United States Coast Guard
The United States Coast Guard (USCG) is the maritime security, search and rescue, and law enforcement service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the country's eight uniformed services. The service is a maritime, military, multi-mission service unique among the United States military branches for having a maritime law enforcement mission with jurisdiction in both domestic and international waters and a federal regulatory agency mission as part of its duties. It is the largest and most powerful coast guard in the world, rivaling the capabilities and size of most navies.
The U.S. Coast Guard is a humanitarian and security service. It protects the United States' borders and economic and security interests abroad; and defends its sovereignty by safeguarding sea lines of communication and commerce across vast territorial waters spanning 95,000 miles of coastline and its Exclusive Economic Zone. With national and economic security depending upon open global trade and a rules-based international order, and with ever-expanding risk imposed by transnational threats through the maritime and cyber domains, the U.S. Coast Guard is at any given time deployed to and operating on all seven continents and in cyberspace to save lives; enforce laws; ensure safe and secure commerce; and protect the environment. Like its United States Navy sibling, the U.S. Coast Guard maintains a global presence with permanently-assigned personnel throughout the world and forces routinely deploying to both littoral and blue-water regions. The rise of great power competition and adversarial challenges to rules-based international order through inter-state aggression, economic coercion, and maritime hybrid warfare has cultivated numerous conflict hotspots around the world. The U.S. Coast Guard's adaptive, multi-mission "white hull" fleet is leveraged as a force of both diplomatic soft power and humanitarian and security assistance over the more overtly confrontational nature of "gray hulled" warships. As a humanitarian service, it saves tens of thousands of lives a year at sea and in U.S. waters, and provides emergency response and disaster management for a wide range of man-made and natural catastrophic incidents in the U.S. and throughout the world.
The U.S. Coast Guard operates under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security during peacetime. During times of war, it can be transferred in whole or in part to the U.S. Department of the Navy under the Department of Defense by order of the U.S. President or by act of Congress.
As of December 2021, the U.S. Coast Guard's authorized force strength is 44,500 active duty personnel and 7,000 reservists. The service's force strength also includes 8,577 full-time civilian federal employees and 31,000 uniformed volunteers of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. The service maintains an extensive fleet of roughly 250 coastal and ocean-going cutters, patrol ships, buoy tenders, tugs, and icebreakers; as well as nearly 2,000 small boats and specialized craft. It also maintains an aviation division consisting of more than 200 helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. While the U.S. Coast Guard is the second smallest of the U.S. military service branches in terms of membership, the service by itself is the world's 12th largest naval force.
The Coast Guard has a total workforce of 87,569. The formal name for a uniformed member of the Coast Guard is "Coast Guardsman", irrespective of gender. "Coastie" is an informal term commonly used to refer to current or former Coast Guard personnel. In 2008, the term "Guardian" was introduced as an alternative but was later dropped. Admiral Robert J. Papp Jr. stated that it was his belief that no Commandant had the authority to change what members of the Coast Guard are called as the term Coast Guardsman is found in Title 14 USC which established the Coast Guard in 1915. "Team Coast Guard" refers to the four components of the Coast Guard as a whole: Regular, Reserve, Auxiliary, and Coast Guard civilian employees.
Commissioned officers in the Coast Guard hold pay grades ranging from O-1 to O-10 and have the same rank structure as the Navy. Officers holding the rank of ensign (O-1) through lieutenant commander (O-4) are considered junior officers, commanders (O-5) and captains (O-6) are considered senior officers, and rear admirals (O-7) through admirals (O-10) are considered flag officers. The Commandant of the Coast Guard and the Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard are the only members of the Coast Guard authorized to hold the rank of admiral.
The Coast Guard does not have medical officers or chaplains of its own. Instead, chaplains from the U.S. Navy, as well as officers from the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps are assigned to the Coast Guard to perform chaplain-related functions and medical-related functions, respectively. These officers wear Coast Guard uniforms but replace the Coast Guard insignia with that of their own service.
The Navy and Coast Guard share identical officer rank insignia except that Coast Guard officers wear a gold Coast Guard Shield in lieu of a line star or staff corps officer insignia.
The Coast Guard employs over 8,577 civilians in over two hundred different job types including Coast Guard Investigative Service special agents, lawyers, engineers, technicians, administrative personnel, tradesmen, and federal firefighters. Civilian employees work at various levels in the Coast Guard to support its various missions.
Title 14 USC, section 2 authorizes the Coast Guard to enforce U.S. federal laws. This authority is further defined in 14 U.S.C. § 522, which gives law enforcement powers to all Coast Guard commissioned officers, warrant officers, and petty officers. Unlike the other branches of the United States Armed Forces, which are prevented from acting in a law enforcement capacity by 18 U.S.C. § 1385, the Posse Comitatus Act, and Department of Defense policy, the Coast Guard is exempt from and not subject to the restrictions of the Posse Comitatus Act.
