Yesterday, Admiral Allen delivered his final State of the Coast Guard address as Commandant of the Coast Guard at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. During his speech, he recognized the role Guardians played (and continue to play) in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake while addressing the challenges of operating the world’s largest first response agency in a constrained budget environment and the need to modernize the aging fleet of America’s oldest seagoing service.
“So what is the state of the Coast Guard? In two words: ready and resilient,” said Allen. “We are ready and resilient. We demonstrated that in the view of the entire world in the first hours and days following the Haitian earthquake. We were there first because our operational forces and command and control structure are agile and flexible. Authority to move forces is delegated outside our headquarters, so our field commanders can act immediately. Our forces are working hard to sustain current operations, maintaining cutters until our new ones are delivered.”
Here are some excerpts from Admiral Allen’s remarks.
Within 24 hours, Coast Guard men and women created the art of the possible where none seemed to exist. Before any knew how many were hurt, hundreds of injured Haitians were thanking our people for providing lifesaving first aid.
By January 25th, we had five cutters in the immediate area, and nearly 900 Coast Guard people in theater. To date, we have evacuated nearly 1,200 American citizens, conducted 250 medical evacuations, and delivered over 700 responders to Port-au-Prince, pretty amazing for an organization whose entire active duty workforce could fit into National Stadium.
On the budget
As Commandant, I supported this budget as it has provided me the flexibility, and the Coast Guard the flexibility, to continue our recapitalization needs. Collectively, the personnel reduction decommission unit and recapitalizing funding reflect hard choices, choices that best position the Coast Guard to optimize our performance and protect the nation within the funding provided and still replace aging cutters and aircraft. Our intent is to manage current operations as funded in order to sustain our recapitalization program. The President’s budget does this. This represents the best way forward in a constrained funding level.
Our recent experience and support of Haiti response, relief and recovery operations is instructive here. As I have noted in the past, the Coast Guard operates one of the oldest fleets in the world. No amount of maintenance can outpace the ravages of age. Here’s what happened behind the scenes. Of the 12 major cutters assigned to Haiti relief operations, 10, or 83 percent, suffered severe emission affecting casualties. Two were forced to return to port for emergency repairs, and one proceeded to an emergency dry dock. We also had to divert air resources away from evacuation efforts to deliver repair parts. This process was coordinated flawlessly through our new logistics structure, including the creation of a forward deployed logistics structure at Guantanamo Bay. The response was a triumph for our new mission support organization, but underscored the condition of our fleet.
I would like to tell you that we over-extended because of the compelling nature of the mission in Haiti. The fact is, we will always, always, divert and respond. We will take every resource we have and throw it at the problem. The larger issue is that the condition of the cutters that responded is indicative of the overall readiness of the fleet. The average age of our high endurance cutters is over 41 years compared to 14 years for a Navy ship. The condition of our fleet continues to deteriorate, putting our crews at risk, jeopardizing our ability to do the job. That’s why we must address future readiness, as we have in the President’s budget.
For more on Coast Guard operations in response to the Haiti earthquake, click here.