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Written Sunday, June 29, 2003.

On Friday, when I left the office, I took the ferry from Manhattan to Hoboken.  It was the first day this year that felt like summer, and it was a beautiful day on the river.  I found it so suddenly relaxing to sit and idly watch the waves churn and froth.  On these ferry trips, I've long since stopped staring at the gash in the skyline where the World Trade Center used to be.  This Friday, for a few minutes, a small boat sped alongside and past us.  There were two men at the helm, and they wore the distinctive orange-colored floatation vests that said, "U.S. Coast Guard."  They looked like they were hot, focused and working hard.

Since 9/11, I have an acute awareness and appreciation for the Coast Guard.  We live near Sandy Hook, where there is a Coast Guard base, but before 9/11, I never thought much about it.  Sandy Hook is a peninsula that points North to New York City, from the eastern shoulder of New Jersey.  It is the gateway to New York Harbor.

On the early morning of 9/11, there was just one small Coast Guard utility boat on the water in New York Harbor.  It was piloted by a young, twenty-something Boatswains mate who had just passed his certification a few weeks before.  When the second hijacked jet struck the World Trade Center, his boat was travelling north on the Hudson River right where my commuter ferry crosses every day.  The Boatswains mate watched as the jet flew overhead right into the building.  New York Harbor came under martial law that morning, and at that moment, this twenty-something was the most senior military authority on the water in New York Harbor.

After the hijacked jets hit, the Coast Guard cutter, the Adak, based out of Sandy Hook, was the first cutter in the harbor.  Normally, the Adak does drug interdiction on the high seas.  The crew is specially trained in identifying and stopping suspicious ships, and in boarding and searching vessels, as well as arresting suspects.  

On 9/11, the Coast Guard used all of their boats and ships that were available to take military control of New York Harbor, as well as coordinate the evacuation of an estimated hundreds of thousands of people from Manhattan by ferry (one estimate was a million people).  All search and rescue responsibility in the New York area that day was turned over to the Coast Guard Auxiliary (civilians volunteers who assist the Coast Guard in their spare time).

In the advent of the Iraqi conflict, about two dozen Coast Guard vessels were assigned to the Middle East, and among these was the Adak.  At the beginning of the war, the Adak was fired on by several Iraqi patrol boats.  Just before ships from the United States Navy blew the Iraqi boats out of the water, several Iraqi sailors jumped overboard and were taken prisoner by the Adak.

The Coast Guard was sent to the Middle East because of their special skill set.  Besides port security, they provide valuable experience in controlling commercial water traffic, especially for boats that could potentially be smuggling weapons, Iraqi military personnel or terrorists.  The Coast Guard also monitors for air and water pollution and are first responders for chemical spills and other environmental disasters.  They have ships dedicated to this with specially trained crews.  About half the Coast Guard ships in the Middle East were sent in case of chemical spills.

I'm not putting the Coast Guard above the other branches of the military, but the Coast Guard has a very important role to play in our national security, especially domestically, and I do feel they are very under recognized and under appreciated.

The Coast Guard must be stretched very thin right now, with so many ships being allocated for military duty, including homeland security.  On 9/11 itself, due to the magnitude of the emergency, some Coast Guard Auxiliary personnel were deployed as crew on military vessels, and at least one auxiliary boat was used to help blockade the Hudson River.  The Coast Guard also called up its reserves that day.  Post, 9/11, the larger Coast Guard boats in New York and the other major harbors have 50 caliber machine guns mounted on the bow, with men trained to use them.  It's unfortunate that ships have to be diverted for military use, away from enforcement of drug, immigration, fishing and pollution laws, but I imagine the surveillance for terrorists overlaps with that for smugglers and other lawbreakers.

So the next time you're relaxing, maybe watching the waves roll in, or just enjoying some coffee while reading the Sunday papers, remember there are some men and women out there on the water--focused, sweating, and working hard, so you and your loved ones can enjoy your liberty and leisure.
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ByStanding Featured By Owner May 28, 2013
Agreed. My dad is a Coast Guard veteran, and I do feel they get less love than the other branches. Perhaps they're just seen as less "sexy" than the Marines. I salute them and their hard work.
kabloona Featured By Owner May 28, 2013
I appreciate the comment.
persistence Featured By Owner Aug 11, 2003
Thank you for the kind words about our young men and women in the USCG. It is truly an elite branch of the military, now homeland security; of which few people are familiar. The thousands of miles of shoreline surrounding our country are of the few protections the USCG offers us. We stroll on the beach, swim in the ocean, have ocean front homes without a thought of worry, because the USCG is on 24 hour watch for our 'homeland security'.

Many thanks again!
shepimp Featured By Owner Jul 26, 2003  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I greatly appreciate this piece- i too feel that the Coast Guard is highly underappreciated: for example, i had been talking to someone about my fiance, and that person called him a "grunt" because he was in the coast guard. You'd be amazed at how many people think the coast guard is the service for the ones who couldn't physically get into other branches, people are stupid, i'd give you that, they'll believe anything. SO i think you should try and get this published in say, i dunno, your local news paper or something if you havn't already.

I know my john works insanely hard- for example, the other day, he worked a good 18 hour day, and then sacrificed his sleep to talk to me on the internet while in alaska. he Got one hour of sleep- and did the same thing the next day. all while working hard.

as for the guns mounted on the decks...well that's true! [link]

(there are a couple other pictures up on his site from his patrol in Alaska, check em out if you like) =) (Smile)
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