The U.S. Coast Guard doesn’t always get the respect it’s due, mostly because it’s the only branch that doesn’t always fall under the Department of Defense. But that technicality doesn’t mean the Coast Guard doesn’t have some cool stuff.
1. Open ocean ships
Despite their nickname of “Puddle Pirates,” the Coast Guard does have ships that can operate in the open ocean. The largest and most advanced are the National Security Cutters.
The Coast Guard just accepted its sixth NSC. Each ship carries two helicopters, two boats that can be launched from the stern, and an automated weapons suite. Based out of South Carolina and California, they are used primarily in the Bering Sea, the Pacific Ocean, and the Arctic.
2. Counter-terrorism special operators
The Coast Guard’s Maritime Safety and Security Teams (MSST) and Maritime Security Response Teams (MSRT) are both anti-terrorism organizations filled with the Coast Guard’s best and are intended for use near port facilities or along coastlines.
MSSTs primarily deploy to potential targets of terrorists in order to prevent or stop an attack while MSRTs primarily deploy to terrorist attacks and hostage situations in progress. Either can be deployed anywhere in the world.
3. The only operational heavy icebreaker in the U.S. inventory
The U.S. has only one heavy icebreaker in operation, the USCGC Polar Star. Polar Star was originally commissioned in 1976 and has 75,000 horsepower. The Coast Guard has another heavy icebreaker that it was forced to cannibalize for parts and an operational medium icebreaker.
President Barack Obama recently pledged to close the icebreaker gap between Russia and the United States. Russia currently has about 40 operational icebreakers including the world’s only nuclear-powered icebreakers.
The Coast Guard currently has two jets. Both are C-37As, the Department of Defense version of the Gulfstream V. They are used to ferry senior Coast Guard officials and the Secretary of Homeland Security at speeds of up to Mach .80.
Until recently, the Coast Guard also had a small fleet of HU-25s, jet aircraft used to chase drug smugglers and scan the surface of the water during search and rescue missions. The HU-25s were replaced with turboprop aircraft that are much slower but cheaper to operate.
While most people think of the Air Force when they hear C-130, both the Coast Guard and the Marine Corps also operate the beloved airframe. The Coast Guard uses the planes for search and rescue, cargo transport, law enforcement, and international ice patrol.
6. A Medal of Honor recipient
Most Coast Guard missions are ineligible for the Medal of Honor since they don’t take place “in action against an enemy of the United States.” But, Coast Guardsmen have fought in every major American war and, in World War II, one was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Signalman First Class Douglas Munro volunteered for service supporting the U.S. Navy and was a pilot of boats at Guadalcanal. A large force of Marines was attempting to evacuate a beachhead that came under a heavy Japanese counterattack. Munro led the plywood boats that rescued the Marines under fire and he placed his own boat in the hottest part of the battle to protect the Marines.
After getting the Marines back out to sea and rescuing another boat that had run aground, Munro was shot in the head by a Japanese machine gunner. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
7. A former Nazi sailing vessel
The Coast Guard trains all of its academy cadets on the USCGC Eagle, a sailing vessel that was originally christened the SSS Horst Wessel by Adolf Hitler.
The Wessel was captured after the German surrender in 1945 and the British won it as a spoil of war. An American officer convinced the British to trade it to the U.S. and the ship was renamed the Eagle. She has served as a training vessel and goodwill ambassador vessel ever since.