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What DOD Logisticians Should Know About the Coast Guard

With the ever-increasing role that the U.S.Coast Guard plays in deployments overseas and its vital role in homeland security, it is important that Department of Defense (DOD) logisticians be aware of the Coast Guard’s missions, capabilities, and means of logistics support.

The Coast Guard is one of our Nation’s five armed services and is a major component of the Department of Homeland Security. It frequently works alongside the Navy, Marine Corps, Army, Air Force, and civilian agencies of the Federal Government, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Its motto is Semper Paratus, which means “Always Ready.”

Yesterday and Today

The origin of the Coast Guard dates back to 4 August 1790, when the first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, formed the Revenue Marine (later renamed the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service) to enforce the Nation’s customs laws. On 28 January 1915, the Revenue Cutter Service merged with the U.S. LifeSaving Service (which had been formed in 1848) to create the U.S. Coast Guard. The U.S. Lighthouse Service (which was formed in 1789) was incorporated into the Coast Guard in 1939, and the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation (originally established as the Steamboat Inspection Service in 1838) was added in 1946.

The Coast Guard was part of the Department of the Treasury until 1967, when it was moved to the new Department of Transportation. It transferred to its present home in the Department of Homeland Security in 2003.

Today, the Coast Guard has approximately 42,200 active-duty service members, 8,100 reservists, and 7,700 full-time civilian employees. The Coast Guard Auxiliary comprises about 30,000 civilian volunteers who wear uniforms similar to those worn by Coast Guardsmen. They assist the Coast Guard with non­combatant and non-law enforcement missions, conducting boating safety instruction in the classroom, performing vessel safety checks, and assisting with on-the-water operations that facilitate public boating safety.

On an average day, the service saves 14 lives, assists 98 people in distress, conducts 74 search-and-rescue missions, completes 31 safety and environmental examinations of foreign vessels, performs 18 safety inspections of commercial fishing vessels, conducts 24 marine casualty investigations, issues 102 certificates of inspection to U.S. commercial vessels and 375 credentials to qualified merchant mariners, services 135 aids to navigation (such as buoys and fog signals) and corrects 23 discrepancies, interdicts 17 illegal migrants at sea, seizes over 1,000 pounds of illegal drugs, administers 25 International Ship and Port Facility Security vessel exams, escorts 20 large vessels, boards 193 ships or boats, inspects 53 hazardous materials containers, and responds to 12 oil and hazardous materials spills.

Coast Guard Missions

In addition to national defense, the Coast Guard performs four other fundamental roles: maritime safety, maritime security, maritime mobility, and protection of natural resources. In its maritime safety role, the Coast Guard reduces death, injury, and property damage associated with water transport, fishing, and recreational boating and conducts search and rescue missions.

In carrying out its maritime security mission, the Coast Guard protects America’s coastal borders by halting the flow of illegal drugs, illegal immigrants, and contraband, illegal fishing, and other illegal activities within the U.S. maritime domain. The Coast Guard facilitates maritime mobility by eliminating interruptions and impediments to the efficient movement of people and goods. It conducts icebreaking missions and ensures the proper placement and functioning of aids to navigation. Lastly, the Coast Guard seeks to reduce environmental damage and degradation to our national resources.

The Coast Guard is the only armed service that has general law enforcement authority under U.S. Code Title 14, Section 89. The other services are limited in their domestic law enforcement activities by the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. Members of the Coast Guard can enforce Federal laws on waters over which the United States has jurisdiction. They can also board, inspect, search, and seize any vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. Moreover, the Coast Guard can board a foreign-flagged vessel in international waters if the associated government grants approval. The Coast Guard has the authority to interdict and board stateless vessels (those that fail to display a flag in accordance with international convention) or vessels that illegally change their country-of-origin flag.

Cutters, Boats, and Aircraft

In the Coast Guard, vessels that are 65 feet or longer are classified as cutters, and those shorter than 65 feet are classified as boats. The service’s largest ships are its three icebreakers, which are about 400 feet long, and its Legend-class cutters. The USCGC Bertholf, which was commissioned on 4 August 2008, is the first of eight planned Legend-class cutters. Each will be about 418 feet long and designed to screen and target suspect vessels; they also will conduct ship verification procedures of suspicious vessels before they arrive in U.S. waters.

The service also has 12 high endurance cutters (378 feet long), 29 medium endurance cutters (210 to 270 feet long), 3 patrol coastal ships on loan from the Navy (179 feet long), about 82 patrol boats (87 to 110 feet long), approximately 38 buoy tenders (100 to 225 feet long), around 28 buoy and construction barges (65 to 225 feet long), 9 icebreaking tugboats (140 feet long), 11 harbor tugboats (65 feet long), and approximately 1,400 boats.

The Coast Guard has about 211 aircraft, both fixed wing (HC–130 Hercules, HU–25A Guardian, and C–37 Gulfstream airplanes) and rotary wing (H–65 Dolphin, HH–60 Jayhawk, and MH–68A Stingray helicopters).


The Coast Guard is modernizing its organizational structure. Its basic structure has been similar to the Navy fleet structure, with a Pacific Area and an Atlantic Area. However, it is realigning its forces under a Deputy Commandant for Operations (DCO), Deputy Commandant for Mission Support (DCMS), Coast Guard Operations Command (OPCOM), and Coast Guard Force Readiness Command (FORCECOM).

The DCO manages all operational programs, the DCMS oversees acquisition and life-cycle logistics support for all systems, OPCOM oversees mission execution (subsuming the two area commands), and FORCECOM oversees all readiness capabilities.

The Coast Guard recently modernized its headquarters into the Napoleonic staffing structure that the other services employ: CG–1 (human resources), CG– 2 (intelligence and criminal investigations), CG– 4 (engineering and logistics), and so on.

