19 January 2019

The Coast Guard is a U.S. Armed Service. Here’s what it secures, why that matters & why it must be paid now for its vital work…

Never thought I’d have to help build awareness regarding Coast Guard service members’ irreplaceable work, but here we are…

The Coast Guard is a U.S. Armed Service whose uniformed personnel safeguard America’s long sea border and enormous exclusive economic zone, both of which are among the world’s very greatest.

Coastguardsmen have served in every American military campaign since the service’s founding in 1790. Today Coast Guard personnel support their U.S. Navy and other military colleagues daily and serve around the world in manifold capacities including intelligence support. They discharge all these duties unfailingly on what has long been an extremely constrained budget, and now they are not even getting paid—an untenable situation that is virtually unprecedented in the entire history of the Republic!

This is an unconscionable way to treat service members who wear the cloth of their Country and have pledged defend it with their lives if called to do so. It’s already harming the daily lives of personnel and their families, many of whom are stationed in high-cost coastal areas and count on a regular, modest paycheck to afford groceries and other necessities. Aid organizations have organized food banks and other assistance, but even these stopgap resources are stretching thin.

Moreover, funding lapses are preventing some of the new Coast Guard boot camp graduates from even being sent to their first duty stations. That is an unacceptable risk to Homeland Security!

But don’t just take this from me, please consider the informed views of the following retired Coast Guard leaders who are now striving to defend their Service under siege in its time of greatest need…

I’m honored to have briefed Admiral Paul Zukunft at the Naval War College (NWC)’s China Maritime Studies Institute in 2016, when he was serving as the 25th Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. Zukunft is a graduate of both NWC and the Coast Guard Academy. Then—as now—he understood the strategic situation and communicated the key points clearly. Now he’s working to save his Service, and we all must listen!

Admiral Paul F. Zukunft, U.S. Coast Guard (Retired), “Breaking Faith with America’s Coast Guard,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 145.1 (January 2019).

For more than 45 years I had the distinct honor of wearing the uniform of a Coast Guardsman. My career culminated in serving for every man and woman—active, reserve, civilian, auxiliary, and their family members—as the 25th Commandant of the Coast Guard. Over 35 of those years were spent on the front lines of Coast Guard operations including eight commands at a time when my service was obliged to operate under the mantra of “doing more with less.” …

… We are a service like no other. First and foremost, we are an armed service that takes the military oath to support and defend the Constitution and obey the orders of the President of the United States. Coast Guard personnel have served in every military campaign dating back to our inception on 4 August 1790. Second, the Coast Guard has broad law enforcement authority while fulfilling the requirements of more than 60 treaties with maritime nations to interdict illicit drugs, illegal fishing activity, and weapons of mass destruction in the territorial waters of those signatory nations. In the past two years, the Coast Guard interdicted more than 900,000 pounds of cocaine (more than the collective efforts of all the U.S. law enforcement entities) in a fight against a drug trade that is creating civil unrest and spawning illegal migration in Central America—and contributing to the more than 70,000 overdose deaths in the United States each year. Third, we are members of the national intelligence community and our drug interdiction success attributes in large measure to the unity of effort among our interagency partners. Fourth, we maintain and regulate the U.S. maritime transportation system that accounts for more than $4.6 trillion of commerce each year. And fifth, every member of the Coast Guard… is a first responder as we witnessed most recently during hurricanes… when the Coast Guard saved nearly 11,000 lives. 

The Coast Guard is not a 9:00 am–5:00 pm service nor is it constrained by a 40-hour work week while being on call 24 hours a day 7 days a week. The Coast Guard is no “force in garrison,” because the service’s men and women are all serving along the frontline on all seven continents and in more than 100 countries. Despite being one of the armed services, only 4 percent of our appropriation is sourced from the Department of Defense, yet on any given day, over one-third of our operational resources are deployed in support of the military geographic combatant commanders around the globe. The Coast Guard has strived to maintain continuity of operations and modernize its capital plant while faced with 34 continuing resolutions since 2010. And while the Department of Defense realized a new highwater mark in its 2019 appropriation, the Coast Guard was excluded from that package and has yet to see its appropriation for 2019 that began on 1 October. To add insult to injury, the Coast Guard is no longer “doing more with less,” but “doing all with nothing.” I have served shoulder to shoulder with our service members during previous government shutdowns and listened to the concerns of our all-volunteer force. This current government shutdown is doing long-term harm…. We are now in uncharted waters given its duration and the hardship its causing, particularly at many Coast Guard installations that reside in high-cost communities along the U.S. coastline where service personnel already live paycheck-to-paycheck to pay the bills and meet childcare costs that can exceed $2000 per month for one child. 

