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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Sunday Ship History: The Coast Guard Auxiliary

30,000 strong, rankless (those rank-like devices indicate the job they hold, not a rank) and volunteers--- the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.

So who are these men and women who contribute a couple of million hours of time to helping boaters and providing services under the Coast Guard umbrella?

In the beginning, there was the United States Coast Guard. And that was it. Then, as prosperity and mass production allowed more Americans to enjoy personal pleasure boating, the Coast Guard was taxed to the limit in keeping up with the demand. As is the case in such times of need, there came an idea, as set out by John A, Tiley of East Carolina University:
The 1915 act creating the Coast Guard described it as "an armed service," but it differed from the Army and the Navy in at least one fundamental respect: The Coast Guard had no peacetime reserve. The idea of creating one had surfaced occasionally (the oldest reference to such a concept dates from 1851), but the federal government had never acted on it.

In the summer of 1934 a yachtsman named Malcolm Stuart Boylan planted the seed that eventually sprouted as the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. Boylan had just been elected commodore of the newly-created Pacific Writers' Yacht Club, which was about to undertake a cruise from its home in Los Angeles to Catalina Island. Boylan asked a Coast Guard acquaintance, LTCDR C.W. Thomas of the cutter Hermes, to inspect the club's boats before their departure.

Another of the Hermes's officers, LT F.C. Pollard, made the trip to Catalina on board Boylan's yacht, and the two men had a long discussion about the relationship between the Coast Guard and the boating community. On August 23, 1934, Boylan sent Pollard a letter outlining a basic concept for a Coast Guard reserve: ...A Coast Guard Reserve would be an excellent thing to perpetuate its traditions, preserve its entity and, more particularly, to place at the disposal of CG officers, auxiliary flotillas of small craft for the frequent emergencies incident to your...duties. A copy of Boylan's letter made its way to Washington, and to the desk of CDR Russell Waesche, an aide to the Commandant of the Coast Guard. Waesche saw merit in the idea, but it languished for some five years.

In 1936 Waesche was promoted to rear-admiral and appointed Commandant. He was a forceful, energetic man, and the creation of a Coast Guard reserve became one of his favorite projects. With the backing of the Secretary of Commerce, the Secretary of the Navy, and several influential Congressmen, RADM Waesche finally was able to gain Congressional approval for the concept.

The Coast Guard Reserve Act of 1939, passed on June 23 of that year, created an institution that was unique in the federal government. The new Reserve was to have four broadly-defined purposes:

In the interest of (a) safety to life at sea and upon the navigable waters, (b) the promotion of efficiency in the operation of motorboats and yachts, and (c) a wider knowledge of, and better compliance with, the laws, rules, and regulations governing the operation and navigation of motorboats and yachts, and (d) facilitating certain operations of the Coast Guard, there is hereby established a United States Coast Guard Reserve...which shall be composed of citizens of the United States and its Territories and possessions...who are owners (sole or in part) or motorboats or yachts....
There was a rub, as is often the case, too. Unlike the Army or Naval Reserve, the Coast Guard Reserve consisted of civilians. Perhaps experienced boat owners and even veterans of wars, but civilians nonetheless. As such, they could not be ordered to active duty. As Tilley's tale continues:
By June of 1940 CDR Merlin O'Neill, the first Chief Director, and his District Directors had enrolled twenty-six hundred men and twenty-three hundred boats in the Coast Guard Reserve. With the support of ADM Waesche, Coast Guard bases began offering training courses for reservists. Those who passed the courses were appointed to three "reserve grades": Senior Navigator, Navigator, and Engineer.
In its original form the Coast Guard Reserve lasted less than two years. By early 1941 the Coast Guard was preparing for war. Events in Europe had demonstrated what demands for manpower and boats the service could expect to confront when, as now seemed inevitable, the United States entered the Second World War.

