The U.S. Coast Guard has always been the little agency that could.
It’s the only U.S. military branch that isn’t a permanent member of the Department of Defense, it’s constantly the last in line for the budget (it is one of the agencies with lots of money on the chopping block in President Donald Trump’s first budget proposal), and it’s constantly getting made fun of by the other services.
But the Coast Guard steps up and performs when called upon. While many of its finest moments happened when you would most expect — like when it received praise for its actions after Hurricane Katrina or when it rescued sailors trapped on the tankers Pendleton and Fort Mercer — it should also be known for its role in frontline operations against terrorism at home and all enemies deployed.
Yeah, the Coast Guard fights terrorists and deploys, especially when it’s tied up in missions like these:
1. Evacuating and securing key ports during emergencies
Believe it or not, it’s the Coast Guard that is most likely to save American citizens in a sudden attack. After the attacks on 9/11, the Coast Guard led a boatlift in New York that, in numerical terms, was larger than the evacuation at Dunkirk.
The U.S. Coast Guard also fields the Maritime Security Response Team, which responds to terrorist attacks that are imminent or in progress in an American port or waterway. In 2014, they practiced securing ferries with dirty bombs onboard in New York, one of the world’s busiest ports.
2. Respond to chemical, biological, nuclear, and other threats
Of course, the Coast Guard doesn’t just field the emergency calls for terror attacks. When law enforcement and intelligence agencies get word of possible threats, they can call the Maritime Safety and Security Teams. These guys specialize in securing American and friendly ports that are at heightened risk of attack.
3. Capturing and occupying captured oil rigs at sea
One of the largest special operations in history took place on March 21, 2003, when Navy SEALs and Polish special operators seized Iraq’s oil platforms at the same time that other forces took land-based sections of Iraq’s oil infrastructure.
The often unsung heroes of that operation are the soldiers and Coast Guardsmen who gave the SEALs the ride and provided the gun platforms that supported the operation from the water. The Coast Guard sent eight 25-foot boats to the platforms and provided the defensive positions that allowed the U.S. to hold the platforms after the SEALs captured them.
The 60 Coast Guardsmen held the platforms and 41 prisoners of war for months despite severe storms that damaged boats and tore equipment— including food and fresh water — from where it was stored. At one point, they had to fire flares to deter an attack by circling Iranian speedboats.
4. Landing U.S. soldiers and Marines at D-Day, Guadalcanal, and hundreds of other places
Did anyone think it odd that the Coast Guard would be in charge of landing and supporting operators hitting oil rigs in a carefully synchronized operation? It’s a little unusual, but only because they’re used to hitting beaches and rivers.
During World War II, Coast Guardsmen piloted many of the landing craft at key fights like the invasions of Normandy and the Philippines. The only member of the Coast Guard to receive the Medal of Honor conducted his heroic action while rescuing Marines under fire at Guadalcanal.