As the Coast Guard has now crossed into our 226th year of proudly serving America, we will highlight our long history of ensuring national security throughout the entire month of August. This blog is part four of our history series which will be featured every Monday in August. Join the celebration on social media by using hashtags: #HappyBdayUSCG, #CheersUSCG and #CGhistory.
Written by Lt. Eric D. Nielsen
All who enter Coast Guard boot camp are asked a seemingly innocuous indoctrination question: “What is the Coast Guard?” To which the appropriate response is: “The Coast Guard is the hard nucleus about which the Navy forms in times of war, sir!”
There is some truth to that seemingly silly answer; for 226 years, the U.S. Coast Guard has served the nation as one of the five Armed Forces, and has served in every major American conflict since its founding as the Revenue Marine in 1790. After the Continental Navy was disbanded in 1785, the first federal Congress formed “the system of cutters” under Alexander Hamilton. From the Quasi-War with France in 1798, through the Civil War, the World Wars, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, and the Global War on Terror, the Coast Guard (and our predecessor services) have participated in U.S. naval battles around the world.
Today, the Coast Guard is the nation’s oldest continuously serving sea-going service and conducts 11 different missions. One of those missions is Defense Readiness. Coast Guard Patrol Forces Southwest Asia (PATFORSWA) is at the forefront of the Defense Readiness mission. Today, PATFORSWA’s mission is to train, organize, equip, support and deploy mission-ready Coast Guard Forces in support of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) and national security objectives.
Since its establishment in 2002, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), PATFORSWA has played a key role in maritime interception operations, maritime infrastructure protection, and maritime security operations in the Arabian Gulf. During OIF, the Coast Guard provided maritime interception and boarding support to U.S. Navy and Coalition forces, security to ports in Bahrain, Kuwait and Iraq, security to Iraqi oil terminals, maritime environmental response expertise and surveyed and marked the Khawr Abd Allah River channel up-to the port of Umm Qasr, Iraq. The Coast Guard’s 110-foot patrol boats played a key role in naval combat operations, providing escort and force protection for Coalition assets, with Coast Guard Cutter Adak capturing the first naval prisoners of the war and patrolling into enemy waters during combat operations.
At the height of OIF operations, over 1,000 Coast Guard personnel were deployed to the Arabian Gulf, including one 378-foot high endurance cutter, an ocean-going buoy tender, four 110-foot patrol boats, four Port Security Units (PSU), two Law Enforcement Detachments (LEDET) and associated support staff.
On April 24, 2004, Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Bruckenthal, a damage controlman assigned to LEDET 403, and two Sailors from USS Firebolt tragically lost their lives while patrolling the security zone around the Al Basra Oil Terminal in Iraqi territorial waters. The boarding team approached a small, unidentified dhow (vessel) which abruptly maneuvered and detonated explosives packed onboard in an apparent coordinated suicide bombing. After the explosion, other U.S. forces in the area found and successfully destroyed two additional explosives-laden vessels. Three other Sailors and one Coast Guardsman were also injured in the initial attack. Sailors, Coast Guardsmen and their families join together each year April 24 at Naval Support Activity Bahrain for a memorial service to honor the ultimate sacrifice made by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Pernaselli, a Navy boatswain’s mate, Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Watts, a Navy signalman and Bruckenthal.
Besides our work in OIF, PATFORSWA also supported Operation Enduring Freedom and in 2015 transitioned to supporting Operation Inherent Resolve. Throughout our distinguished history, the Coast Guard has maintained a unique and close relationship with the Navy – a close bond which continues today at the Coast Guard’s largest unit outside the United States.
PATFORSWA provides the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet with combat-ready assets that conduct maritime security, infrastructure protection, and annually supports more than 50 exercises and military-to-military subject matter expert exchanges throughout the CENTCOM Area of Responsibility. Today, PATFORSWA is comprised of six 110-foot patrol boats, shore side support personnel, the Maritime Engagement Team and an Advanced Interdiction Team.
“PATFORSWA draws from the Coast Guard’s unique authorities and maritime security skillsets to support NAVCENT in accomplishing CENTCOM’s theater strategy to conduct persistent maritime operations to deter and counter disruptive countries, and strengthen partner nations’ maritime capabilities in the Arabian Gulf. I am continually amazed by the professionalism and skill of our PATFORSWA shipmates who volunteer for the demanding one-year tour at PATFORSWA” said Capt. John J. Driscoll, commodore of PATFORSWA.
Coast Guard personnel interested in a demanding and challenging tour at PATFORSWA are encouraged to apply.