On February 19, 1941 Congress passed a law restructuring the Coast Guard Reserve. Henceforth the Coast Guard was to operate two reserve forces. The existing civilian reserve organization was renamed the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. A new U.S. Coast Guard Reserve was to function on a military basis as a source of wartime manpower, like the reserves of the other armed services.

Members of the new Coast Guard Reserve were to be divided into two categories. "Regular Reservists" were paid for their services, had to meet normal military physical standards, and when on active duty could be assigned to stations anywhere the Coast Guard deemed appropriate. Men who, for any reason, were unable to meet those requirements were invited to become "temporary members of the reserve." A "Coast Guard TR" was a volunteer who served only in some designated geographic area (usually near his home or workplace) and less than full-time. Age limits for TRs were seventeen and sixty-four, and physical requirements were not stringent. Members of the Auxiliary were invited to enroll in the Reserve as TRs - and bring their boats with them.

The officers running the Coast Guard appreciated the staggering demands that war would put on it, and the value of the new reserve system in helping them meet those demands. By the summer of 1941 the District Commanders were sending Coast Guard headquarters lists of boats owned by Auxiliarists that would make good patrol craft - and requisitioning Lewis machine guns, Thompson submachine guns, rifles, and pistols for them.

On November 1, 1941, President Roosevelt signed an order transferring the Coast Guard from the Treasury Department to the Navy Department. A few weeks later the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and the Coast Guard's reserve system was put to the ultimate test. On the night of December 7, amid rumors of Japanese invasion, twenty Coast Guard Auxiliarists from the 13th District took their boats out of Seattle on the service's first wartime patrol cruise. In May, 1942 the Secretary of the Navy authorized uniforms for the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Between 1941 and 1945 the Auxiliary was the Coast Guard's general-purpose assistant. The Auxiliary was supposed to be, in the words of a headquarters directive of May, 1943, "a civilian organization which is engaged in the training of its members to qualify them for active duty whenever needed with the CG, as temporary members of the CG Reserve." In some districts the Auxiliary did indeed function as a recruiting and training agency for the reserve; the wartime training courses became the nucleus of the Auxiliary's public education program. In other districts the jobs performed by Auxiliarists and Reservists were virtually indistinguishable. No one seemed to mind. Photo:
Coast Guard Auxiliarists advising boaters, Savannah, Georgia, ca. 1942. National Archives
Perhaps the Auxiliary's most important contribution to the war effort came in the form of the Volunteer Port Security Force. An executive order of February, 1942 directed the Secretary of the Navy to take the necessary steps to prevent "sabotage and subversive activities" on the nation's waterfronts. The task of protecting the hundreds of warehouses, piers, and other facilities that kept the American shipping industry in business fell to the Coast Guard, which in turn delegated it to the Reserve and the Auxiliary.

in such subjects as anti-espionage methods, fire prevention, customs inspections, and small arms handling. Eventually some twenty thousand Reservists and participated in port security patrols. About two thousand women enrolled as "TR In each port city a Coast Guard officer with the title Captain of the Port was placed in charge of a Port Security Force, consisting of TRs, Auxiliarists, and other civilians recruited for the purpose. The precise organizational structure varied from city to city. The Coast Guard set up a Reserve Training School in Philadelphia to train TRsAuxiliaristsSPARs," attending to the mountainous paper work that dispatched ships, cargoes, and troops overseas.

As the war went on and the Coast Guard's resources were stretched thinner, Auxiliarists and TRs were called upon to fill gaps wherever active duty Coast Guardsmen left them. Auxiliarists' boats patrolled the waterfronts and inlets looking for saboteurs, enemy agents, and fires. At least one unit of temporary Reservists, recruited from the Auxiliary, patrolled east coast beaches on horseback. Other Auxiliarists manned lookout and lifesaving stations near their homes, freeing regular Coast Guardsmen for sea duty. When a flood struck St. Louis in the spring of 1943, Coast Guard Auxiliarists and Reservists evacuated seven thousand people and thousands of livestock. Photo:
Coast Guard reserve members of the beach patrol: mounted and canine units, ca. 1942-45. CGAUX

