U.S. Coast Guard Reserve Celebrates 75 Years
The U.S. Coast Guard Reserve celebrates 75 years of serving the United States on February 19, 2016. The theme for this anniversary is “Thank You,” as the organization would like to thank its members for their enduring commitment to professionalism, patriotism and preparedness and also to thank the American public for their continued faith and support.
“The nearly 7,000 men and women that make up the Coast Guard Reserve want to use the opportunity of our 75th anniversary to thank the American public for the privilege of allowing us to serve them,” said Master Chief Petty Officer Eric L. Johnson, the most senior enlisted member of the Coast Guard Reserve.
The Auxiliary and Reserve Act of 1941, signed on February 19, 1941, designated the Coast Guard Reserve as a military branch of the active duty service. Since World War II, Coast Guard reservists have served in every major conflict or crisis the U.S. has faced. From the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima to the shores of the Gulf Coast for Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
“I cannot applaud enough the great work our reservists continually perform, time and time again, since 1941,” said Admiral Paul F. Zukunft, 25th Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard.
For 75 years, the Coast Guard Reserve has taken on the job of utility responder, meaning reservists have the unique ability to respond to a multitude of crises and amplify the service’s ability to ensure the safety, security and stewardship of America’s waters.
“The Coast Guard depends on the Reserve Force to be always ready to mobilize with critical competencies in boat operations, contingency planning and response, expeditionary warfare, marine safety, port security, law enforcement and mission support,” said Rear Admiral Kurt B. Hinrichs, director of Reserve and Military Personnel.
The Coast Guard Reserve is a multi-mission workforce ready to respond to a variety of threats to the United States and its people. Whether the need is related to a domestic man-made or natural disaster or requires an international deployment in support of the Department of Defense, Coast Guard reservists remain Semper Paratus (Always Ready) to answer their country's call.
The original Coast Guard Reserve Act was signed into law June 23, 1939, thus creating the Coast Guard Reserve. It was then a non-military service comprised of volunteer boat owners and yachtsmen tasked with promoting seamanship and boating safety — in essence, they were tasked with performing the missions of today’s Auxiliary. President Roosevelt declared an Unlimited National Emergency May 27, 1941, the Coast Guard Reserve was already established, and the Coast Guard was ready for the imminent influx of needed wartime personnel. The Coast Guard began operations under the Department of the Navy on November 1, 1941.
Upon the massive demobilization at the end of World War II, all the regular and Temporary Reservists returned to their civilian status. Though some reservists continued to hold informal meetings, no organized Coast Guard Reserve program existed, nor were there congressional appropriations for maintaining or training a Coast Guard Reserve force. Though the other services were receiving money to maintain Reserve components, the Coast Guard Reserve was an uncertain entity for several years following war’s end. Even without “official” organization, many officers were maintained on “inactive status” as their names were on file at Headquarters and they could be reached if necessary.
Throughout the 1960s, maximizing the capability for quality mobilization-related training was a central focus. New units were developed, small boats were acquired, and cutters were operated for the express purpose of Reserve training. Since the early 1950s, Reserve appropriations had grown to support 46 authorized ORTUPS. The Coast Guard Reserve had 139 port security units and 63 vessel augmentation units. The growth of the Coast Guard Reserve resulted in the creation of the Office of Reserve in 1963. During the Vietnam conflict, nearly 8,000 Coast Guard personnel, both Active and Reserve, served in Southeast Asia. In 1967, the Coast Guard transferred from the Department of Treasury to the newly created Department of Transportation.
As the Vietnam conflict wound down the Reserve's drill strength declined. Peacetime missions were developed leading to augmentation, where active duty and reservists worked together to attain Coast Guard mission goals. Congress authorized the involuntary call up of Coast Guard Reservists for peacetime assistance when needed. Since that time, the Coast Guard Reserve has responded to numerous incidents, including Mississippi, Ohio and Red River floods, the Mariel Boatlift in 1980, hurricanes, oil spills, various vessel explosions, sinkings and airplane crashes. In 1973, women were included in an Officer Candidate School class for the first time, and the Women’s Reserve was finally dismantled. All SPARs became members of the Coast Guard Reserve.
The 1980s brought more changes and new challenges to the Coast Guard Reserve program. The year 1984 saw the formation of the Office of Readiness and Reserve at Headquarters. This combined the former Office of Reserve with readiness divisions, already existing within the Office of Operations. Other changes affecting the Coast Guard Reserve during the 1980s were the first Reserve Officer Candidate Indoctrination classes convening at RTC Yorktown (1984), a district realignment that reduced the number of districts from 12 to 10, the commencement of providing port security for space shuttle operations in 1981 while the deployable port security unit program was initiated in 1984. Person of the year awards were established for both officers and enlisted personnel.
Following a downsizing of the Reserve program from 12,000 SELRES to 8,000 in 1993-94, a major Reserve program shift occurred: Integration. Integration disbanded the old Reserve unit structure and placed reservists under the command of Active Duty units. The port security unit program also reorganized and by the late 1990s, PSUs were commissioned in six districts around the nation with the unit number corresponding with the district number. The position of the Coast Guard Reserve Force Master Chief was formed in 1991 and the first Reserve Chief Petty Officers Academy Course graduated in 1993. The Reserve website went on-line in 1995, with The Reservist magazine following in 1996.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, highlighted the value of the Reserve. Exercising existing unique authorities granted the Secretary of Transportation, 1,100 reservists mobilized on duty by 14 September. In 2005, a series of natural disasters again led to the recall of hundreds of reservists. Hurricane Katrina devastated Gulf Coast states followed by Hurricane Rita. This high operation tempo in the post-September 11 world forced the Coast Guard to re-evaluate how it should manage, administer, and train the Reserve Component for surge and contingency operations. The Reserve Force Readiness System (RFRS) structure was designed and created to ensure ongoing alignment of strategic and tactical program management.
Seventy-five years have passed since the 77th Congress passed the Auxiliary and Reserve Act in 1941. The Coast Guard Reserve is a flexible, responsive operational force that exists to support the Coast Guard roles of maritime homeland security, national defense (domestic and expeditionary), and domestic disaster operations. The Coast Guard Reserve has taken its full place beside the Reserve forces of the other services. Its history of professionalism, patriotism and preparedness is one every Coast Guardsman and every American can be proud of.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.