Coast Guard Boosting Cooperation with Military

By Matthew Rusling
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Last summer, as Russian forces lay siege to the nation of Georgia, the Coast Guard cutter Dallas, along with two Navy ships, sailed to the Black Sea to provide relief.

The Coat Guard crew, under Operation Assured Delivery, docked at the port of Bat’umi, and delivered 80 pallets of humanitarian assistance supplies.

There are likely to be more joint missions such as these for the Coast Guard, officials said. The Dallas, prior to the Georgia mission, participated in Africa Partnership Station, an initiative to improve maritime safety and security in West and Central Africa.

The Coast Guard’s traditional role has been to undertake missions off U.S. shores — “the home game” — while the Navy has usually worked overseas — “the away game.” But the Coast Guard has officially incorporated into its doctrine the idea of further integration with other military branches. And it is increasingly putting this idea into practice.

In October 2007, the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard released a joint document, entitled “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower,” which outlines this new doctrine of cooperation.

“Coast Guard forces must be able to operate as part of a joint task force thousands of miles from our shores,” a pamphlet describing the document said. “And naval forces must be able to respond to operational tasking close to home when necessary to secure our nation and support civil authorities.”  

“It’s the first time in history, at least that we found documented, that the commandant of the Marine Corps, the commandant of the Coast Guard and the chief of naval operations signed a joint document that began to define how [they]…will work with each other,” said Rear Adm.

Jody Breckenridge, director of the Coast Guard’s strategic transformation team. She spoke at the annual National Defense Industrial Association’s Coast Guard conference and exhibition.   

The challenge for the Coast Guard will be to implement those ideas, she said.

“I think the biggest [challenge] is operationalizing the joint maritime strategy that the Marine Corps, the Coast Guard and the Navy have signed. That is going to be the way forward,” she said.  

In line with the new doctrine, the service will increasingly act in places where the Navy might not. This could include places where sending a Navy ship overseas, even to deliver aid, could give the wrong political message, said Dana Goward, director of Coast Guard assessment, integration and risk management.

Anchoring a naval vessel off another country’s shores could be perceived as threatening, he said. The cutter Dallas that helped to deliver relief supplies to Georgia is one example.

“In many instances a Coast Guard boat is much more acceptable to a foreign nation because it is not from the [Defense Department],” Goward said. These types of missions will increase, he added.

“When natural or manmade disasters strike, our maritime forces can provide humanitarian assistance and relief, joining with interagency and nongovernmental partners,” the joint document said.

The vast majority of the world’s population lives within a few hundred miles of the ocean, the document noted.

“Social instability in increasingly crowded cities, many of which exist in already unstable parts of the world, has the potential to create significant disruptions. The effects of climate change may also amplify human suffering through catastrophic storms, loss of arable lands, and coastal flooding,” the document said.

In response to these climate change concerns, the Coast Guard is also filling in a gap in the Arctic, where it operates the nation’s fleet of polar icebreakers. Melting sea ice has made the region a potential hotspot as various nations lay claim to its waters and natural resources.

“That’s a direct example of how we are a unique force provider for the [Defense Department] and the Navy,” Goward said. “The Navy doesn’t have any icebreakers there.”

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad Allen said cooperation between his service and the other branches is growing. He is speaking to the Navy about how to best integrate the use of unmanned aerial vehicles into the new National Security Cutters, which are designed to operate thousands of miles from U.S. shores.

“Our intention is to be joint and to be closer,” Allen said of the Navy and the Coast Guard.

The Navy is now allowing Coast Guard personnel to try out for its elite, special operations teams, the sea, air and land forces, commonly known as the SEALs. Those who make it through the two-year training program will be assigned to a SEAL team for five to seven years, although they will remain officially part of the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard is unique among the armed forces because it operates in two worlds. As a law enforcement agency, its personnel can make arrests where their military counterparts are prohibited from doing so under the Posse Comitatus Act.

“Frequently we will put law enforcement detachments aboard naval vessels.… That ship will fly the Coast Guard [flag] to show that it is now a law enforcement vessel,” Goward said.
If that boat encounters any illegal activity, it can take action, he added.  

The two branches have also conducted joint exercises. More than 930 Navy and Coast Guard active-duty and reserve personnel participated in the maritime security operations exercise Seahawk in the summer of 2007.

The exercise’s goal was to boost interoperability, officials said. It focused on preventing violent extremists from using the sea as a route for attacks on land.

The Coast Guard also maintains a joint training center at the Marine Corps base in Camp Lejeune, N.C. The Coast Guard’s Special Missions Training Center offers courses, teaches doctrine and conducts testing and evaluation of equipment.

The program is a part of an effort to provide standardized port security training for Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps personnel. Coast Guard courses range from basic skills in securing ports to lessons in pursuing non-compliant vessels. Marine Corps classes include small boat unit leadership. Navy courses give instruction in such subjects as combat and interdicting small craft.

As the Coast Guard aims for closer partnerships with the rest of the military, the question arises of whether true jointness is feasible. Cooperation entails precise planning and careful coordination.

But Allen said relations between the branches of the military are good and that he expects integration to improve.

Topics: International, Homeland Security

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