Foreseeing changes and waiting for more; the Coast Guard in 2000 and 2010

It was brought to my attention that this year’s State of the Coast Guard address by outgoing Commandant, ADM Thad Allen, was very similar to one that was given some ten years before. Though it’s understood that the problems we’ve been facing as a service are those that’ve been around almost as long as we have I find it interesting that we can’t seem to shake the past and move ahead. With that being said though I’d like to point out that it’s my opinion that the issues (not really problems per se) are ones that stem much further than that of now, ten years ago, and perhaps even further.

The Address in 2000 was given by the Commandant of the time, ADM James Loy (download the PDF (25)), and it’s nothing shy of an interesting, if not foretelling, read. When you compare his speech in ‘00 to that of ADM Allen’s in ‘10 you immediately see both the similarities of then and today as well as the future being shaped by words. Though I guess it could be said that in ten years from now we may very well state the same thing (I’ll let you know). One thing that pops out is our humanitarian efforts of the day; in 2000 our Coasties (as ADM Loy called ‘em) were conducting “massive humanitarian relief operations after Hurricanes Dennis and Floyd.” Today we’re in the midst of Haiti relief efforts. Another item that sticks out is a comment on Coast Guard “elite forces;” in the beginning of his speech he, ADM Loy, notes that he was asked “if the Coast Guard had any elite or special forces?” His answer was simple enough

“every Coastie is both elite and special.”

I like his answer but one has to admit it’s coincidental timing as only a year and a half later we’d be attacked at the WTC’s and Pentagon which paved the way for the DOG, MSRT, MSST; all of which are in the middle of being considered for downsizing or scuttling altogether (?).

The 2000 Address also strikes some more cords (good and bad) with what we’re seeing now in 2010. ADM Loy and Allen note (with some commentary)

  • “My report to you on the state of the Coast Guard is that we must focus on restoring our readiness and shaping our future. (as I stated above)” (2000)
    • You’ll recall that ADM Allen spoke to the same subject when finding his words to describe the CG: ready and resilient. If you look into the definition of resilient one can see a correlation of our future and being resilient as the future wouldn’t come about in an organization such as ours without being resilient thus we’re able to remain ready.
  • “The report makes it clear that a robust Coast Guard will be vital in the 21st century to protect and promote many of our nation’s important safety, economic, and national security interests.” (2000)
    • It’s amazing how economics can change the outcome of an entire service. In 2000 the U.S. was riding high and mighty in the financial world and though our budget was only marginally increasing (9/11 hadn’t happened yet) it was going up and not down. The quote above is actually ADM Loy quoting former President Clinton. Well we’ve seen the constraints (-3% budget) we’re to work with- thus the contrast from then to now.
  • “The Coast Guard continues to feel the effects of a long-term increase in operational requirements that we routinely fulfilled, not often enough with accompanying increases in capabilities or resources, but too often accompanied by increased effort and increased risk. Our training and maintenance continue to suffer. Operational pressures continue to grow. Wear-and-tear on both people and equipment have accelerated even this year.” (2000)
    • Is there any real words… no, not really. There’s no mistaking that the woes of then are the woes of now.
  • “The strains caused by having tired people run old equipment beyond human and mechanical limits continue to degrade our readiness. Over the past four years, the percentage of our naval engineering maintenance budget spent on correcting casualties has doubled from 7.6% to 15.1%. This trend feeds on itself. More time and money spent correcting casualties translates into less time and money for preventative maintenance, which translates into even higher casualty rates. This cycle of maintenance degradation is one reason why the age of our Deepwater fleet presents its own compelling financial justification for modernization.” (2000)
    • ADM Allen speaks of Cutter readiness in his speech stating “The current condition of our high endurance cutters is of serious concern to me. Following the extensive repairs required to bring Gallatin and Dallas back into productive service over the last 18 months, we continue to experience increasing casualties to other high endurance cutters that are indicative of overall declining readiness.” And with a fleet pushing a 41 year average I can safely say state that ADM Loy’s statement of “people run old equipment beyond human and mechanical limits continue to degrade our readiness” still rings true.
  • “It shows new awareness that the short-term pride in doing more with less comes at a price we shouldn’t always be willing to pay. We’ll still answer every SAR alarm, but we’re going to make a more conscious effort to keep people and equipment fresh for the emergencies we know will come.” (2000)
    • Though we’re trying not to use the phrase “more with less” in today’s Coast Guard the fact remains that we’re being asked to go even further buy doing more with even less, and less, and… We’ll count that as my opinion.
  • “…we see that the need to re-capitalize our Deepwater assets is gaining both the intellectual and the political traction it will need to be adequately funded. My authorization and appropriations hearings in the House last week both strongly supported our project and did so on a solidly bi-partisan basis. Our strategy, process and timeline have been validated—just as our on-time and under-budget project management to replace buoy tenders, coastal patrol boats, and motor life-boats is proving convincingly our ability to manage major acquisitions.” (2000)
    • I just thought we’d include this as a “food for thought” moment.

We’ve no doubt come a long way since 2000 and we’ve got some distance to run until the goal has been met. I’m fairly excited to see where we’ll be in the next few years and where our new Commandant will take us. Are there going to be further budget shavings or restructuring of forces? I’m guessing that we won’t see too many in the next year- but few have the whole plan as of now. Now it’s just a matter of waiting, watching, and remaining progressive.

h/t Sean Lawler

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