The Auxiliary and the Reserve attracted their share of celebrity members. Actor Humphrey Bogart took his yacht on several patrols out of Los Angeles, and Arthur Fiedler, conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra, put in his twelve hours per week on patrol duty in Boston Harbor.

were awarded the Victory Medal. By 1945 the Coast Guard Auxiliary boasted a membership of 67,533, and 53,214 men and women (most of them Auxiliarists) were serving as temporary members of the Reserve. At the end of the war the Coast Guard TRs were "honorably disenrolled." Many remained Auxiliarists for years afterward. Wartime service had earned them no veterans' benefits and precious little other public recognition. In 1946 the TRsAuxiliarists who had not joined the Reserve had to be satisfied with the thanks of ADM Waesche:

The Auxiliary during the war years was indispensable. Many thousands of you served faithfully and loyally as Auxiliarists and as temporary members of the CG Reserve, performing hundreds of tasks and relieving thousands of Coast Guardsmen for duty outside the continental limits. The Coast Guard is deeply appreciative of this service.
After the war, things changed, both for the Coast Guard and the Auxiliary, as set out here:
In any given year, Auxiliary members work an untold number of hours, as they largely administer their own organization. In 1998, their assistance to the public resulted in 445 lives being saved, 12,760 persons being assisted, and a total value of $36.4 million dollars in volunteer services being provided on specific missions.

Following the war, by 1950 the four traditional Auxiliary cornerstone missions of public education, operations, vessel examination, and fellowship had been established. The public education program yearly trains tens of thousands of boaters in seamanship, piloting, rules of the road and weather. Specially qualified coxswain and crew members conduct search and rescue missions in their own boats and support Coast Guard missions. Auxiliary pilots and air observers search for boaters in distress, floating hazards, pollution spills, and ice-locked vessels. Communications watchstanders handle distress calls at Coast Guard and Auxiliary radio stations. Vessel examiners conduct Courtesy Marine Examinations under which recreational vessels are examined for properly installed federally required equipment and systems.

Auxiliarists rescue boater off an outboard that had foundered during storm 1967, Long Island Sound, New York.

During the past decades, the Auxiliary has continued to grow in membership which today totals some 34,000 members in the United States and its territories. Training is held at every level from the flotilla to national training schools. Leadership and management training, award programs, and data management systems ensure a high level of professionalism.

Under legislation passed in 1996, the Auxiliary's role was expanded to allow members to assist in any Coast Guard mission, except law enforcement and military operations, as authorized by the Commandant. Thus, Auxiliarists can be found examining commercial fishing vessels, flying in C-130 aircraft, working in Coast Guard offices, and crewing with regulars. In 1999, the three components of the service -- the active duty Coastguardsmen, the Reservists, and Auxiliarists, truly constitute TEAM COAST GUARD.

In any given year, Auxiliary members work an untold number of hours, as they largely administer their own organization. In 1998, their assistance to the public resulted in 445 lives being saved, 12,760 persons being assisted, and a total value of $36.4 million dollars in volunteer services being provided on specific missions.
The current state of the CG Auxiliary:
The Auxiliary's four cornerstones - Vessel Examination, Education, Operations and Fellowship - were established and remain the Auxiliary's pillars in the 1990s.

The Vessel Examination program evolved into the well known Vessel Safety Check (VSC), a free examination available to any recreational boater. VSCs help boaters ensure their craft complies with Federal regulations regarding safety equipment requirements.

As for education, the Auxiliary teaches boating safety to recreational boaters of all ages. The Auxiliary offers Boating Skills and Seamanship (geared toward power boaters) and sailing courses (for sailboaters) as well as basic and advanced navigation courses.