Further law enforcement authority is given by 14 U.S.C. § 703 and 19 U.S.C. § 1401, which empower U.S. Coast Guard active and reserve commissioned officers, warrant officers, and petty officers as federal customs officers. This places them under 19 U.S.C. § 1589a, which grants customs officers general federal law enforcement authority, including the authority to:
Carry a firearm
Execute and serve any order, warrant, subpoena, summons, or other process issued under the authority of the United States
Make an arrest without a warrant for any offense against the United States committed in the officer's presence or for a felony, cognizable under the laws of the United States committed outside the officer's presence if the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that the person to be arrested has committed or is committing a felony
Perform any other law enforcement duty that the Secretary of Homeland Security may designate
Coast Guardsmen have the legal authority to carry their service-issued firearms on and off base. This is rarely done in practice, however; at many Coast Guard stations, commanders prefer to have all service-issued weapons in armories when not in use. Still, one court has held in the case of People v. Booth that Coast Guard boarding officers are qualified law enforcement officers authorized to carry personal firearms off-duty for self-defense.
The Coast Guard, like the other armed services of the United States, has a set of core values that serve as basic ethical guidelines for all Coast Guard active duty, reservists, auxiliarists, and civilians. The Coast Guard Core Values are:
Honor: Integrity is our standard. We demonstrate uncompromising ethical conduct and moral behavior in all of our personal actions. We are loyal and accountable to the public trust.
Respect: We value our diverse workforce. We treat each other with fairness, dignity, and compassion. We encourage individual opportunity and growth. We encourage creativity through empowerment. We work as a team.
Devotion to Duty: We are professionals, military and civilian, who seek responsibility, accept accountability, and are committed to the successful achievement of our organizational goals. We exist to serve. We serve with pride.
– Coast Guard Core Values
The Coast Guard Ethos:
I am a Coast Guardsman.
I serve the people of the United States.
I will protect them.
I will defend them.
I will save them.
I am their shield.
For them I am Semper Paratus.
I live the Coast Guard core values.
I am proud to be a Coast Guardsman.
We are the United States Coast Guard.
– The Coast Guard Ethos
Shore establishment commands exist to support and facilitate the mission of the sea and air assets and Coastal Defense. U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters is located in Southeast Washington, DC. Examples of other shore establishment types are Coast Guard Sectors (which may include Coast Guard Bases), Surface Forces Logistics Center (SFLC), Coast Guard Stations, Coast Guard Air Stations, and the United States Coast Guard Yard. Training centers are included in the shore establishment commands. The military college for the USCG is called the United States Coast Guard Academy which trains both new officers through a four year program and enlisted personnel joining the ranks of officers through a 17 week program called Officer Candidate School (OCS). Abbreviated TRACEN, the other Training Centers include Training Center Cape May for enlisted bootcamp, Training Center Petaluma and Training Center Yorktown for enlisted "A" schools and "C" schools, and Coast Guard Aviation Technical Training Center and Coast Guard Aviation Training Center Mobile for aviation enlisted "A" school, "C" schools, and pilot officer training.
The Coast Guard operates 243 Cutters, defined as any vessel more than 65 feet long, that has a permanently assigned crew and accommodations for the extended support of that crew.
National Security Cutter (WMSL): Also known as the "Legend"-class, these are the Coast Guard's latest class of 418-foot cutter. At 418 ft., these are the largest USCG military cutters in active service. One-for-one, Legend-class ships have replaced individually decommissioned 1960s Hamilton-class cutters, (also known as the High Endurance Cutter (WHEC)). A total of eleven were authorized and budgeted; as of 2021 eight are in service, and two are under construction.
Medium Endurance Cutter (WMEC): These are mostly the 210-foot Reliance-class, and the 270-foot Famous-class cutters, although the 283-foot Alex Haley also falls into this category. Primary missions are law enforcement, search and rescue, and military defense.
Polar-class icebreaker (WAGB): There are three WAGB's used for icebreaking and research though only two, the heavy 399-foot Polar Star and the newer medium class 420-foot Healy, are active. Polar Sea is located in Seattle, Washington but is not currently in active service. The icebreakers are being replaced with new heavy icebreakers under the Polar icebreaker program, the world's largest coast guard vessel due for delivery in 2025.
USCGC Eagle: A 295-foot sailing barque used as a training ship for Coast Guard Academy cadets and Coast Guard officer candidates. She was originally built in Germany as Horst Wessel, and was seized by the United States as a prize of war in 1945.
USCGC Mackinaw: A 240-foot heavy icebreaker built for operations on the Great Lakes.
Seagoing Buoy Tender (WLB): These 225-foot ships are used to maintain aids to navigation and also assist with law enforcement and search and rescue.
