coastline, throughout 3.4 million square miles of exclusive economic zones, in 361 domestic ports and in maritime regions of importance to the United States around the world.
Since the founding of the Revenue Cutter Service in 1790, the Coast Guard’s ancestor, a distinctive blend of humanitarian, law enforcement, diplomatic and military capabilities has proven vital to America’s prosperity. As the nation’s “Shield of Freedom,” the Coast Guard saves lives and property in peril on the water, protects critical infrastructure and resources, ensures homeland security, safeguards U.S. maritime sovereignty, and defends American citizens, interests and friends worldwide.
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks against America on Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush directed that 22 previously disparate domestic agencies be merged into one department to protect the nation against threats to the homeland. The Coast Guard was transferred intact to DHS from the Department of Transportation on March 1, 2003, and took the lead as an agency uniquely positioned to protect America from threats directed at U.S. ports and waterways.
Homeland security has been a Coast Guard mission since 1790, which means the service already has the right capabilities, interagency relationships and regulatory authority to lead DHS efforts to push U.S. maritime borders out, thereby enhancing a layered approach to maritime security that helps identify threats long before they reach U.S. shores.
Coast Guard People, Values and Principles
Every day, the Coast Guard stands ready with an active duty force of 39,000 men and women, augmented by 8,000 Coast Guard reservists, 35,000 volunteers in the Coast Guard Auxiliary and a civilian work force of 6,000. Coast Guard men and women put their lives on the line to secure America’s maritime borders, ensure a safe and efficient marine transportation system, enforce the nation’s laws and treaties, protect the marine environment, support America’s diplomatic and defense interests worldwide, and save lives.
They are guided in their actions by the Coast Guard’s core values: honor, respect and devotion to duty, and kept on course in the execution of their duties by the Principles of Coast Guard Operations: clear objectives, effective presence, unity of effort, on-scene initiative, flexibility, managed risk and restraint. Working from these foundations, the men and women of the Coast Guard fulfill their assigned missions and remain Semper Paratus — “Always Ready” in service to America.
Perhaps the Coast Guard is best known for its search-and-rescue mission. Personal courage and selflessness in the pursuit of saving lives at sea has defined the organization since the earliest days of the Revenue Cutter Service.
In the 19th century, Coast Guard “surfmen” conducted beach patrols, deployed breeches, buoys and lifecars, and muscled lifeboats through raging surf — always ready to go out when others could not, or would not. In the 21st century, with high-tech platforms and systems to aid them, America’s lifesavers still need courage, dedication and unique skills to guard lives and property on the unforgiving sea.
The Coast Guard works closely with other federal, state and local agencies, and with foreign nations to provide the world’s fastest and most effective response to mariners in distress. It also maintains a vessel tracking system called AMVER (automated mutual assistance vessel rescue) that allows it to divert nearby commercial vessels to render assistance when necessary. In 2002, the Coast Guard responded to 36,872 calls for assistance, saving more than 3,700 lives and protecting nearly $70 million in property.
During the past decade, the number of American lives lost each year in boating accidents has declined significantly. The Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Program promotes safety through its regulatory and inspections roles, inspecting merchant vessels, and licensing their masters and crews. The Coast Guard Auxiliary provides free boating safety courses, courtesy marine examinations for recreational boaters, aids to navigation verification and inspections of commercial facilities.
Protecting lives at sea will become more challenging in the years ahead as demand for oceangoing trade and tourism burgeons, setting the stage for explosive growth in the size and numbers of commercial vessels, cruise ships and recreational boats plying inland, coastal and international waterways. Fishing vessels and offshore platforms are moving farther offshore in search of more plentiful harvests and a dramatic increase in recreational boating is adding to congestion on the nation’s waters. Prevention, requiring extensive risk assessment to reduce the probability of mishaps, will be as important as the act of pulling survivors from the water, and advanced technologies will continue to leverage expert seamanship and training as the Coast Guard strives to protect all life at sea.
The Coast Guard is an armed service and vital component of U.S. military forces in times of war or conflict and has participated in every major U.S. conflict since 1790. The service’s multimission capabilities and expertise in port, coastal and environmental security makes it critical to the success of defense operations around the world.