The Auxiliary operates safety and regatta patrols and is an integral part of the Coast Guard Search and Rescue team. Auxiliarists also stand communication watches, assist during mobilization exercises, perform harbor and pollution patrols, provide platforms for unarmed boarding parties and recruit new people for the Service.

Today, as in 1939, auxiliarists are civilian volunteers who are authorized to wear a uniform similar to the Coast Guard Officer's uniform. Distinctive emblems, buttons, insignias, and ribbons are employed to identify the wearer as a member of the Auxiliary. One such insignia is the letter "A" on the shoulder boards of an auxiliarist. Despite their silver shoulder boards (versus gold for Coast Guard officers), auxiliarists hold no rank. The shoulder boards symbolize the office and level to which an individual auxiliarist has been either appointed or elected.

The Auxiliary has members in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Guam. Membership is open to men and women, 17 years or older, U.S. citizens of all states and territories, civilians or active duty or former members of any of the uniformed services and their Reserve components, including the Coast Guard. Facility (radio station, boat or aircraft) ownership is desirable but not mandatory.

Although under the authority of the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, the Auxiliary is internally autonomous, operating on four organizational levels: Flotilla, Division, District Regions and National.

* Flotilla - The flotilla is the basic organizational unit of the Auxiliary and is comprised of at least 15 qualified members who carry out Auxiliary program activities. Every auxiliarist is a member of a local flotilla. Each flotilla is headed by a Flotilla Commander (FC).
* Division - For maximum administrative effectiveness in carrying out Auxiliary programs, flotillas in the same general geographic area are grouped into divisions. The division provides administrative, training and supervisory support to flotillas and promotes district policy. Each division is headed by a Division Captain (DCP), and Division Vice Captain (VCP) and usually consists of five or more flotillas.
* District/Region - Flotillas and divisions are organized in districts comparable to the Coast Guard Districts and must be assigned the same district number. Some districts are further divided into regions. The district/region provides administrative and supervisory support to divisions, promotes policies of both the district commander and national Auxiliary comittee. All districts and regions are governed by a District Commodore (DCO), District Vice Commodore (VCO), and District Rear Commodores (RCOs), under the guidance of the Coast Guard District Commander. At this level, Coast Guard officers are assigned to oversee and promote the Auxiliary programs as district Directors of Auxiliary.
* National - The Auxiliary has national officers who are responsible, along with the Commandant, for the administration and policy-making for the entire Auxiliary. These officers comprise the National Executive Committee (NEXCOM) that is composed of the Chief Director of Auxiliary (an Active Duty officer), National Commodore and the National Vice Commodores.

NEXCOM and the National Staff make up the Auxiliary Headquarters organization. The Chief Director is a senior Coast Guard officer and directs the administration of the Auxiliary on policies established by the Commandant. The overall supervision of the Coast Guard Auxiliary is under the Assistant Commandant for Operations (G-O), who reports directly to the Commandant.
Modern work includes assisting clearing safety space on the river near the Kennedy Space Center prior to launches, providing security for the G-8 Summit, the Atlanta Olympic Games and much more.
Security patrol, Washington Monument, Memorial Day, Washington, D.C., 2004.

How valuable is this all volunteer organization?
The Coast Guard Auxiliary save taxpayers at least $200 million per year by supplementing civilian volunteer assistance according to a study by Vice Commodore E. W. Edgerton of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.
According to the last published figures the Coast Guard Auxiliary consisted: of 33,000 members, conducted over 38,000 boating safety classes, 161,000 boating safety checks, 30,000 surface patrols and saved 10% of the lives saved by the Coast Guard and prevented the loss of millions of dollars in property. The Auxiliary is credited with helping to reduce the number of fatalities from 10.1 per 100,000 to 5.9 per 100,000 at a cost to each taxpayer of less than one penny a year.
They even buy their own uniforms and provide their own boats.

Offer up a big salute to those who have chosen to serve in this great organization!

Interested in signing up? Go here.

(All photos from here.)

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