As a kid growing up quite literally on the beaches and waters around Sandy Eggo, we all knew who the Coast Guard were; after all they were everywhere. Of course, for a lad who’s eyes turned skywards, they were the way cool guys who had HU-16′s that got to taxi across Harbor Drive to take off from Lindberg Field. Oh, they had neat, white ships and helos, but they had cool airplanes and that’s what counted. Until my typical-airdale short attention span was diverted by Navy planes, of course.
It was somewhere I reckon at the end point of Career 2.4 that, through the great wizards of “you go there,” I wound up walking into the basement of a building set on an artificial island in the middle of San Francisco Bay; there to have what turned out to be a very illuminating 48 months working closely with the folks who used to wear Navy blue and now wear, er, whatever. (Sartorial discussions are not the point here, so we’ll eschew that sore point for a later time)
Now it wasn’t like I was totally ignorant of these fine seafarers. For quite a number of years, they stood by as a nice, comforting afterthought, willing to launch in aircraft like these,
C-130 “Duck Butt”
in case Your Humble and Obedient Servant was forced by ill-circumstance to take up open water aquatics against his will when flying across large expanses of the planet’s surface from one point of Terra Firma to another. But they were more a kind of “hey, did anyone notify the Coast Guard of this aircraft movement?” kind of deal. Nice to know they were willing to come out and try and help our soggy rears, but they were “those guys,” and little more.
In all honesty, for an organization who weren’t even “one of us,” ( for after all they weren’t even a part of the Department of Defense for heaven’s sake,) I know of fewer organizations, save perhaps Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children, who do so very, very much with so very, very little. They are masters of improvisation and have an utterly uncanny ability to think creatively when it comes to “stuff.” Before I tell at least one tale of Coastie “how’d they do that” ability, a few simple reminders of a few of the many, many jobs they’ve been tasked to do on our behalf.
For one, when John Q. Boater’s vessel of choice decides that it no longer chooses to function in the manner intended, regardless of the time, the date, the season or the weather, it’s people like these:
who will venture out to fulfill one of their primary missions: The saving of human life. And it may not be one of those you may see. Depending on where you are, and how far you are from the safety of a sound hull or a sheltering cove or dry land, you may see what’s considered one of the most welcome sights in the nautical world above you:
Coast Guard H-60 Jayhawk
They also spend a lot of their time, and budget, making sure our navigable lakes, harbors and waterways are marked, tended to and a lot of small details dont go overlooked. Regardless of the time of year or the weather:
USCG Alder breaking ice.
But there’s a lot more to what they do, I came to find. There are Coast Guard offices, manned by handfuls of professionals spread out in seaports around the world. If a vessel is outbound to the United States in trade across the sea lanes, there’s a good chance they’ve climbed up her ladders or brow and had a pretty thorough look-see at her. In other parts of the world, as I got to experience first hand, there’s another, more “muscular” Coast Guard at work. In places where there may be those who are less than well disposed towards truth, justice and the American way, they have expertise in the handling of craft in manner as to dissuade those with ill intent from acting on their passions or ideologies:
A Few Bubbas from a Joint Coast Guard-Navy Port Security Unit.
Elsewhere, often at sea on either Coast Guard cutters or other vessels, other members of the Coast Guard stand by to offer a “house call” as it were to those vessels who’s actions or activities may be less in harmony with a “peaceful, international commons:”
As promised, a short illustration on creativity and the Coast Guard. My billet evolved as time and the decisions by people far, far away with many, many stars upon their collars determined, into working on finding ways to come up with a way for a large number of people, skilled in the dark arts of Command and Control of, er, “stuff” to quickly leave the warmth and comforts of home and go to far, far away ports, there to make much use of means to, well, command and control “stuff.” With a whole lot of trial and error, and seeing what did and did not work, we pretty much arrived at what we considered a workable list of the hardware we’d need to make the magic happen. It had to be very portable, capable of being carried in boxes that could, TINS, be put on commercial airliners or other means of aerial conveyance and be able to work once we took them out of their boxes, wired them up and flipped the “ON” switch.
Being good Navy guys, off we went to the people we were supposed to go to and laid out our needs and requirements. “Light, portable, robust, easy to transport, lasts long time, ” we told them. They looked at our very specific specs, gathered them up and went off to their dark, ill-lit caverns, there to work their magic. Time passed. And passed. Phone calls were made, messages sent, electrons went speeding through wires. For all I know, carrier pigeons winged their way to the East. Finally we received word: All was well and good, and our needs were easily met and the requirements would be fulfilled. Once we completed about a further 36 months of filling out forms, papers, blueprints, sought funding sources, got appropriations line items added, and oh, sign-offs from about umpteen gazillion Pentagon offices. So, we were told, we could expect to see our gear in about five to seven years.
Our Coast Guard unit members smiled a knowing smile. “You know, we aren’t part of your blessed Pentagon, except in times of war and when so directed. Right now isn’t one of those times. Trust us,” they said, all the while resembling the proverbial Cheshire Cat.
“Trust us,” said the Coast Guard
And trust them we did. For, in about four weeks’ time, there came into our Place of the Many Cubicles and Breezeways, boxes upon boxes, storage containers, widgets, wires and other Really Neat Stuff, all of which met our every need and requirement.
“H-h-how did you do this,” we asked in wonder and awe.
“Easy,” came the reply. “You have to do things the Pentagon way. We have neither the time, nor especially the gigabucks to do that. We simply went down the freeway to Silicon Valley, talked to People Who Know Their Stuff, and they sold us what we needed. In short, we wrote a check. Have fun.”
And, unsurprisingly, all the Stuff worked exactly as intended. That’s the Coast Guard. Now, granted sometimes things don’t work out that way, (stretching 110-footers, for example) but if I really, really need something done, one of the people I’ll be looking for will be a Coastie.
I take back all the remarks about “Shallow-water Navy,” “Panic past the 100-fathom line,” and other service rivalry stuff. All y’all rock. Happy birthday.