Mission-essential training is being deferred with egregious implications for a service that has as its motto: Semper Paratus—Always Ready. On 19 January the Coast Guard was prepared to place its newest, 418-foot national security cutter, the USCGC Kimball (WMSL-756), in commission. That commissioning ceremony has been delayed due to the government shutdown…. Each of the Coast Guard’s national security cutters typically interdict during its inaugural deployment a wholesale value of drugs that exceeds the initial acquisition cost of the cutter! 

Finally, the United States is rapidly becoming an Arctic nation in name only. Russia maintains a fleet of more than 40 icebreakers and is turning the Northern Sea Route into its de facto Suez Canal during the ice-free season in defiance of the Law of the Sea Convention. The only heavy icebreaker in the U.S. inventory to challenge Russia’s claim is the USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10), commissioned in 1976 and approaching the end of its service life. Despite the tremendous progress of the Navy and Coast Guard Joint Program Office to recapitalize the nation’s icebreaker fleet, this lapse in appropriation will further delay that effort when there was no time to spare from the outset. 

The U.S. Coast Guard is a “service like no other” with the exception that Coast Guard men and women place service above self, exactly as do each member of the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. Those three poignant words—service before self—on a grand scale need to guide our political leaders to avert the calamity confronting the world’s best coast guard.

The Coast Guard simply could not perform all the missions its former Commandant Admiral Zukunft outlines without the continuous efforts of all its dedicated servicemembers, including its Petty Officers, who literally keep everything going. It is therefore extremely significant that four leading Coast Guard Petty Officers have just gone public with their concerns for their Service, its personnel, and their families:

  • Rick Trent served as the 7th Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard (MCPOCG) from 1994-98.
  • Vincent Patton served as the 8th MCPOCG (1998-2002).
  • Frank Welch served as the 9th MCPOCG (2002-06).
  • Skip Bowen served as the 10th MCPOCG (2006-10).

Retired Coast Guard Master Chiefs Rick Trent, Vincent W. Patton, Franklin Welch, and Charles “Skip” Bowen, “Retired Coast Guard Master Chiefs: Washington Is Failing Our Service,” Opinion Editorial, Military.com, 18 January 2019.

For 28 days, 800,000 government workers have been either furloughed or working without pay, including more than 56,000 active-duty, reserve and civilian members of one of our nation’s armed services, the U.S. Coast Guard.

Active-duty Coast Guard servicemen and women remain on the job, devoted to their work of saving lives and defending our nations waterways and coasts, even as they and their families go without compensation.

No one joins the military to get rich. …the pay is not high, particularly at the entry-level pay grades. In fact, the base pay of more than 14,000 junior members of the Coast Guard (which is about one-third of the active-duty workforce) is considered at or just below the established poverty level. Most of these members do not have the resources to go without pay over any extended period of time.

To assist our unpaid Coast Guard personnel, many military support organizations and spouses’ clubs have set up food banks near Coast Guard installations throughout the country.

The Coast Guard itself is trying to grapple with the situation in myriad ways. For instance, at Training Center Cape May, New Jersey, the Coast Guard’s only “boot camp,” many recruits are being held after graduation because the service is unable to give them travel money to send them on to their first duty stations.

Resources directly focused on the service, such as Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, Coast Guard Foundation, Coast Guard Enlisted Association, Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Association, and Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officers Association, as well as many other “military support” organizations, are being stretched to the limit.

We all served with pride and honor with the U.S. Coast Guard, a branch of the armed forces as defined by law under Title 14, U.S. Code Section One.

Its members, as well as those of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force, swore an oath to “… support and defend the Constitution of the United States.” This oath requires military personnel to be ready and willing to serve whenever and wherever our country needs them. That’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year anywhere in the world.

Our government leaders also took an oath to support and defend the Constitution, and to “well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office” that they now hold. We believe they are derelict in those duties.

We speak from our collaborative experience of 127 years of service in expressing our anger over the fallout of this government shutdown. …