The Unique Role of the US Coast Guard

Coast Guard in Guantanamo Bay
Coast Guard Cutter Ocracoke gets underway from U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, May 12, with a viper boat escort from Coast Guard Port Security Unit 313 (not pictured). (Spc. Eric Liesse/Joint Task Force Guantanamo Public Affairs)

The Coast Guard falls under the Department of Homeland Security, rather than the Defense Department. However, the Coast Guard is considered a military service, because, during times of war or conflict, the president of the United States can transfer any or all assets of the Coast Guard to the Department of the Navy. In fact, this has happened during almost every conflict in which the United States have been involved. 

The Coast Guard is commanded by a four-star admiral, known as the Coast Guard commandant.

The Coast Guard is the nation's oldest continuous seagoing service with responsibilities including search and rescue (SAR), maritime law enforcement (MLE), aids to navigation (ATON), ice breaking, environmental protection, port security and military readiness. 

In order to accomplish these missions, the Coast Guard has approximately 43,000 active-duty men and women, more than 8,000 Reservists and 30,000 Auxiliary personnel who serve in a variety of job fields, ranging from operation specialists and small-boat operators and maintenance specialists to electronic technicians and aviation mechanics. During an average day, the Coast Guard will:

  • Conduct 109 search-and-rescue cases
  • Save 10 lives and assist 192 people in distress
  • Protect $2,791,841 in property
  • Launch 396 small boat missions
  • Launch 164 aircraft missions, logging 324 hours
  • Board 144 vessels
  • Seize 169 pounds of marijuana and 306 pounds of cocaine worth $9,589,000
  • Intercept 14 illegal migrants
  • Board 100 large vessels for port safety checks
  • Respond to 20 oil or hazardous chemical spills totaling 2,800 gallons
  • Service 135 aids to navigation

Read more about Coast Guard Missions in the News

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