Coastal Buoy Tender (WLM): The 175-foot Keeper-class coastal buoy tenders are used to maintain coastal aids to navigation.
Sentinel-class cutter (WPC): The 154-foot Sentinel-class, also known by its program name, the "Fast Response Cutter"-class and is used for search and rescue work and law enforcement.
Bay-class icebreaking tug (WTGB): 140-foot icebreakers used primarily for domestic icebreaking missions. Other missions include search and rescue, law enforcement, and aids to navigation maintenance.
Patrol Boats (WPB): There are two classes of WPBs currently in service; the 110-foot Island-class patrol boats and the 87-foot Marine Protector-class patrol boats.
Small Harbor Tug (WYTL): 65-foot small icebreaking tugboats, used primary for ice clearing in domestic harbors in addition to limited search and rescue and law enforcement roles.
The Coast Guard operates about 1,650 boats, defined as any vessel less than 65 feet long, which generally operate near shore and on inland waterways.
The Coast Guard boat fleet includes:
Motor Lifeboat (MLB): The Coast Guard's 47-foot primary heavy-weather boat used for search and rescue as well as law enforcement and homeland security.
Response Boat – Medium (RB-M): A new multi-mission 45-foot vessel intended to replace the 41-foot utility boat. 170 planned
Special Purpose Craft – Near Shore Lifeboat: Only 2 built. Shallow draft, 42-foot lifeboat substituted for the 47-foot Motor Life Boat, based at Chatham, Massachusetts.
Deployable Pursuit Boat (DPB): A 38-foot launch capable of pursuing fast cocaine smuggling craft.
Long Range Interceptor (LRI): A 36-foot high-speed launch that can be launched from the stern ramps of the larger Deepwater cutters.
Aids to Navigation Boats (TANB/BUSL/ANB/ANB): Various designs ranging from 26 to 55 feet used to maintain aids to navigation.
Special Purpose Craft – Law Enforcement (SPC-LE): Intended to operate in support of specialized law enforcement missions, utilizing three 300 horsepower Mercury Marine engines. The SPC-LE is 33 feet long and capable of speeds in excess of 50 knots (58 mph) and operations more than 30 miles from shore.
Response Boat – Small (RB-S): A 25-foot high-speed boat, for a variety of missions, including search and rescue, port security and law enforcement duties.
Transportable Port Security Boat (TPSB): A 25-foot well-armed boat used by Port Security Units for force protection.
SPC-SW Special Purpose Craft, Shallow-water: 24 feet.
Over-the-Horizon (OTH) boat: A 23-foot rigid hull inflatable boat used by medium and high endurance cutters and specialized units.
Short Range Prosecutor (SRP): A 23-foot rigid hull inflatable boat that can be launched from a stern launching ramp on the National Security Cutters.
The Coast Guard operates approximately 201 fixed and rotary wing aircraft from 24 Coast Guard Air Stations throughout the contiguous United States, Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. Most of these air stations are tenant activities at civilian airports, several of which are former Air Force Bases and Naval Air Stations, although several are also independent military facilities. Coast Guard Air Stations are also located on active Naval Air Stations, Air National Guard bases, and Army Air Fields.
Coast Guard aviators receive Primary (fixed-wing) and Advanced (fixed or rotary-wing) flight training with their Navy and Marine Corps counterparts at NAS Whiting Field, Florida, and NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, and are considered Naval Aviators. After receiving Naval Aviator Wings, Coast Guard pilots, with the exception of those slated to fly the HC-130, report to U.S. Coast Guard Aviation Training Center, Mobile, Alabama to receive 6–12 weeks of specialized training in the Coast Guard fleet aircraft they will operate. HC-130 pilots report to Little Rock AFB, Arkansas, for joint C-130 training under the auspices of the 314th Airlift Wing of the U.S. Air Force.
Fixed-wing aircraft operate from Air Stations on long-duration missions. Helicopters operate from Air Stations and can deploy on a number of different cutters. Helicopters can rescue people or intercept vessels smuggling migrants or narcotics. Since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, the Coast Guard has developed a more prominent role in national security and now has armed helicopters operating in high-risk areas for the purpose of maritime law enforcement and anti-terrorism.
The Coast Guard is now developing an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) program that will utilize the MQ-9 Reaper platform for homeland security and search/rescue operations. To support this endeavor, the Coast Guard has partnered with the Navy and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to study existing/emerging unmanned aerial system (UAS) capabilities within their respective organizations. As these systems mature, research and operational experience gleaned from this joint effort will enable the Coast Guard to develop its own cutter and land-based UAS capabilities.
The Coast Guard aircraft fleet includes:
C-27J Spartan: Turboprop; search and rescue; former Air Force aircraft, acquired in return for the release of seven HC-130H aircraft to the United States Forest Service for use as aerial tankers.
