The United States Coast Guard is one of the nation's Armed Forces
, right up there with The Army, The Navy, The Air Force, and The Marines
. Despite this, most people forget that it even exists. Part of that is its small size: with 42,000 active duty members, it is less that a quarter the size of the Marine Corps.
They've fought in every war of the United States since 1790, but their rescue and law enforcement roles and their shuffling around some decidedly nonmilitary Departments leads to frequent accusations that they're "not military." Given that, their small size, their constant workload, and their status as "shallow water sailors," the Coast Guard has a longstanding, mostly friendly rivalry with the Navy, wherein Coast Guardsmen like to boast that they're better, tougher sailors than the Squids could dream of.
Generally, while the other four branches get prime-time TV spots that chant, "Army! Navy! Air Force! Marines!" the Coast Guard is relegated to late-night TV or the occasional pre-movie blurb.
This being America, despite the Coast Guard's small size compared to the other military branches, it is still larger than many nation's navies and operates more ships. The Legend
-class National Security Cutters, for instance, are larger and better armed than some third and second world frigates and destroyers. Of course, the USA needs a bit more oomf
to its Coast Guard, considering the USCG has to police and protect the world's largest exclusive economic zone, all 11,351,000 square kilometres of it.
If you ask a Coast Guardsman, they might tell you that they belong to the oldest continually operating US sea service. The US Navy and Marine Corps— as opposed to the Continental Navy and Marines— were both formed in 1794, four years after the Revenue-Marine was founded. The Revenue-Marine, after several name changes and agglomerations with other services, became the modern Coast Guard.
Coasties are also more than happy to tell you that they're ALWAYS in the fight. When the Navy and the Marines are putzing around bases with their hands on their cocks waiting for the next war, Coast Guardsmen are out there saving lives, catching crooks, keeping the waterways safe, and protecting the environment.
When wars do come, Coast Guardsmen have been there ever since 1790. They are that hard nucleus of seagoing professionals around which the Navy forms in times of war, serving as additional manpower and fulfilling variations on their peacetime roles— such as handling small boats, or intercepting the same. Many of the American landing craft used in World War II
were operated by the Coast Guard, with one Guardsman, Douglas Albert Munro
, earning the Medal of Honor during the Battle of Guadalcanal when he died while evacuating a group of Marines
pinned down on a beachnote
. Today, cutters are forward-deployed today in support of counterpiracy efforts in the the Gulf of Aden and the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars; and Port Security Units are tasked with defending far-off oil terminals.
The official Coast Guard marching song is "Semper Paratus", which conforms to the Common Meter
, and can thus be sung to the tune of "The Ballad of Gilligan's Island
Beginning in the 1980s, the Coast Guard's role in drug interdiction took on renewed importance. Today, much of the public perceives that as the Coast Guard's main role, with the help of many other organizations and the Navy.
By law, the Coast Guard has 11 missions (listed in order of percentage of operating expenses)
- Ports, waterways, and coastal security
- Drug interdiction
- Aids to navigation
- Search and rescue
- Living marine resources
- Marine safety
- Defense readiness
- Migrant interdiction
- Marine environmental protection
- Ice operations
- Other law enforcement
Coast Guard vessels range from small, fast 29' Response Boat Smalls, through 47-foot "self-righting" Motor Life Boats, to 378' High Endurance Cutters and 420' icebreakers, with a wide range of patrol boats, tugs, and buoy tenders in between. The Coast Guard fleet is divided into three categories based on the color of the ships - "white hulls", consisting of the USCG's combat/interdiction craft, "black hulls", consisting of maintenance and support vessels like buoy tenders, and "red hull" icebreakers. They also have a wide range of fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft.
Television and film depictions of Coast Guard operations typically show small craft or the MH-60 and MH-65 helicopters. Big cutters are seen far less frequently.
- Most often seen as support in a disaster drama. The most potent exception, perhaps, is The Guardian, a 2006 film focusing on Coast Guard rescue swimmers.
- Seen, but seldom identified, in any movie about the Normandy Invasion: most of the landing craft were piloted by Coast Guardsmen. In addition, many of the river patrol boats used in the Vietnam War movies were Coast Guard vessels.
