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The Coast Guard's Volunteer Force: Service to the Nation at Bargain Basement Prices
The Coast Guard's Volunteer Force:
Service to the Nation at Bargain Basement Prices


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October 11, 2004

By Wayne Spivak
National Press Corps
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary

For the last sixty-six years, one of this nation's best-kept defense secret has been the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary. The Auxiliary is the uniformed, non-military, volunteer component of the United States Coast Guard.

Authorized under Title 14 Chapter 23 of the United States Code, as amended; the Auxiliary is specifically a "nonmilitary organization," under the command and control of the Commandant, for the Secretary (initially the Treasury Secretary, then the Transportation Secretary and now the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security).

The Commandant has to date authorized the Auxiliary to perform any and all missions that the Coast Guard currently performs, save for those missions prohibited by law (military involvement) and currently direct law enforcement.

To this end, the Auxiliary has been performing the lion's share of the Coast Guard's Recreational Boating Safety (RBS) mandate; through both the Coast Guard's and the Auxiliary's own programs. These programs, along with State, Local and private initiatives have helped to stem, then reverse and mostly maintain the tide of boating fatalities. In addition to these RBS programs, the Auxiliary has been actively involved in coastal and intra-coastal search and rescue, Marine Safety and Environmental Protection, as well as other support (administrative) functions.

The 2002 Auxiliary budget was approximately $12 million dollars. This budget is used to support the Auxiliary operation by utilizing Coast Guard Officers, Enlisted and Civilian employees to assist in running the Auxiliary program, as well as supplementing other operating costs, such as travel, training, and fuel. The Coast Guard estimates that for each dollar spent on the Auxiliary and Auxiliary programs, they save $13.

But a thirteen-fold return on investment is not the only benefit that the Coast Guard or the country receives. It is the investment of countless, nameless hours by dedicated Americans that enable the Coast Guard to meet their ever increasing mission demands.

From the Auxiliarist who cooks at Coast Guard Station, Fire Island in New York, to the Auxiliarist who is awakened in the early morning hours in Venice, FL by a SAR Controller, because there are no other assets to respond to a vessel in distress.

It's the countless men and women that don a uniform, and go each day to the local marina or boat ramp and perform Vessel Safety Checks, making sure that each boat and boater has and knows their vessel has all the required safety equipment on-board and that it's in working order.

Or the Auxilliarists who take their time, each and every week to teach safe boating classes to the ever increasing number of boaters.

These events are not just past successes, they are today, and will be tomorrow. As the Coast Guard Auxiliary transforms along with the Coast Guard, both of these components will see and seek tighter integration, as missions and mission priorities change.

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The Past

Since its inception, the Auxiliary has been used as a force-multiplier. During times of war or national crisis or natural disaster, the Coast Guard has called upon its Auxiliary to assist both the Coast Guard, as well as State and Local governments with relief efforts.

From manning sand bags, to pushing paper at CG units, these America's Volunteer Lifesavers™ have permitted the understaffed Coast Guard to realign its manpower, and fulfill its multi-missions. Success of this force has its roots in its inception, during the early 1940's.

Throughout World War II, Auxiliarists manned harbor patrols, both on foot and on the high seas. These volunteers saved lives, chased U-boats, and secured our ports.

William Mansfield and crew put to sea on the night of 14 May 1942 from Miami. They went to find the torpedoed Mexican tanker Porto de Llano. The found her in a sea of flames. The vessel and its cargo were on fire. The water surface was burning from the oil floating on it. The USCG Auxiliary vessel went to the very edge of the ring of fire and pulled the survivors aboard.
During the "lean" times, volunteer members conducted hundred of thousands of public boating courses, teaching boating safety, navigation and other nautical skills. When not teaching in a classroom, these volunteer conducted countless Courtesy Marine Examinations, now called Vessel Safety Checks (VSC).

So important is this effort, that the program was expanded to other major boating organizations and to local law enforcement. For the Coast Guard considers both boating education and VSC's part of the first line of offense.

It is believed that informed recreational boaters will carry proper safety equipment which has been checked for operational quality and the educated boater will venture out only in conditions that match their seamanship skill level. As such, VSC's and boating education is considered preventive Search and Rescue (SAR).

The Coast Guard hopes that over time these programs will change the life cycle of Search and Rescue. More informed recreational boaters would result in fewer SAR emergencies.

The Present

In response to the tragedy of September 11th, 2001, Auxiliarists nationwide voluntarily flocked to their responsible Coast Guard units. In areas like New York City, and its surrounding counties, it was the Auxiliarists who manned the SAR vessels, while the regular and reserve components provided Homeland and Maritime Security missions.

It must be understood, for this is a key issue, that the Auxiliary is not covered under The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), where jobs of those who are called up in an emergency are protected by law. Auxiliarists in the true spirit of volunteerism stepped up to the plate (and continue to do so) to provide service their country and their communities.

