Written by Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft .
Walking out of Station Washington’s boathouse this morning, I experienced the familiar sights and sounds of morning boat checks. The stomping of boots making their way to the pier. The smell of gasoline from idling engines. The coxswain briefing before getting underway.
As boat checks took place in Washington, Coast Guard operations were taking place around the world. A vessel examiner was dockside to ensure a commercial fisherman was set for sea. A storekeeper was preparing an order for a critical part at a nearby station. A boarding officer was going over the gunwhale to board a vessel. A search and rescue controller was preparing a search plan. And a flight mechanic was walking the flight line for a first light search.
But today – while seemingly familiar in sight and sound – was far from typical. Today marks 224 years of exceptional service by the men and women of America’s Coast Guard.
It was Aug. 4, 1790, when President George Washington signed an act bringing to life ten cutters “to be employed for the protection of the revenue.” Alexander Hamilton first conceptualized these cutters as a viable asset for the country; at the time, he wrote, “a few armed vessels, judiciously stationed at the entrances of our ports, might at a small expense be made useful sentinels of the laws.”
Those armed vessels would become the Revenue Marine with the stroke of a pen by Washington. The cutters immediately proved their value and what was once a fledgling group of ten is now the military, maritime, multi-mission force known today as the United States Coast Guard.
Our nation’s first president was born, and lived most of his life, within the Potomac basin. As I rode with station crews this morning, on those same waters, I couldn’t help but imagine what Washington and Hamilton would think of the Coast Guard today – a force recognized worldwide for its ability to execute diverse missions in the most demanding of conditions.
The world has changed since Hamilton first conceived of these maritime sentinels to safeguard and protect. The challenges faced today, here in America, and around the world, are different than those faced by the revenue cuttermen and lighthouse keepers of our predecessor services.
The Western Hemisphere presents a growing number of threats as criminal organizations exploit maritime systems to smuggle people, drugs, weapons and illicit cargo into our communities. Combating these crimes and securing our borders requires a unity of effort central to regional stability.
Further north, increased human activity in the Arctic, with its extreme environment and limited infrastructure, has its own logistical challenges. Maintaining safety, security and stewardship in the region calls for a continuous assessment of capabilities, the right resources and strong partnerships.
Demand for the Coast Guard is only going up, and this is certainly true for the service’s offshore presence. With an ever-more complex operational doctrine, making acquisition decisions that carry the Coast Guard out for the next few decades of operations, despite tighter budgets, is a safety and security imperative in the maritime domain.
These are just a few of the many challenges the service faces today. But be it combating criminal networks or ensuring an offshore presence, these challenges are met by America’s Coast Guard.
While at Station Washington this morning, I had the opportunity to speak to Petty Officer 2nd Class Adam Wilk about meeting the challenges of today. Petty Officer Wilk lives out the Coast Guard’s core values by improving unit cohesiveness and taking initiative and drive to the next level in his day-to-day operations. This commitment to excellence is seen in all who serve today. Collectively, this commitment is how we meet the challenges of today and will meet the challenges of tomorrow.
Next year the Coast Guard will celebrate 225 years. Looking toward this milestone, I am reminded of all those who served in the Coast Guard and its predecessor services. From lookouts aboard revenue cutters to keepers of lighthouses to artillerymen aboard landing craft, these men and women served a cause greater than themselves.
Today may be a birthday, but America’s Coast Guard started the day just like any other. On watch. In Service to Nation.