At the height of Operation Iraqi Freedom, there were 1,250 Coast Guard personnel deployed, including nearly 500 reservists, with two high-endurance cutters, a buoy tender, eight patrol boats, four port-security units, a harbor-defense command unit, pollution-responders, law-enforcement detachments and support staff to the Central and European Command theaters of operation.
Coast Guard forces in the region contributed to the identification and seizure of cargo embargoed by the United Nations as well as capturing the first maritime enemy prisoners of war, and discovering a large cache of Iraqi weapons and military equipment hidden in coastal caves in southern Iraq. Coast Guard forces also assisted in the interception and seizure of Iraqi mine-laying vessels, ensuring waterways were safe for relief ships and military traffic to and from the key port of Umm Qasr. Coast Guard units provided security in key ports in Kuwait and Iraq and on Iraqi oil terminals located in the North Persian Gulf, where enemy prisoners of war were being detained, while buoy tenders conducted a navigational survey of aids along the Khor Abd Allah River flowing up to Umm Qasr and corrected or replaced them, allowing for the safe navigation of the river for military, humanitarian and commercial vessels.
The Coast Guard’s national defense role in support of the nation’s unified combat commands can be categorized in four major defense mission areas. These missions — maritime intercept operations, deployed security and defense port operations, peacetime engagement and environmental defense operations — are essential military tasks assigned to the Coast Guard as a component of joint and combined forces in peacetime, crisis and war.
In order to continue to meet the demands of U.S. national defense operations around the world, and other Coast Guard operations at home, the Coast Guard is aggressively seeking to upgrade its aging fleet through the Integrated Deepwater System Program. The Coast Guard contracted with Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin on June 25, 2002, to form the Integrated Coast Guard Systems team, developing the next generation of Coast Guard cutters, aircraft, weapons and systems.
Maritime Security Law Enforcement
As America’s principal “law of the sea” agency, the Coast Guard began its security mission by enforcing import tariffs as the Revenue Cutter Service and has seen its maritime security responsibilities expand exponentially to include the enforcement of all federal laws related to the sea from interdicting drug and migrant smugglers to enforcing vessel safety regulations and fisheries conservations laws, as well as the securing of the nation’s ports for commercial and recreational traffic.
Immediately following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Coast Guard embarked on the largest port security operation since World War II. The Coast Guard moved to a heightened state of alert in more than 361 major ports, conducting thousands of boardings on “high-interest vessels,” deploying port security teams, creating security zones around critical infrastructure and recalling almost 3,000 reservists.
Shoring up the maritime security mission, the Coast Guard recently incorporated key features of Port Security Units (PSUs) and Law-Enforcement Detachments to create Maritime Safety and Security Teams (MSSTs). These are domestic, highly mobile units, comprising both active-duty and reserve personnel, that provide specialized law enforcement and force-protection capabilities to meet heightened maritime security requirements.
Each MSST consists of 71 active-duty personnel and 33 reservists, and is equipped with six fast boats. Designed to surge to support security requirements for major marine events, such as the Olympics and Operation Sail, these units support Coast Guard and other interagency forces performing more traditional missions, including search-and-rescue, counterdrug operations and alien migrant interdiction operations. There are currently eight MSSTs in operation, with five units scheduled to begin operating by the end of 2005.
Always a threat to homeland security, the influx of illegal drugs continues to be the most challenging element of maritime security mission. The Coast Guard’s counterdrug mission is strategically aligned with the goals of the National Drug Control Strategy to detect, disrupt, deter and seize illegal drugs that kill 15,000 Americans and cost the public more than $110 billion each year. In fiscal year 2004, the Coast Guard seized a record 168,019 pounds of cocaine and 25,450 pounds of marijuana — enough drugs to fill more than three-and-a-half tractor-trailer trucks. The value of these seizures was more than $5.4 billion.
This success is largely due to improved intelligence collection, analysis, application and coordination with DHS agency partners, other government agencies and international partners. The street value of cocaine and marijuana seized continues to exceed the Coast Guard’s entire operating budget each year.