C-37A: Jet; Priority Airlift; Priority Airlift for high-ranking members of the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Coast Guard.
C-37B: Jet; Priority Airlift; Priority Airlift for high-ranking members of the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Coast Guard.
HC-130H Hercules: Turboprop; search and rescue; most have been removed from service and are being replaced by HC-130J aircraft. Seven were turned over to the United States Forest Service to be converted to aerial firefighting tankers.
HC-130J Hercules: Turboprop; search and rescue; more on order, currently being manufactured to replace HC-130H.
HC-144A Ocean Sentry: Turboprop; search and rescue
HC-144B Minotaur: Turboprop; search and rescue; Minotaur upgrade of HC-144A aircraft includes advance navigation and search and rescue equipment.
MH-60T Jayhawk: Helicopter; Medium Range Recovery (MRR); may remain in service until 2035.
MH-65D Dolphin: Helicopter; Short Range Recovery (SRR)
MH-65E Dolphin: Helicopter; Short Range Recovery (SRR); upgraded version of MH-65D with advanced avionics and search and rescue equipment.
The U.S. Coast Guard uses a wide variety of small arms and light weapons. Handguns, shotguns, and rifles are used to arm boat crew and boarding team members and machine guns are mounted aboard cutters, boats, and helicopters.
Small arms and light weapons arms include:
M9 9mm pistol
SIG Sauer P229R DAK .40 S&W pistol
Remington M870P 12 gauge shotgun
Mk 18 carbine
M14 Tactical rifle
Mk 11 (KAC SR-25)
Mk 11 Mod 2 precision rifle
FN M240 machine gun
M2 .50 caliber heavy machine gun
Mk 19 40mm grenade launcher
Barrett M107 .50-caliber rifle, used by marksmen from the Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron and Law Enforcement Detachments to disable the engines on fleeing boats.
The U.S. Coast Guard Academy is a four-year service academy located in New London, Connecticut. Approximately 200 cadets graduate each year, receiving a Bachelor of Science degree and a commission as an ensign in the Coast Guard. Graduates are obligated to serve a minimum of five years on active duty. Most graduates are assigned to duty aboard Coast Guard cutters immediately after graduation, either as Deck Watch Officers (DWOs) or as Engineer Officers in Training (EOITs). Smaller numbers are assigned directly to flight training at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida or to shore duty at Coast Guard Sector, District, or Area headquarters units.
In addition to the Academy, prospective officers, who already hold a college degree, may enter the Coast Guard through Officer Candidate School (OCS), also located at the Coast Guard Academy. OCS is a 17-week course of instruction that prepares candidates to serve effectively as officers in the Coast Guard. In addition to indoctrinating students into a military lifestyle, OCS provides a wide range of highly technical information necessary to perform the duties of a Coast Guard officer.
Graduates of OCS are usually commissioned as ensigns, but some with advanced graduate degrees may enter as lieutenants (junior grade) or lieutenants. Graduating OCS officers entering active duty are required to serve a minimum of three years, while graduating reserve officers are required to serve four years. Graduates may be assigned to a cutter, flight training, a staff job, or an operations ashore billet. OCS is the primary channel through which the Coast Guard enlisted grades ascend to the commissioned officer corps. Unlike the other military services, the Coast Guard does not have a Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program.
Lawyers, engineers, intelligence officers, military aviators holding commissions in other branches of the U.S. Armed Forces requesting interservice transfers to the Coast Guard, graduates of maritime academies, and certain other individuals may also receive an officer's commission in the Coast Guard through the Direct Commission Officer (DCO) program. Depending on the specific program and the background of the individual, the course is three, four or five weeks long. The first week of the five-week course is an indoctrination week. The DCO program is designed to commission officers with highly specialized professional training or certain kinds of previous military experience.
Newly enlisted personnel are sent to eight weeks of recruit training at Coast Guard Training Center Cape May in Cape May, New Jersey. New recruits arrive at Sexton Hall and remain there for three days of initial processing which includes haircuts, vaccinations, uniform issue, and other necessary entrance procedures. During this initial processing period, the new recruits are led by temporary company commanders. These temporary company commanders are tasked with teaching the new recruits how to march and preparing them to enter into their designated company. The temporary company commanders typically do not enforce any physical activity such as push ups or crunches. When the initial processing is complete, the new seaman recruits are introduced to their permanent company commanders who will remain with them until the end of training. There is typically a designated lead company commander and two support company commanders. The balance of the eight-week boot camp is spent in learning teamwork and developing physical skills. An introduction of how the Coast Guard operates with special emphasis on the Coast Guard's core values is an important part of the training.
The current nine Recruit Training Objectives are:
Vocational skills and academics
Physical fitness and wellness
Water survival and swim qualifications
Esprit de corps
Core values (Honor, Respect, and Devotion to Duty)