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NEWS | Aug. 26, 2016


By Capt. Mark Fedor, commanding officer USCGC James

On August 4, 2016 the United States Coast Guard celebrated its 226th birthday.  The annual "Coast Guard Day" recognizes our proud history as the nation's oldest, continuous sea going service but it's more than just a day on the calendar.   It's an acknowledgement of who we are as a military service.  For as much as we evolve to meet modern threats, our operational missions are still guided by the words of our founder, Alexander Hamilton, back in 1790.

At the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, Hamilton saw our fledgling nation drowning in debt and recognized the need to bring the country into financial solvency.  In addition to creating the modern tax and banking system, he convinced Congress to fund a "Revenue Cutter Service" to collect import taxes from foreign merchant ships.  His plan worked but he had bigger designs for this small Cutter Service as reflected in his statement, "A few armed vessels judiciously stationed at the entrances to our ports might make useful sentinels of the law." 

As brilliant as he was, Hamilton might be surprised to see how his small fleet of "sentinels" would grow eventually merging with the U.S. Lifesaving Service in 1915 to become the modern U.S. Coast Guard.  Unique throughout the federal government as a member of the armed services, a member of the national intelligence community and a law enforcement agency, today's Coast Guard also regulates shipping and is the recognized world's leader in maritime search and rescue (SAR).  Similar to a middle-weight boxer who punches well above their weight, the U.S. Coast Guard has 11 statutory missions ranging from national defense to environmental protection.  Essentially, if a maritime issue isn't specifically defense related, we own it or are directly involved.  A huge responsibility for a service of 42,000 active duty members which is only slightly larger than the New York City Police Department.

Facing 21st challenges such as terrorism, illicit trafficking, illegal migration and new shipping lanes opening in the Arctic region, the Coast Guard operates within the first and last lines of maritime defense.  Here in Charleston, you'll see smaller Coast Guard boats patrolling the harbor, escorting cruise ships and conducting near-shore SAR and law enforcement missions.  This is the Coast Guard most Americans are familiar with and the service Hamilton probably envisioned.  However, Charleston is also home to two of the Coast Guard's most sophisticated vessels, the National Security Cutters HAMILTON and JAMES.  These 418 ft. cutters were constructed to combat maritime threats as far from our shores as possible because, in today's complex world, it's not good enough to only play defense at "the entrances to our ports".  We must keep shipping lanes open for commerce, disrupt transnational criminal organizations in the open ocean where they are most vulnerable and expand our borders to an area where we have the tactical advantage.  National security cutters were equipped to do just that.

Despite all of our technologically sophisticated systems, we are still guided by the seven principles of operation that Alexander Hamilton issued to the first commanding officers of the Revenue Cutter Service in 1790 - Clear Objective, Unity of Effort, Effective Presence, Restraint, Flexibility, On-Scene Initiative and Managed Risk.  They are as applicable today as they were in our nation's earliest days.  As the commanding officer of the cutter JAMES, the crew and I are proud to serve our nation and embody Hamilton's ideals.  Even after 226 years, some things never get old.