Field Operations

As mentioned previously, the Coast Guard cur­rently has two operational area commands: Atlantic and Pacific. Each of the areas is further broken down into geographical districts, each commanded by a rear admiral: District 1 (Northeast Atlantic), District 5 (Mid-Atlantic), District 7 (Southern Atlantic), District 8 (Gulf Coast and Western Rivers), District 9 (Great Lakes), District 11 (Pacific Coast), District 13 (Pacific Northwest), District 14 (Hawaii and Guam), and District 17 (Alaska). The districts are further divided into 2 to 7 sectors each, for a total of 35 sectors, each commanded by a captain (O–6). After modernization, the Atlantic and Pacific Areas will be replaced by OPCOM. OPCOM will have oversight of all Coast Guard district commanders.

The service previously had two Maintenance and Logistics Commands (MLCs), one for the Atlantic area (MLCANT) and one for the Pacific (MLCPAC). MLCs provided electronics, engineering, financial management, health and safety inspections, legal programs, and personnel support. They supported both continental United States (CONUS) and outside CONUS (OCONUS) Coast Guard forces with repair parts shipments, drydock arrangements, and engineering and logistics support while in port.

After modernization, the MLC functions will be centralized under FORCECOM. Five recently established centers will report to the DCMS: Aviation Logistics Center; Surface Forces Logistics Center; Shore Infrastructure Logistics Center; Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Information Technology Service Center; and Personnel Service Center.


In addition to modernizing its organizational structure, the Coast Guard is updating and replacing its aging ships and aircraft and improving its command and control and logistics systems. Nicknamed Deepwater, the Integrated Deepwater System is a multi-year effort that is the largest acquisition program in Coast Guard history. The acquisitions include three classes of cutters, small boats, fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Supporting National Security

According to the service’s capstone document, The U.S. Coast Guard Strategy for Maritime Safety, Security, and Stewardship (published on 19 January 2007), Coast Guard capabilities will be further integrated with DOD, the combatant commanders, and the other services to ensure that the Coast Guard can respond to emerging national security needs, including homeland defense and expeditionary operations.

Currently, six 110-foot long cutters are part of a contingency operation, Patrol Forces Southwest Asia, that patrols Southwest Asian waters in conjunction with the Navy’s Fifth Fleet. Coast Guard forces assigned to this operation oversee aids to navigation and provide oil platform security. Coast Guard vessels also participate in Maritime Partnership Program operations in the Black Sea and African waters such as the Gulf of Guinea.

Coast Guard container inspection training and assistance teams (CITATs) and redeployment assistance and inspection detachments assist the other services during deployments and redeployments, respectively. Their involvement with container loading helps to ensure expeditious processing at ports of embarkation and debarkation in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan. (The CITAT can be reached at (405) 954–8985 or CGI-PF-CITAT_MSG@uscg.mil.)

For many of its deployed missions, the Coast Guard receives contracting support for husbanding services from the Navy’s Commander, Fleet and Industrial Supply Center, and for fuel support from the Defense Logistics Agency’s Defense Energy Support Center. (Husbanding services provide logistics support to vessels while they are in port.)

The Coast Guard is an integral member of the Joint Interagency Task Force-South (JIATF–S), a component command of the U.S. Southern Command. JIATF–S is currently commanded by a Coast Guard rear admiral, who oversees interagency counterdrug operations in the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and the eastern Pacific. JIATF–S is an excellent example of joint integration: It includes several U.S military services, agencies of the Federal government, and multinational partners.

Deployable Operations Group

Although not a member of JIATF–S, the Deployable Operations Group (DOG), a force of around 3,000 personnel formed in 2006, contains some of the Coast Guard’s most deployable forces. The DOG includes 8 port security units, 12 maritime safety and security teams, 2 tactical law enforcement teams, 3 national strike teams, 1 National Strike Force Coordination Center, and 1 maritime security response team.

The port security units provide waterborne security and defense force protection for strategic shipping and critical port facilities at the endpoints of sea lines of communication. They serve as the primary inshore and harbor interdiction response force. The maritime safety and security teams provide specialized maritime law enforcement and antiterrorism and force protection capabilities to enhance security at strategic seaports. The tactical law enforcement teams conduct drug interdiction missions and maritime interception operations.

The national strike teams coordinate the Federal response to the discharge or threat of discharge of oil, hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants into the environment. The National Strike Force Coordination Center oversees the three national strike teams. The maritime security response team provides specialized maritime law enforcement and counterterrorism, conducts vessel interdiction, performs medium- and high-risk boarding of vessels, and detects and surveys potential weapons of mass destruction.

The DOG is currently updating its deployment procedures to adhere to those mandated by the Joint Operation Planning and Execution System. Similar to the Navy’s efforts with the Naval Expeditionary Combat Command, the DOG will serve as a force deployment and execution model for the rest of the Coast Guard.

Whether DOD units are in CONUS or deployed overseas, chances are ever increasing that they will work with or be assisted by the U.S. Coast Guard. Because of all the varied missions Coast Guard members perform and their ability to aid the other services and interagency partners with a multitude of coastal-related support, it is no doubt a smart idea for all service members to develop solid working relationships and friendships with Coast Guardsmen located within their areas of operations.

Lieutenant Colonel James C. Bates, USA (Ret.), has attained the Certified Professional Logistician designation from SOLE–The International Society of Logistics. He is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College and holds an M.B.A. degree from the University of Hawaii.

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Stephen W. Brown, USCG (Ret.), works for Alion Science and Technology as a logistics planner for the Coast Guard’s Deployable Operations Group. He has a B.S. degree in business management from the University of Phoenix.

The authors wish to thank Commander Brenda K. Kerr, USCG, for her assistance in writing this article.

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