There has been a slow and gradual shift in paradigm since September 11th. With the transfer of the Coast Guard from the Department of Transportation to the newly formed Department of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard itself has had a renewed existence, as well as a modified change in focus.

While all the missions of the Coast Guard remained, a new emphasis has been placed on homeland security, Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) and Maritime Security (MARSEC). As the Coast Guard has realigned its assets to meet these new missions, it has come to rely more on its Auxiliary to provide its force-multiplier complements.

As recently stated by VADM Thomas Barrett, Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard:

With the new paradigm and with a global war on terrorism, all missions of the Coast Guard still exist. Boating safety is still an extremely important mission.
An Inch of Gold for an Inch of Time

In 2002, 3.8 million hours of service were logged by Auxiliary members. In 2003, preliminary numbers show over 4 million hours, approximately a 5.8% increase. [See Table 1] These hours are categorized in 23 major categories, and about 3 times as many sub-categories. It is felt that these numbers are low, since many Auxiliarists fail to document the time they invest in their roles, or improperly calculate the hours actually spent on Auxiliary/Coast Guard missions.

In a speech at the National Conference (NACON) of the Coast Guard Auxiliary in 2003, VADM Thomas Barrett said

[my] thanks to those giving up their weekend to make our waters safer for all. Time is non-renewable, and that time is the most that you can give to any organization."

The Chinese proverb is "An Inch of Gold for an Inch of Time" gives a clear perspective of both how the new Coast Guard is viewing the Auxiliary, and how many Auxiliarists now feel about the Coast Guard, and more importantly the Auxiliary.

While You Were Reading This Article

While reading, here is what Auxiliarists did, for the nation, for the Coast Guard and for each and every community that has an Auxiliary Flotilla:
Completes 62.5 safety patrols
Completes 6.2 regatta patrols
Performs 10.2 vessel assists
Assists 28 people
Saves 1 life
Saves $341,290 in property
Participates in 100 operational support missions
Participates in 48.7 administrative support missions
Completes 13.4 recruiting support missions
Educates 369 people on boating safety
Performs 299 vessel safety checks
Attends 70 public affairs functions
Congressional Leader's See Need for More Auxiliaries

The concept of an Auxiliary is beginning to take hold in Washington. The Coast Guard Auxiliary is the oldest such auxiliary, with the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) being only slightly younger. CAP has only been in existence as long as the Coast Guard Reserve (1941).

The idea of using volunteers to support the military mission, cut overhead, and involve the community with the military establishment has found support in the Senate. Sen. John Warner (R-VA) proposed new legislation in April 2003 to support such a concept. Interestingly enough, the section of the bill relating to creation of military auxiliaries is completely fashioned from the US Code (Title 14, USC Chapt. 23) used to form, and maintain the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Both co-sponsors, Senators Warner & Levin (D-MI) obviously feel that both the Coast Guard Auxiliary's actions and model are sufficiently tested as to deserve not only praise, but duplication. It is said that "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," and it would seem that Mr. Warner and Mr. Levin want their colleagues to agree.

Notwithstanding the current Senate Bill, which arguably in its present form will bear no resemblance to the Bill that will reach the Senate floor, or the Conference Committee, should it ever make it that far, it is clear that the intent and support for the concept is, as it has in the past, supportive.

Support, from Congress or Congressional leaders, as well as budgetary support will further enable the Auxiliary to meet its role, in both the Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security.

The Future

In years past, the Auxiliary and the Coast Guard paths, while intertwined, were for the most part segregated. Auxiliarists were sometimes considered (by both themselves, as well as the Active Duty Coast Guard) members of a yacht club, who occasionally were called upon to assist the Coast Guard in times of needed manpower. The Auxiliary's performance was welcome and fully appreciated, to assist their older wiser cousin, for those 'surge' operations.

But change is on the horizon. With the changes in our landscape, and the transference of the Coast Guard from the Department of Transportation to the Department of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard, and it chief primary focus has changed.

This is not to say that all the other missions that the Coast Guard is responsible for, are not as important, but Homeland Security and Maritime Domain Awareness has changed the landscape. In a small service, which was stretched for manpower and money, these changes are further stretching both manpower and the budget.

As for the future, VADM Barrett painted a picture of the Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary, "with new paradigm and with a global war on terrorism, all missions of the Coast Guard still exist. Boating safety is still an extremely important mission."

"The Coast Guard can't do it alone,." said Admiral Barrett. "Without the Auxiliary there the Coast Guard would find it difficult to meet the short and long term challenges."

To this end, VADM Barrett remarked, "professionalism is increasing, more personnel will be needed, more qualified to work in multi-missions, which require a more diverse organization."

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