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Coast Guard

The Coast Guard is, under Title 14, U.S. Code, "At all times an armed force of the United States." The Coast Guard is organizationally in the Department of Transportation, but, in time of war, or by presidential decree, reports to the U.S. Navy, providing services to the Department of Defense. Although the Coast Guard is the smallest U.S. Armed Service, it is the twelfth largest navy, in number of vessels, in the world, and operates the worlds seventh largest naval air force.

The Coast Guard has four main roles: maritime law enforcement, maritime safety, national defense and marine environmental protection. The only federal law enforcement agency with jurisdiction in both U.S. waters and on the high seas, the Coast Guard's enforcement of U.S. laws and treaties focuses on conducting multi-agency counter-drug operations, interdicting illegal migrants and contraband, protecting living marine resources and helping to stem weapons proliferation, among other critical tasks. The Coast Guard has the primary authority to enforce all applicable federal laws and to ensure the safety of persons on, over, and under the high seas and adjacent waters subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. Additionally, the Coast Guard enforces applicable international agreements.

Its counter-drug missions are critical to achieving the National Drug Control Strategy goals: to detect, disrupt, deter, and seize illegal drugs that kill 15,000 Americans and cost the public more than $110 billion each year. In fiscal year 1999 alone, the Coast Guard interdicted more than 111,000 pounds of cocaine, keeping some 500 million "hits" with a value of $4 billion off America's streets and out of its schools.

The U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone holds some 20 percent of the world's fishery resources and supports a commercial industry valued at more than $25 billion. The Coast Guard's boardings and inspections of both foreign- and U.S.- flagged fishing vessels have increased significantly in recent years and are critically important factors in helping to rebuild and maintain fish stocks at risk from overfishing.

Between 1980 and 2000, the Coast Guard interdicted more than 290,000 illegal migrants from 44 countries. This flood of people is expected to increase in the years ahead, as economic, cultural, ethnic, and political strife remain endemic throughout much of the world. The Coast Guard will be at the front lines ensuring the sanctity of America's maritime frontiers.

The service's multi-mission approach permits a relatively small organization to respond to public needs in a wide variety of maritime activities and to shift emphasis as needs indicate. A CG aircraft may search for and assist distressed vessels, evacuate injured people, conduct pollution detection and surveillance flights, report sightings in conjunction with law enforcement, or carry out the mission of the International Ice Patrol.

Since 1790, the Coast Guard has served in every major national conflict, earning 30 battle and campaign streamers. To maintain the Coast Guard as an effective, ready armed force, operating units which would be assigned naval warfare missions maintain weapons and combat systems. Units and personnel also meet military training requirements. The Coast Guard also trains personnel with small arms such as M-16s, shotguns and M9.9mm pistols for law enforcement and post security duties. The Coast Guard and Coast Guard Reserve frequently participate in joint-service military exercises to evaluate military readiness. These exercises may be either strategy sessions or field exercises.

In wartime, the Coast Guard provides security at pier and dockside facilities, keeps shipping lanes clear of underwater mines and conducts search and rescue missions. Other jobs might include antisubmarine warfare, salvage work, explosive ordnance disposal, and surveillance and interdiction. To prepare its personnel for that job, the Coast Guard trains with Department of Defense forces in realistic war games in the actual ports.

The Coast Guard is also responsible for the Maritime Defense Zone. The Atlantic and Pacific Area commanders are responsible for coastal warfare, defense planning and exercises. In war, or when an MDZ is activated, Coast Guard MDZ commanders conduct port security and U.S. coastal defense operations within the 200-mile zone. The MDZ commands integrate Coast Guard and Navy forces, both active and reserve.

On February 25, 2003 the United States Coast Guard was transferred to the Department of Homeland Security.

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Page last modified: 12-08-2011 00:04:55 ZULU