Approximately 110,000 commercial fishing vessels operate from U.S. ports netting catches that totaled almost 4.7 metric tons in the early 1990s. The Coast Guard can anticipate increased enforcement responsibilities in this field as the world’s fish stocks decline, and the enforcement of multiple laws and treaties protecting U.S. fisheries resources throughout the millions of square miles of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) becomes increasingly important. The U.S. EEZs hold more than 20 percent of the world’s fishery resources and support a commercial industry valued at more than $25 billion.
The Coast Guard also is the lead agency for the enforcement of U.S. immigration laws at sea, stressing sensitivity in dealing with undocumented migrants in all areas: mass migration, asylum requests, smuggling and repatriation. In efforts to increase security against undocumented migrants, the Coast Guard constantly monitors maritime transit zones, interdicting migrants, rescuing people from sinking or unsafe vessels, providing humanitarian assistance and training other nations to discourage undocumented migration into the United States.
To protect American shipping from the violent nature of the 18th-century eastern coast, treacherous channels and threat of piracy, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton proposed the creation of the Revenue Cutter Service. To further ensure the safe navigation of merchant vessels, the Lighthouse Service, another predecessor of today’s Coast Guard, was established by Congress in 1789 and marked the first federal foray into the world of maritime transportation risk management.
Today, with 13 million Americans employed in domestic shipping-related activities, the marine transportation system contributes $740 billion to America’s economy each year. Additionally, U.S. military strategy and operations depend upon efficient inland waterways, safe ports and secure sealift for nearly all material sent to overseas conflicts.
Critical to marine traffic, the service’s aids to navigation program and vessel traffic services guide the safe movement of all vessels.
As of the turn of this century, more than 8,000 foreign-flag vessels called at U.S. ports annually, and 25 percent of U.S. domestic trade moved by water. Add to this more than 134 million passengers transiting U.S. waters in ferries, cruise ships and gaming vessels; some 110,000 commercial fishing vessels harvesting waters under U.S. jurisdiction; and millions of Americans and foreign tourists using 16 million recreational craft throughout thousands of miles of U.S. coastlines and waterways, and the importance maintaining maritime “signposts” and “traffic signals” becomes clear.
In the next quarter-century, greater numbers of ultra-large, deep-draft ships will call at “megaports,” cruise ships carrying 6,000 or more people will head for more remote areas and maritime trade is expected to double if not triple. These trends demand continued effective control of the never-ending flow of ships, cargo and people. The current and projected increase in maritime traffic means the crucial task of securing the world’s ports cannot be overstated.
In 2002, nations around the world came together to develop a strategy for increasing the security of the maritime transportation system, and on July 1, 2004, a suite of international and U.S. maritime security requirements took full effect. These requirements are comprehensive and unprecedented in the maritime industry.
The Coast Guard led this international effort under which countries implemented the first multilateral ship and port security standard ever created. The International Ship and Port Facility Security Code, or ISPS Code, requires vessels and port facilities conduct security assessments, develop security plans and hire security officers.
Through the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA) of 2002, U.S. vessels and port facilities also are required to implement security plans. The MTSA — designed to protect the nation’s ports and waterways from a terrorist attack — is the U.S. equivalent of the ISPS Code and it requires vessels and port facilities to conduct vulnerability assessments and develop security plans that may include passenger, vehicle and baggage screening procedures; security patrols; establishing restricted areas; personnel identification procedures; access control measures; and/or installation of surveillance equipment.
Marine Environmental Protection
The Coast Guard continues to make protecting the nation’s valuable natural marine resources a top priority. Constant poaching and over-fishing threaten the biomass and future prosperity of resources within the U.S. EEZ.
Whether patrolling the closed fishing grounds off New England so depleted species have the opportunity to return to harvestable levels, or maintaining vigil in the Bering Sea to prevent foreign vessels from poaching in the rich fishing waters off Alaska, the Coast Guard, working closely with other federal and foreign agencies, is gaining ground in the fight to keep our maritime natural resources a national treasure.