- At the beginning of The Santa Clause 2, the North Pole is overflown by a C-130- apparently part of the Coast Guard Ice Patrol, but with the serial numbers filed off.
- A Coast Guard chopper features prominently in Licence to Kill.
- The 1958 dramedy Onionhead features a character (played by Andy Griffith) joining the Coast Guard as a cook during World War II.
- A Coast Guard cutter can be seen off the coast of Los Angeles at one point in Battle: Los Angeles, though is eliminated in short order by an alien artillery barrage.
- In Overboard, Billy says that he used to be in the Coast Guard. Later at the climax of the film, the Coast Guard helps Dean catch up with Joanna's yacht—complete with the Semper Paratus march playing in the background.
- In a throwaway line from Back to the Future, Marty explains away his "life preserver" vest to his future mother and grandmother by saying that he is in the Coast Guard. Later, Doc uses a mind-reading helmet to incorrectly guess that Marty is a member of the "Coast Guard Youth Auxiliary."
- The Coast Guard gets a lot of screen time in Bad Boys 2, which fits with the bad-guys of the film being drug dealers. We see them at the start when a cutter loses a Go-Fast, then again later when Coast Guard helicopters stop another one. They even help secretly insert an assault team into Cuban waters.
- Features prominently in the book (and later movie) Clear and Present Danger, highlighting the Coast Guard's drug interdiction role. The novel goes into more detail about "Red" Wegner's background, most of which focuses on their search and rescue role.
- They also get a good bit of time in the prequel Without Remorse, mostly in regards to the start of the USCG becoming involved in drug interdiction.
- The book and movie The Perfect Storm are partially about the USCGC Tamaroa and other Coast Guard assets trying to rescue victims of the titular storm.
- One book of the Worldwar series by Harry Turtledove features the guy carrying stolen Uranium (or possibly Plutonium) to the Manhattan Project getting a ride across the Great Lakes on a Coast Guard cutter so he can catch a train through Canada.
- Blindfold Game, a thriller by Dana Stabenow, has a USCG Cutter as the primary force in place to prevent a terrorist attack on the western United States.
- The Keeper's Son and its sequel, The Ambassador's Son are novels by Homer Hickam featuring an officer of the Coast Guard named Josh Thurlow. The first book takes place off the coast of North Carolina and the second in the Pacific, both during WWII.
- MAYDAY, MAYDAY! is a children's book by Chris Demarest about a Coast Guard rescue.
- In Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, after the kids escape from the Underworld and end up floating in the ocean, the Coast Guard pulls them out. In the midst of dealing with the huge earthquake that just hit LA, they kinda just dump the kids on land. On the other hand, the kids are apparently Junior Coast Guardsmen now.
- The Coast Guard, specifically the Training Barque Eagle, features prominently in S.M. Stirling's Island in the Sea of Time.
- In The Dresden Files book Death Masks, Harry, two Knights of the Cross, and Gentleman Johnny Marcone assault a moving train from a surplus Coast Guard helo piloted by a Valkyrie, blasting Ride of the Valkyries the whole way. Whaddaya think, were they flying an H-3 or did they somehow manage to get an H-60 or H-65? We know that Marcone and Monoc Securities like flying old Vietnam-era aircraft.
- G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero has a Coast Guard member, codenamed 'Cutter'.
- The Simpsons:
- Homer Simpson once told the members of the Coast Guard after rescuing him that "you Navy rejects are all right."
- Grandpa Simpson, according to one of his stories, served as an officer in the Coast Guard at some time prior to 1936.
Grandpa: ...And I guess he won the argument, but I walked away with the turnips; the following morning I resigned my commission in the Coast Guard. The next thing I heard there was civil war in Spain!
- In "Homer the Vigilante", Homer recognizes that the Coast Guard is a possible obstacle to his vigilante group:
Lisa: ...If you're the police, who will police the police?!
Homer: I dunno, Coast Guard?
- A Coast Guard vessel, having been earlier taunted by Homer and Bart, refuses to assist them and their guests aboard Mr. Burns' yacht in when it is boarded by pirates in "The Mansion Family".
- Instead of intervening, the Guardsmen take the opportunity to taunt them back via loud-hailer: