Coast Guard Birthday: Celebrating Those Always Ready
“Semper Paratus. Always ready.” (Click to Tweet this)
The motto of the United States Coast Guard is an apt one. They have always been ready to save, protect, fight, and defend up and down the coasts of our nations and beyond. And they’ve done so for nearly as long as we’ve been a country. While the service as it exists today was established on January 28th, 1915, the Coast Guard Birthday is celebrated August 4th. Because the true history of America’s coastal defense force goes all the way back to that day in 1790.
Coast Guard History
Creation of the Coast Guard
The history of the service truly begins with America’s first Treasury Secretary (and most rapped about Founding Father) Alexander Hamilton. In order to enforce tariffs and properly fund the fledgling government, Hamilton asked Congress to authorize him a fleet of cutter ships. They responded by passing the Tariff Act on August 4th, 1790 which created the Revenue-Marine: a naval enforcement service of 10 ships and 40 officers. These men and their cutters were the earliest version of what would become the United States Coast Guard. And from the start, their duties covered so much more than just enforcing tariffs.
Acting as America’s Early Navy
Since the Continental Navy was disbanded in 1790 and would not be reformed as the United States Navy until 1798, the Coast Guard was the only line of defense the country had in its early years. As such, it took on a whole host of duties in addition to enforcing tariffs and continued to do so even after the Navy’s re-establishment. They conducted rescues, fought pirates, captured slave traders, carried mail, and served in multiple military conflicts like the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War.
Revenue Cutter Service
The service was renamed the United States Revenue Cutter Service in 1863, in the midst of the Civil War. During the conflict, the ships and men of the cutters served under the command of the Navy. The first naval shots of the war were actually fired by a USRC ship, the Harriet Lane, during the siege of Fort Sumter. During the Spanish-American War, sailors of the USRC served in combat again and several aboard the cutter Hudson received special Congressional medals for their actions during the Battle of Cárdenas.
In addition to all this sea service and combat action, the Revenue Cutter Service began officially overseeing another vital function during the late 1800s: lifesaving. Up until 1848, lifesaving operations along the American coast were conducted by local volunteer organizations. The Revenue-Marine took over administrative duties for the network of lifesaving stations and Congress provided them limited funding, but it wasn’t until 1878 that the United States Lifesaving Service became a government agency.
These two agencies, the Revenue Cutter Service and Lifesaving Service, continued to operate as related but separate agencies for several decades. But on January 28th, 1915 Congress voted to merge the services and create the United States Coast Guard. When America entered WWI a few years later, the Coast Guard was again placed under the operational control of the Navy. Thousands of their sailors served admirably, both on their own ships and aboard US Navy vessels, throughout the war. And in 1918 the Coast Guard welcomed its first two female members: nineteen-year-old twin sisters Genevieve and Lucille Baker.
Between the World Wars, the Coast Guard continued to protect shores, regulate shipping, and conduct rescues. The service expanded once again on July 1st, 1939 when it absorbed the United States Lighthouse Service. After the US entered WWII in late 1941, the Coast Guard became heavily involved in all theaters of the war. They conducted convoys, anti-submarine operations, search and rescue, and took part in major amphibious assaults including the D-Day landings.
Throughout the rest of the 20th century through today, the Coast Guard continued serving in every conflict America has fought in. All while continuing their missions of nautical defense, rescue, port security, and more. In more recent years they’ve taken on more and more tasks, like environmental cleanup, drug interdiction, and anti-terrorism operations across the country and the world. So while their name may imply that they simply guard our coasts, the men and women of the United States Coast Guard stand “always ready” to do their duty in every corner of the globe.
What Does the Coast Guard Do?
That may sound like a simple question, but it has quite a long answer. Because they do a whole lot. The United States Coast Guard’s mission is based on three essential roles and covers 11 separate missions within those roles.
Coast Guard Roles
The many missions of the United States Coast Guard cover a whole lot of responsibilities and tasks. But they all fall within one of the three major roles the service plays in protecting America and its interests.
1. Maritime Safety
From search and rescue to commercial vessel inspection, the Coast Guard works hard to keep people safe on the water.
2. Maritime Security
The protection of our ports, coasts, commercial and personal shipping, and interdiction of illegal goods is a long list of tasks that they cover.
3. Maritime Stewardship
The oceans and waters of the United States are precious natural resources and it’s the Coast Guard duty to protect them. From fishery oversight to environmental cleanup, they ensure our nation’s marine ecosystems stay clean and healthy.
Non-Homeland Security Missions
The 11 separate missions are divided into two categories. The first six are Non-Homeland Security missions:
- Ice operations (International Ice Patrol)
- Living marine resources (enforcing laws related to things like fisheries)
- Marine environmental protection
- Marine safety
- Aids to navigation
- Search and rescue
Homeland Security Missions
And the other five are classified as Homeland Security missions:
- Defense readiness
- Maritime law enforcement
- Migrant interdiction
- Ports, waterways and coastal security (PWCS)
- Drug interdiction
When Is the Coast Guard Birthday?
While there are a number of important dates in the history of the Coast Guard, including several where it was reformed, renamed, or expanded, the day celebrated as its true birth is the day its earliest predecessor was founded. August 4th marks the anniversary of the Revenue-Marine’s founding, and that’s the day recognized and honored as the United States Coast Guard Birthday.
Coast Guard Facts
We know how much you love fun facts in these historical articles we publish, and the United States Coast Guard has no shortage of interesting tidbits and details worth learning about.
- The Coast Guard is a part of the military, insomuch as it’s one of the six services that make up the US Armed Forces. However, as of March 1st, 2003, it falls under the authority of the Department of Homeland Security rather than the Department of Defense. (Click to Tweet this)
- So far only one Coast Guardsman has received the Medal of Honor. Signalman First Class Douglas Munro posthumously earned the country’s highest military award for his courageous actions in command of several landing craft on September 27th, 1942 during the Battle of Guadalcanal. (Click to Tweet this)
- They save an average of 10 lives per day. (Click to Tweet this)
- There are only two people who can hold the rank of full admiral in the Coast Guard at any time: the Commandant and Vice Commandant. (Click to Tweet this)
- The Surfman Badge, issued to personnel who qualify as coxswains of surf boats, is a direct homage to the seal of the Lifesaving Service. (Click to Tweet this)
- The first Coast Guardsman to hold the rating of journalist was Chief Petty Officer Alex Haley who, after 20 years of service, would go on to write, among other things, the Pulitzer Prize winning novel Roots. (Click to Tweet this)
- Several other celebrities served in the Coast Guard, including Caesar Romero, Arnold Palmer, and all three men in the Bridges acting family (Lloyd, Jeff, and Beau). (Click to Tweet this)
Just like any other military personnel, the men and women of the US Coast Guard must often relocate to meet the demands of their service. And it’s our honor here at MyBaseGuide to assist them with their relocation process.
Currently, the base guides we offer for Coast Guard installations are limited to Hawaii and the Coast Guard Academy, but we’re always expanding and will hopefully have coverage of all posts before long.
If you’re looking for housing near your next duty station check out AHRN.com for the best real estate options around military installations across the country.
For over 200 years, the members of the Coast Guard and its predecessors have courageously served and saved. From defending our shores to fighting overseas, from preventing crime to saving lives, our nation’s Guardsmen carry out their numerous duties with devotion and bravery. So take this August 4th as a day to celebrate and honor these “always ready” men and women.