Ridge Applauds Coast Guard's 213 Years of Service, Terror War Efforts
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 6, 2003 Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge helped the Coast Guard celebrate its 213th birthday today by applauding the service for its efforts in the war of terrorism and welcoming the service as part of the "new team."
"Clearly we're extremely fortunate to have such a veteran player in the Coast Guard that makes up a vital part of the new team," Ridge said during ceremonies at Coast Guard headquarters. "Your expertise and your experience, and your mindset and your 'can-do' attitude garnered from more than two centuries of work to secure our ports and protect our nation's waters has been an invaluable resource in the fight against terrorism."
Ridge noted during his address that the Coast Guard has played a vital role in the aftermath of Sept. 11. He pointed out that the service mobilized more than 2,000 reservists to increase security along major U.S. waterways, including establishing boat patrols to guard the nation's capital.
Another critical area for the Coast Guard during post-9-11 has been protecting U.S. ports, where thousands of containers pass each day, he noted. "With 95 percent of our nation's international cargo carried by ship, securing our ports is crucial to securing both our country and our economy."
He said that since 9-11, the Coast Guard has instituted a 96-hour advance check-in for foreign flagged ships, increased the boarding and escort of ships coming into the United States, and established maritime safety and security rapid-response teams.
In addition to the Coast Guard's efforts, Ridge said his department has added "layers of security" around commercial shipping. Those layers, he said, include greater information sharing with international partners, increased levels of inspection, more state-of-the-art technology, and added intelligence about the crews, the cargos and the vessels entering the United States, with "100 percent" of high-risk ships coming into U.S. ports being boarded.
The homeland security secretary told the Coast Guard that with its expanded mission, the president has asked Congress for the largest increase ever in Coast Guard funding. That money will be used for better equipment and to acquire the new Defender-class response boats and to support the "deepwater" acquisition project. The multibillion dollar deepwater project is aimed at modernizing Coast Guard vessels with state-of-the-art navigation and communications equipment to conduct missions farther out to sea.
He told the audience that for 213 years the Coast Guard has protected the American people by securing the nation's waterways and ensuring the free flow of commerce. "And you have done so with a tireless determination and dogged devotion to preserve the tenets of democracy and freedom for which our country stands," Ridge noted.
He said that before Sept. 11 many Americans viewed the United States as a "mighty fortress" that could not be penetrated. However, he said that Sept. 11 demonstrated that enemies of the U.S are neither deterred by "tactical difficulties nor strategic impossibilities. They are not even deterred by the thought of taking innocent civilian lives."
Ridges said America's enemies today have no regard for the innocents and no desire for peace. "They will stop at nothing to destroy our way of life," he said. "We, on the other hand, will stop at nothing to defend it. That's why we created the Department of Homeland Security, to unify our resources into one team, to ready ourselves against a new enemy and to ensure the highest level of protection for the country and the citizens we all serve."
Ridge offered the best way to deter terrorism is to go after terrorist networks "where they live, where they operate, where they train, where they get support."
"That's why your role in Operation Iraqi Freedom has been so important and so appreciated and so valued," he told the Coast Guard audience. "You helped your country disarm a rouge regime that threatened our national security. You helped liberate an oppressed people suffering at the hand of a merciless tyrant. You fought and you served bravely," he said.
Ridge presented several awards to Coast Guardsmen and units. The Bronze Star medal was presented to Lt. Cmdr. Sean MacKenzie, Lt. Christopher Barrows and Lt. Holly Harrison. Harrison is the first Coast Guard woman to receive the award.
The three officers helped ensure the safety of coalition forces working to clear mines in the waterways to allow humanitarian aid shipments to Iraq.
The Coast Guard Unit Commendation Award was presented to the service's Patrol Forces Southwest Asia for that unit's collective work during Iraqi Freedom.
Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Jeffrey Cole received the Meritorious Service Medal for his leadership role in developing a security force that became the prototype for a permanent security unit now used to protect the nation's capital.