Sometimes it is a good idea to see if anybody but ourselves and those who we have helped think about us. Here is a college paper written by a young lady who looks at our anonymity.

Semper Forgotus
or, How Many Branches Are There?

By Katherine Hoffman

Reprinted By Permission


The following is a paper I wrote for an expository writing class. We had to prove a "conventional wisdom" wrong. I chose to disprove the common belief that the Coast Guard is not a military service.

I am not a historian so if you spot an incorrect fact, please e-mail me and I will do my best to change it. Some of the "interview" information is really just my recollect from various conversations.

Stepping into a high school Social Studies class one would not be surprised to hear the teacher ask a question such as "How many branches of military does the US have and what are they?" Nor would anyone likely be surprised or offended to hear the response "Four, the Air Force, Navy, Army, and Marines." Anyone, that is, except someone familiar with the United States Coast Guard(USCG). There are indeed five branches of the United States armed forces, the Coast Guard being the smallest and least recognized of the bunch. This paper will both prove that the Coast Guard is under recognized and also that the Coast Guard is an important branch of the military both historically and today.

Searching for books about the Coast Guard is an arduous task on my college's Clic Net library catalog. Not because there are so many to weed through but rather because there are frustratingly few. A search for US Military on the Augsburg library catalog turned up 593 hits. In the first 20 there were four references to the Army, four references to planes, a book about the Persian Gulf, one about North Korea, and one about military psychiatry among others. A quick scan of the first 50 found no mention of the Coast Guard either., an online bookstore, has a feature called Purchase Circles. A purchase circle is "a specialized best seller list." ( Minneapolis, MN has a circle, the Hawaii Government Employees Association has a circle, but only four branches of military have purchase circles, and guess who is left out? Searches on the internet for Coast Guard patches and other merchandise usually lead to general military merchandise sites, few of whom recognize the Coast Guard. Of course there are some who recognize it but do so incorrectly such as the site with the Coast Guard listed in the "Foreign & Non-Military (USCG, CAP, etc.) Presidential Service" section (U.S. Military Insignia, Inc.

The American Military edited by Martin Oppenheimer is a collection of essays regarding the military in America. Published in 1971 it is indeed a bit dated, but nonetheless all branches of the military were prominent in 1971. The year 1971 was in the middle of the Vietnam conflict. All five branches of the military were actively present in Vietnam during the conflict and yet in the essay "America's New Officer Corps" by Charles H. Coates, only figures for the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines are used. The existence of the United State Coast Guard Academy(USCGA) and Officer Candidate School(OCS) in New London, Connecticut would lead most people to believe that the Coast Guard does indeed have an Officer Corps. However there is no mention of this in the essay.

To be fair, there is good reason for some of the confusion. While the Coast Guard is a branch of the military, it does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Defense(DoD), as the other four branches do. The Coast Guard falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Transportation(DoT) during peacetime, and only in times of war does it switch to the DoD. However, while the other four branches of military do most of their fighting on foreign soil in times of war, the Coast Guard wages daily battles in coastal waters. Already in the year 2000 the Coast Guard has interdicted 1,425 migrants and seized 71,734 lbs of cocaine and 39,902 lbs of marijuana (USCG Home page). The many recent plane crashes have required Coast Guard search crews, and massive hurricanes need humanitarian and rescue aid. In 1997 alone, 3,836 lives were saved by Coast Guard Search and Rescue missions (USCG Annual Report). However, this concentration on domestic battles does not mean that the Coast Guard hasn't seen it's share of war.

Few people who have seen the film "Saving Private Ryan" can forget the opening scene in which boats of American soldiers are dropped off on the beaches of France. The men driving the boats to the French shore were Coast Guardsmen. In fact, the Coast Guard lost a higher percentage of men in World War Two than any other service. The Coast Guard had another important duty in the Vietnam conflict. Much of the Vietnam conflict was fought in a marshy, wet country. Few Naval vessels were small enough to maneuver through the narrow rivers or along the shallow coasts. The Coast Guard was called in to stop small Viet Cong craft supplying forces on shore (Johnson 331) Without the small vessel knowledge of the Coast Guard, the American military would have had little or no nautical front in the heart of Vietnam (4/C Arguedas). Even in peace time the Coast Guard plays an important defense role. If the Navy boards a foreign ship, it can be seen as an act of war. Because the Coast Guard is not a DoD service, they are allowed to board foreign ships and do searches. For this reason many naval ships carry a small Coast Guard boarding crew and a CG flag. If a boarding is necessary, the Navy flag comes down, the CG flag goes up and suddenly the foreign ship is being boarded by a Coast Guard crew (4/C Arguedas).

The Coast Guard may not be a part of the Department of Defense, but it defends our country against drugs, illegal immigrants, and environmental damage (USCG Home Page). The Coast Guard may be small, but the jobs it does are not. While the other four services deal mostly with foreign matters on foreign soil, the Coast Guard's primary role is one of dealing with domestic and foreign matters on American soil and in America's waters. Those who don't believe the Coast Guard is a part of the military are uneducated about the role the Coast Guard plays for America. Those who feel the Coast Guard should be a part of the Navy would likely change their minds if the Coast Guard stopped waging their peace time battles. Those who don't know the Coast Guard exists at all would likely be very thankful to learn if they were caught in a capsizing boat in the ocean. The motto of the United States Coast Guard is Semper Paratus, or, Always Ready. Indeed they are and so should we be ready to not only recognize, but commend the brave and dedicated men and women who serve our country in the United States Coast Guard.



Arguedas, 4/C Cadet Mariano. Personal interview. 18 March 2000.

Benin '01, JT, editor. Running Light 1999-2000. New London, CT: US Coast Guard Academy, 1999. 13 Aug. 1999. Resources. 12 March 2000 <>.

Defense Almanac. 30 Sept. 1998. Department of Defense. 12 March 2000 <>.

Johnson, Robert Erwin. Guardians of the Sea:History of the United States Coast Guard 1915 to the Present. Annapolis: US Naval Institute. 1987.

MCPOCG Home page. 2 Feb. 2000. Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard. 12 March 2000 <>.

Oppenheimer, Martin ed. The American Military. United States of America: Aldine Publishing Company, 1971.

Saunders, H.J. U.S. Military Insignia, Inc. Foreign & Non- Military (USCG, CAP, etc.) Presidential Service. 28 Jan. 2000 <>.

US Coast Guard Home page. 3 March 2000. US Coast Guard. 12 March 2000. <>.

If you would like to reproduce this paper in a free publication such as a newsletter please include the information below and e-mail me to let me know when and where it will be published. For permission to use this essay in a paid publication, please e-mail me. If you would like to share this paper with others, feel free but please include the following.



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