The Coast Guard was first founded in 1790 by Alexander Hamilton, and was known for a time as the Revenue Cutter Service – but it didn’t sail around slashing state budgets. A cutter is a type of sailboat, silly.
All joking aside, the duties of United States Coast Guard, one of the oldest branches of the armed forces, have remained largely the same since its inception. Operating not just on our coasts, but undertaking a variety of missions on our major rivers, the Great Lakes, seas, oceans, and even the ports of Europe, the Coast works to ensure maritime safety, security, and stewardship.
At times, those duties can be quite dramatic: saving lives (they average 12 a day), chasing drug smugglers, and fighting pirates (watch out, Jack Sparrow). But their mission isn’t all Hollywood. Less exciting but equally important tasks include: servicing directional and navigational buoys and lighthouses, enforcing fishery regulations, and ensuring environmental protection.
The US Coast Guard is the only armed forces unit that reports to the Department of Homeland Security. Search and rescue is just part of the Coast Guard story. Sure, they like to save lives, but they’re also well-trained combatants, with a history of participation in war-time efforts. They played significant roles partnering with and serving under the Navy in the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the American Civil War, and WWII. More recently, the Coast Guard has had an expanded role monitoring the coastlines for terrorism.
While the Coast Guard’s response to Hurricane Katrina was well-regarded, the agency found fault with its own performance after the 2010 BP oil spill. An in-house review suggested the Coast Guard’s preparedness has atrophied, possibly because it was distracted by its expanded security role. The agency promised changes to combat the problems.