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U.S. Coast Guard Defends Against Terrorism Locally, Globally

By Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2006 – As it has for more than 200 years, the U.S. Coast Guard is carrying on its wartime service in operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

Coast Guardsmen served in the War of 1812, Mexican-American War, Civil War, Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Mayaguez Incident in Cambodia in 1975, Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada, Operation Just Cause in Panama, Operation Desert Shield/Storm, and Kosovo.

"During the last two centuries, (Coast Guard) cutters have been used extensively in 'brown water' combat," U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Daniel McClellan, the commander of patrol forces in Southwest Asia, said. "A cutter made the first capture of the War of 1812," he said from his office in Southwest Asia. Brown water areas of operation include coastal areas and up to perhaps 100 miles out from the coast.

In general, the Coast Guard conducts maritime security operations when deployed overseas, McClellan said. "On any given day, (the Coast Guard) routinely conducts maritime operations overseas -- from the Bering Sea to the Caribbean, Eastern Pacific to the North Atlantic and points in between -- in support of a variety of statutory requirements, for example, enforcement of laws and treaties ... marine environmental protection, maritime safety and security, and polar icebreaking."

In 1915 the modern-day Coast Guard came into existence with the merger of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service and the U.S. Lifesaving Service. The perception of a coastal mission, McClellan said, is often linked to the service's search-and-rescue operations that date back to the Lifesaving Service. But the Coast Guard has long conducted operations beyond the shoreline.

Dating to its inception in 1790 and throughout its history, the Coast Guard's law enforcement responsibilities beyond the shoreline have primarily been threefold, McClellan said. First, it ensures that tariffs are not avoided. Second, it protects shipping from pirates and other unlawful interdiction. Third, it intercepts material and human contraband.

During wartime, the mission expands. "The Coast Guard has traditionally performed two roles in wartime," McClellan said. "The first has been to augment the Navy with men and cutters. The second has been to undertake special missions, for which peacetime experiences have prepared the service with unique skills," he said.

For example, Coast Guardsmen have maritime law enforcement, small boat, small craft handling, port security, and marine environmental protection expertise, McClellan said. In the Middle East, Coast Guard personnel are applying this peacetime expertise to their wartime missions. At the height of combat operations after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, 1,250 Coast Guard personnel were deployed overseas, including about 500 reservists, Coast Guard officials said. This included two large cutters, a buoy tender, eight patrol boats, four port security units, law enforcement detachments, and support staff to the U.S. Central and European commands.

Immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks, more than 2,600 Coast Guard reservists were mobilized to provide support in the largest homeland defense mobilization since WWII, Coast Guard officials said. Coast Guardsmen provided manpower to clean-up operations in New York City and heightened port security in Seattle, Los Angeles, New York and Boston.

The Coast Guard is transforming like the military services in the Defense Department in some ways. It is now a part of the Department of Homeland Security, after moving from the Transportation Department in a post-Sept. 11 reorganization. And while homeland defense is not a new mission for the service, Coast Guard officials said, the usefulness of the Coast Guard has certainly been noticed since Sept. 11.

Crewmembers from Coast Guard Cutter Adak captured the first maritime prisoners of war in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Coast Guard officials said. Coast Guard patrol boats and law enforcement detachments helped intercept and seize Iraqi mine-laying vessels, ensuring waterways weren't threatened and relief ships could safely deliver their cargo to the port of Umm Qasr. In addition, the Coast Guard provided security in logistics ports in Kuwait and Iraq and at Iraqi oil terminals in the northern Arabian Gulf.

During a security mission in the Persian Gulf Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan B. Bruckenthal was assigned to Tactical Law Enforcement Team South Detachment 403 and was serving aboard the USS Firebolt when he was killed in action April 24, 2004. Bruckenthal died as a result of a waterborne attack by suicide bombers on an Iraqi oil platform. He is the first Coast Guardsman to die in battle since the Vietnam War.

However, the attack that cost Bruckenthal his life was thwarted, McClellan said, and there have been no further attempts to date. The Coast Guard continues to work with Iraqi and coalition forces to protect the oil platforms in the northern Arabian Gulf, where the Coast Guard provides six of 10 patrol craft, McClellan said.

Approximately 220 Coast Guard personnel are currently deployed for one year to Southwest Asia, McClellan said. All personnel are volunteers, he added. The Coast Guard has six 110-foot patrol boats deployed to the region with a shoreside maintenance and support facility in Bahrain, a forward operating base in Kuwait, and two eight-person tactical law enforcement detachments.

"Currently, in addition to performing maritime security operations ... because of our 'visit, board, search, seize' expertise, Coast Guard forces are training the Iraqi marines in maritime law enforcement ... skills," McClellan said.

Despite its deployment of personnel to support the war on terror, the Coast Guard was integral in rescue operations in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The service deployed 62 aircraft, 30 cutters and 111 small boats to assist in rescue and recovery operations along the U.S. Gulf Coast, officials said. Approximately one-third of the Coast Guard's entire air fleet was deployed to the region to support rescue operations in the aftermath of the storm, and more than 5,290 Coast Guardsmen conducted search-and-rescue operations, waterway reconstitution and environmental assessment operations.

As part of Operation Noble Eagle, the Coast Guard protects more than 361 ports and 95,000 miles of coastline, Coast Guard officials said. The Coast Guard maintains the operations of U.S. ports and waterways by providing a secure environment for mariners, officials said. It achieves its missions with 39,000 active duty Coast Guard personnel, 8,100 Coast Guard Reservists, and 7,000 civilian Coast Guard personnel, according to Coast Guard personnel reports from 2005.

Today, Coast Guard officials said, the service's homeland security role includes:

  • Protecting ports, the flow of commerce, and the marine transportation system from terrorism;
  • Maintaining maritime border security against illegal drugs, illegal aliens, firearms, and weapons of mass destruction;
  • Ensuring rapid deployment and resupply to military assets, both by keeping Coast Guard units at a high state of readiness and by keeping marine transportation open for the transit of assets and personnel from other branches of the armed forces;
  • Protecting against illegal fishing and indiscriminate destruction of living marine resources, prevention and response to oil and hazardous material spills -- both accidental and intentional; and
  • Coordinating efforts and intelligence with federal, state, and local agencies.
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