Honoring our Profession: Coast Guard Combat Vets

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Coast Guard Combat Veterans Bill Donohue and Terry Lee with Vice Admiral Brice O’Hara at the graduation of Coast Guard recruit company Delta-184 on December 3rd. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)
Coast Guard Combat Veterans Bill Donohue and Terry Lee with Vice Admiral Brice O’Hara at the graduation of Coast Guard recruit company Delta-184 on December 3rd. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Sometimes people forget that the United States Coast Guard, the smallest of our Nation’s military services, has participated in nearly every war, declared and undeclared, since 1790, when the Revenue Cutter Service was founded.

The Coast Guard Combat Veterans Association does its best to remind the Nation of this fact. Formed in 1985, the Association is a non-profit fraternal organization made of Active Duty Coast Guardsman, Reservists, Retirees, and Honorably-discharged Coast Guard Veterans who served in combat or provided direct support to combat operations. The mission of their 1,500 member group is to promote the knowledge and awareness of the Coast Guard’s role in these historical events.

“The Coast Guard has so many missions, and when most people think of the Coast Guard, they think of search-and-rescue and law enforcement,” said Association member Terry Lee. “It’s important for people to know that we currently have members in Bahrain, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and that, yes – we do go to war.”

The Coast Guard Combat Veterans don’t only look towards history or global events. They have carved out a unique and meaningful way to remain intimately involved with the Coast Guard of the future – by appearing at recruit training program graduations to honor some of the Nation’s newest Coast Guardsman.

“We present a certificate and wristwatch during every graduation to the physical fitness award recipient,” said Mr. Lee. “It’s important for these young men and women to know early on in their careers about the Coast Guard’s role in combat operations.”

The award has been presented since 1996; during that year, the recruit graduations were regularly attended by Coast Guard combat veterans Jack Campbell, Herb Weinstein, and Terry Lee.

Last year, the award was renamed after Mr. Campbell, a Coast Guard hero of the Second World War who participated in the Normandy Invasion of Europe. Mr. Campbell passed away two years ago this month.

“Attending recruit graduations was very important to Jack”, Mr. Lee remembered. “He was always so proud of the men and women that chose to join the Coast Guard to protect our country.”

Vice Admiral Sally Brice-O’Hara recently attended the graduation of one of the newest Coast Guard recruit companies, Company Delta-184, a group of young Coast Guard men and women she helped mentor during the training program. “By reaching out to our newest members, the Coast Guard Combat Veterans are forging strong links among Coast Guard Shipmates past, present, and future,” said the admiral. “In faithfully carrying out such a generous recognition program, the Combat Vets have willingly chosen to remain on duty – serving with us to shape our next generation.”

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