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Coast Guard celebrates 230th birthday

| August 4, 2020 1:00 AM

When Alexander Hamilton, the nation’s first Secretary of Treasury, created the Revenue Cutter Service — the precursor to the U.S. Coast Guard — with the Tariff Act in August 1790, his chief aim was collecting this new Republic’s trade revenue.

But it was the rest of those first 10 single-mast cutters’ mission which stuck: Catching smugglers and pirates, and serving as the Treasury’s “useful sentinels of the law.”

Today the Coast Guard, a branch of the U.S. military which predates the Navy, is America’s maritime first responder. While it was originally exclusively domestic, it now serves international security as well as economic interests, sometimes deploying overseas for joint operations, training, and diplomatic missions.

At home the Coast Guard also responds to environmental pollution, drugs, and other problems in coastal waters. Its men and women rescue 20,000 people each year (sometimes at the cost of their own lives) and have fought valiantly in all of our nation’s wars and conflicts.

On an average day the Coast Guard also:

• Seizes more than 1,000 pounds of illegal drugs;

• Conducts 57 patrols of critical infrastructure;

• Conducts 24 security boardings, 14 fisheries conservation boardings, and screens 360 merchant vessels near U.S. ports;

• Services 82 buoys and navigation aids;

• Investigates 35 pollution incidents; and

• Facilitates the movement of $8.7 billion worth of goods and commodities through the Nation’s Maritime Transportation System.

All in a day’s work for those who serve “semper paratus” (always ready).

In peacetime, the Coast Guard reports to the Department of Homeland Security. In wartime, to the Secretary of the Navy. While the smallest of American armed forces, our Coast Guard is also as big as the entire navies of some nations. With more than 40,900 active duty personnel, 7,000 reservists, 31,000 volunteer auxiliarists, 8,577 civilian staff, 244 cutters, 1,850 boats, and 202 aircraft, “small” is relative.

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Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Contact her at