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Distinguished Service Medal (Department of Homeland Security)
Distinguished Service Medal (Department of Transportation)(Obsolete)
Distinguished Service Medal
Guardian Medal (Department of Transportation) (Obsolete)
Coast Guard Medal
Gold Lifesaving Medal
Silver Lifesaving Medal
Coast Guard Commendation Medal
9-11 Medal (Department of Transporation) (Obsolete)
Coast Guard Achievement Medal

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The history of the United States Coast Guard extends back to the founding of the Republic. One of the acts of the first Congress was to establish protective tariffs to generate revenues for the new Nation. To enforce these tariffs, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton sought ten manned and armed cutters. On August 4, 1790, Congress authorized their purchase along with the formation of a "Revenue Marine." It would be variously known as "Revenue Service," "Revenue Marine," and "Revenue Cutter Service," until an Act of Congress on 31 July 1894, officially designated the last name as the only correct one. From the beginning Hamilton insisted that officers of the new Service be given military rank. another precedent was established during the French and Indian Wars (1798-1800) and the War of 1812: the revenue cutters operated under control of the Navy. 

In 1831 Secretary of the Treasury Louis McLane widened the mission of the Revenue Cutter Service by directing that seven of its cutters be on the lookout for ships in distress. Revenue Cutters began to enforce other laws as well, including those that regulated navigation and prohibited piracy and the slave trade. The first known instance in which the term "Coast Guard" was used within the Service occurred in 1846. Its first Commandant, Captain Alexander V. Frazer, referred in his annual report of 1846 to the men and cutters under his command as, "a coast guard in time of war; particularly in consequence of the intimate acquaintance of the officers with the navigation of the bays and harbors." 

A couple of decades later, during the trying days of the civil War, a prescient editor of the Army and Navy Journal mentioned in an editorial on November 26, 1864, both the name "Coast Guard" and a close English translation of the future Service's motto: "Keeping always under steam and ever ready, in the event of extraordinary need, to render valuable service, the cutters can be made to form a coast guard whose value is impossible at the present time to estimate." Regardless of their origins and first recorded usages, however, the name and the motto have gained such currency and renown that they are now inseparable from the Service with which they are associated. During the Civil War the Revenue Cutters operated under control of the Navy; indeed, the Cutter Harriet Lane fired the first shot from any vessel in the Civil War when it sent a volley across the bow of the Confederate vessel Nashville at Fort Sumter. 

The Lifesaving Service

In 1844 Congress appropriated $5,000 to be used by the Secretary of the Treasury to establish and equip lifesaving stations along the Coast of the United States to aid those imperiled by shipwreck. These stations were manned by volunteers until 1871, when full-time crews were employed. In 1878 Congress created the United States Lifesaving Service and placed it under the Treasury Department. Quite naturally, the Lifesaving Service worked closely with the Revenue Cutter Service and from time to time Revenue Cutter Service officers were even detailed to the Lifesaving Service. 

The Coast Guard

Congress authorized the merger of the Revenue Cutter Service with the Lifesaving Service on January 28, 1915, and the Coast Guard was officially formed two days later. During the First World War the Coast Guard's mission was expanded when it assumed responsibility for port safety and security, commercial vessel safety, ice breaking, and marine environmental protection. When the United States Lighthouse Service merged with the Coast Guard in 1939, the Coast Guard assumed responsibility for establishing and maintaining aids to navigation. The Coast Guard remained under the Treasury Department until 1967, when it became part of the newly formed Department of Transportation.

Following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, a massive government reorganization plan led to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, which was signed into law on November 25, 2002. The Department of Homeland Security, a cabinet-level department within the Executive Branch of the Goverment, brought approximately 170,000 goverment employees under one umbrella. This included the transfer of the Coast Guard from the Department of Transportation to the new Department of Homeland Security, to be effective on March 1, 2002.  

A comprehensive review of their respective wartime missions was performed in 1981 by the Navy and Coast Guard Board. In a 1984 Memorandum of Understanding between the Secretaries of the Navy and Transportation, Coast Guard area commanders were assigned as commanders of the newly formed U.S. Maritime Defense Zones. These commanders are responsible to the Atlantic and Pacific Fleet commanders for planning and coordinating U.S. coastal defenses, preparing operational plans, conducting exercises, and training reserve forces. Maritime Defense Zones will be activated as a deterrent option to ensure port safety and the initial safety of seaborne deployment. 

The command and control structure of the Coast Guard is based on ten autonomous districts and two Maintenance and Logistics commands that report to the Atlantic and Pacific area commanders. The Commandant of the Coast Guard reports directly to the Secretary of Transportation in peacetime. Upon declaration of war, or when directed by the President, the Coast Guard becomes a Service within the Navy with the Commandant reporting to the Secretary of the Navy (he reports to the Chief of Naval Operations for military functions concerning the organization, training, and readiness of operational forces assigned to the Navy). The Coast Guard is a military Service and a branch of the Armed Forces of the United States at all times. It is a Service in the Department of Transportation except when operating as part of the Navy on declaration of war or when the President directs. Some of the Coast Guard's major peacetime functions include the following: 

  • Enforce or assist in law enforcement functions, with power to arrest, search, and seize persons and property suspected of violations of Federal law, including drug interdiction;

  • Administer laws and enforce regulations that promote the safety of life and property on and under the high seas and waters subject to United States jurisdiction;

  • Coordinate marine environmental protection responses;

  • Enforce port safety and security;

  • Enforce commercial vessel safety standards and regulations;

  • Regulate and control ship movement and anchorage;

  • Acquire, maintain, and repair short-range aids to navigation;

  • Establish, operate, and maintain radio navigation;

  • Develop, establish, maintain, and operate polar and U.S. Icebreaking facilities;

  • Organize, equip, and furnish forces for maritime search and rescue;

  • Engage in oceanographic research; and,

  • Maintain a state of readiness to function as a specialized service in the Navy.
Some of the Coast Guard's major wartime functions include the following:

  • Continue its peacetime missions;

  • Plan and coordinate U.S. coastal defenses for the Fleet commanders through assignments as commanders of the U.S. Maritime Defense Zone Atlantic and Pacific; and,

  • Perform naval wartime missions of inshore undersea warfare, mine countermeasures, harbor defense, ocean escort, and so on, occurring in the U.S. littoral sea.

*Adapted from Titles 10 and 14, United States Code and Navy and Coast Guard Board, Review of Coast Guard Wartime Taskings, dated March 19, 1981.


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