The Coast Guard also leads the way in the prevention of water pollution from all sources and activities, saving nearly $6 billion each year in oil losses, cleanup costs and environmental damage. When prevention and enforcement fail, however, the Coast Guard has ways to identify the responsible party and maintains a rapid-response capability to contain and recover from pollution incidents, such as the massive 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska.
The service’s Research and Development Center developed a technique to “fingerprint” oil to identify the source of a spill and three highly specialized national strike teams — located on the East, Gulf and West Coasts — are at the ready to respond to major oil or other hazardous materials spills in the inland waterways and coastal regions. In a future crisis, strike teams may be the nation’s first-responders to a terrorist attack using chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in a crowded port or roadstead.
Ongoing coordinated efforts with government agencies, foreign governments, and private industry led to a 50-percent decrease in the annual number of oil gallons spilled in 2001 and, to reach a longer-term goal of virtually eliminating environmental damage to U.S. waterways, the Coast Guard pursues an aggressive, three-pronged approach encompassing prevention, enforcement and response.
The Coast Guard Reserve
Operation Iraqi Freedom was only a few hours old when detachments from Coast Guard PSU 311 and 313 embarked on a U.S. Army landing craft for a pair of Iraqi oil terminals in the northern Arabian Gulf. The terminals, vital to future plans to rebuild Iraq, were captured a few hours earlier by U.S. Navy SEALs and would be home for the reservists for several weeks as they safeguarded them against potential enemy counterattacks and terrorist threats. In Kuwait, other personnel from PSU 311 and PSU 313 provided waterside security at two major ports of debarkation for U.S. and coalition forces.
As a branch of the armed forces, the Coast Guard maintains a state of readiness to support combat commanders during times of war and other contingencies. Coast Guard platforms and personnel provide unique and critical capabilities to augment naval forces at home and abroad. Operation Iraqi Freedom marked the largest deployment of Coast Guard forces for combat operations since Vietnam. The majority of Coast Guard men and women serving in the Central and European Command theaters of operation were reservists.
The numbers tell the story. More than 5,400 of the Coast Guard Reserve’s 8,000 selected reservists have been recalled at one time or another since Sept. 11, 2001. At the peak of Operation Iraqi Freedom in April 2003, more than 4,400 reservists — well over half the force — were on active duty.
Each PSU is equipped with fast, air-deployable 25-foot boats armed with .50-caliber and 7.62mm machine guns and works in concert with other members of the Naval coastal warfare community, including Joint Navy-Coast Guard harbor defense command units, Navy mobile inshore undersea warfare units and Navy inshore boat units.
PSUs have operated in the Middle East since shortly after the October 2000 attack in Yemen on the destroyer Cole that killed 17 crewmembers. PSUs have also provided waterside security at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The war in Iraq marked the most extensive deployment of the units — PSU 305, based in Fort Eustis, Va.; PSU 307 in St. Petersburg, Fla.; PSU 308 in Gulfport, Miss.; PSU 309 in Port Clinton, Ohio; PSU 311 in San Pedro, Calif.; and PSU 313 in Tacoma, Wash. — all of which have now served overseas for extended periods.
Since the 1980s, reservists have performed the bulk of the Coast Guard work enforcing security zones for space-shuttle operations in Florida. An estimated 65 percent of the Coast Guard personnel employed in the massive cleanup following the Exxon Valdez oil spill were reservists. And throughout 2003, reservists remained busy prosecuting search-and-rescue cases, enforcing U.S. laws and protecting the marine environment, among other duties.
For fiscal year 2004, the Coast Guard Reserve training appropriation totals $95 million, up from $86 million in fiscal 2003 and sufficient to support a selected reserve end-strength of 8,100 personnel.
This significantly reduced the barriers between reserve and active-duty personnel, enhancing training and overall readiness, which helped facilitate the rapid response by the Coast Guard to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, including security patrols in New York, Boston and Los Angeles harbors.
For information, contact:
Office of Public Affairs
Headquarters, U.S. Coast Guard
2100 Second St., S.W.
Washington, DC 20593
Phone: (202) 267-1587