Modernize The Coast Guard

"Grumblings From The Engineroom" is Editorial Comment from The Summer 2001 Edition Of The Old Salt's Journal, National News Letter of The Coast Guard Sea Veterans Of America

Our organization is dedicated to telling sea stories and maintaining our traditions. As a general rule  it stays out of the political arena. But,, things are going on today that go beyond the scope of our mission statement and they should be addressed. These are the personal feelings of the writer.

Editorial after editorial, news clippings, speeches by Senior Coast Guard Officers, and statements by elected officials keep echoing the need to rebuild the Coast Guardís physical plant. Year after year in the budgetary process, the needs are not met. In the last few years the Commandant has implemented a rebuilding of the Coast Guardís long range, high endurance fleet, and other related hardware. Will this massive effort survive the many budget battles it will have to face going through in the next how many years? Or will the priority of needs be continued to be buried in the Dungeons of the Transportation Department Budget, positioned somewhere after Light Rail Schemes and Dreams.

Will it be to late when this new hardware comes on line? Will the present 378ís built in the 1960ís hold up another several years? Or will the shipís routine regress into stealing spare parts from each other as happened with the long lived, 311í AVPís borrowed from the Navy that the CG operated from the late 1940ís until the mid 1970ís?

As ships get older, installed equipment manufacturers go out of business, merge with others and generally lose their identity. The Log Office probably has more volumes of the Thomas Register than they have good technical manuals. Spare parts are eventually exhausted and after they can no longer be found, even in salvage yards, no amount of money does any good.

It is nothing short of a miracle that ancient ships such as the Storis and Mackinaw are even running. Both of these ships as well as many others still in service are over fifty years old.

Elderly C-130ís are another class of hardware that should be replaced. There are horror stories about air stations that have three of these birds laid up, and only one in the air, and to get it in the air, spare parts had to be cannibalized from the any or all of the three planes on the ground.

The shore establishment has been suffering. Even as  boating is expanding, stations are being closed or downsized. The basic 41 footers are of an age where they will have to be retired as were the 40 footers and 38í picket boats before them.

Fortunately the Aids to Navigation 180í Buoy Tenders are being replaced by newer and more modern tenders. This program is on the right track.

What is most scary is the current under-manning of the entire Coast Guard, stretching the human resources almost to the breaking point. Long hours are the rule and not the exception. Training suffers because there is no time for it. Personnel are often promoted before they are ready as an expedient. Eventually the cadre will become so thin and widely dispersed that the blind may be leading the blind.

It is hard for Old Saltís to conceive of a Coast Guard that isnít ďalways ready.Ē In our day, if you were short handed you made do always putting the mission first. We were a ďdifferent breed of catĒ in another era where it was expected to put in long workweeks at below subsistance level salaries. Many of us were either just barely high school graduates or school dropouts. Some way or other our rag-tag lot of Hooligans stumbled through things, sometimes making up our procedures as we went along. We did it, usually complaining about it, but to be quite honest, our efficiency and proficiency suffered. We were always ready, but often not as ready as we should have been. In retrospect, we didnít know any different.

The readiness of the Coast Guard after the big draw-down when WWII ended is about the same as it is today; old ships, old boats, old planes, personnel shortages, hit or miss training, and all of the other sins of an organization that had been gutted out but still had itís many mission to accomplish. The big difference today is the people enter with a much higher level of education and their potential is much greater.

Letís keep on the law makers backs Ė Cut newspaper and magazine clippings out that are about the good things the Coast Guard does every day and pass them along to our congressmen with a note about how they are expected to vote on the next Coast Guard appropriation bill.

Send a letter to the Commandant supporting his efforts.

Whenever you see a lone Coastie, go up to S/He and and give thanks for their efforts. At every occasion where it is appropriate, talk up the Coast Guard and let people know what they do and stress your pride in it.

The Marines arenít the only ones with pride.

Keep the pressure on at every level. There are a lot of us out there and collectively we can have some influence on  the course of events. Do your part.

Letís get the whole Coast Guard modernized and up to sufficient personnel strength to accomplish all  missions all the time with adequately paid, qualified people, who have whole lives.


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