Does the Coast Guard get respect?
April 13, 2015 8:22 PM   Subscribe

Does the Coast Guard get respect from Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines? Or do Navy guys say it's for people too chicken to join the Navy? I don't know what the Marines or Air Force might say. Something equally contemptuous. Can a Coast Guard veteran call himself or herself a 'veteran' in the way that we think of Veteran's Day and sacrifice and national pride.

I thought of the questions just now.

A TV ad just came on for USAA, which is this mega financial services firm for soldiers and ex-soldiers only. It and Navy Credit Federal Union and a bunch of other similar places--their ads are all over San Diego (san diego is a military town...)

The ads always mention Army,Air Force, Navy, Marines but never mention the Coast Guard.

posted by BadgerDoctor to Society & Culture (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, the Coast Guard veteran can call themselves a veteran. Those on ship duty, and those who work Search and Rescue, risk their lives regularly to help others. Additionally, the Coast Guard serves in war zones; it provides port security at Guantanamo Bay and did so in Iraq (the Navy, for reasons I do not understand, does not or cannot provide port security).

The Coast Guard, in addition to rescuing mariners at sea, services all the buoys, markers, and lights in the navigable waters of the United States. And responds to oil spills. And tracks commercial marine traffic. And guards the major ports. And enforces environmental regulations in the US Exclusive Economic Zone. And works with Customs and Border Patrol to guard the borders and stop smuggling and illegal immigration.

The Coast Guard, IMO, saves more lives, and does more good, than the Navy does.

As for why the other services don't pay any attention to the Coast Guard? Because until 2002, the Coast Guard was part of the Department of Transportation: it's only part of the Department of Defense when the US is at war. In 2002 the Coast Guard was transferred to the Department of Homeland Security, but that hasn't apparently resulted in getting any more respect from the other uniformed services.

But the Coast Guard personnel can absolutely use the USAA services.
posted by suelac at 8:47 PM on April 13, 2015 [23 favorites]

All the services express contempt for one another; service rivalries are like sibling rivalries. The Coast Guard probably gets a bit more of it because historically it was within the Department of Transportation (before Homeland Security) and has never been part of the DoD. Having said that, Coast Guard sailors have served in the Persian Gulf during the various wars there and, as an army veteran, I think of Coasties as vets, even if I make fun of them, just as I do the Navy, Marines and Air Force.
posted by Alexdan4 at 8:48 PM on April 13, 2015 [10 favorites]

I was Navy, and it's fun to make fun but I wouldn't want to do what they do. Drug runner confrontations, hairy rescues... respect.

I say that counts as 'veteran'. Officially, I believe it qualifies, and 38 USC Section 101(10) says the Coast Guard is an "armed force." I can't seem to trace it back to the definition of "veteran" in Section 101(2) which uses the phrase "person who served in the active military, naval, or air service."
posted by ctmf at 8:49 PM on April 13, 2015 [8 favorites]

I can recall, when I was in the Navy back in the 80s, standing at the rail of our frigate while a Coast Guard cutter tied up at our pier, and the officer next to me said, "Coast Guard. Those guys do real work." The point being, they were out there saving lives and catching drug smugglers all the time, while we just trained and trained and trained. Granted, what we in the Navy were training for was war, which I was not all that eager to participate in IRL, but sometimes it felt as if we never actually did anything.

Twice, our ship took on a Coast Guard detachment for a month of drug interdiction operations in the Caribbean. We would try to track suspicious planes and vessels, but when we stopped a boat, the Coasties were the ones who had the risky job of boarding it with weapons drawn.

The bottom line is, in six years, I never once heard another sailor talk trash about the Coast Guard (The Marine Corps is a different story).
posted by ogooglebar at 8:49 PM on April 13, 2015 [16 favorites]

I was surprised to learn that Eligibility for Veteran's Benefits encompasses more than just the Armed Services (which does also include the Coast Guard). Officers of a handful of other non-military government branches are also eligible.

As for rivalry, nthing Alexdan4. It's not deep-bodied contempt necessarily. A veteran friend once compared it to the groups of people who are loyal to Ford vs. GM vs. whatever. Nice enough people in normal conversation, but very quick to point out how big a piece of shit the other person's car is - half jokingly.
posted by SquidLips at 8:55 PM on April 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

"Veteran" includes Coast Guard and also at least parts of NASA, NOAA, and the Public Health Service.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:57 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

The ads always mention Army,Air Force, Navy, Marines but never mention the Coast Guard.

Probably for several reasons.

One, the USCG is not a Department of Defense service (most of the time, anyway.)

Two, because the other services are larger than the Coast Guard by orders of magnitude. They're larger than the other, smaller services that qualify, but they still don't get a lot of attention and part of that is due to their size.. Let's be lazy and take numbers from Wikipedia (i.e. take the exact numbers with a grain of salt, but the general magnitudes are correct..)

Department of Defense Services:
  • Army: 546,047 Active, 557,246 Reserve and National Guard
  • Navy:325,143 Active, 107,355 Reserve
  • Air Force: 309,339 Active, 178,100 Reserve and Air Guard
  • US Marine Corps: 194,000 Active, 40,000 Reserve
Department of Homeland Security Services:
  • Coast Guard: 42,190 Active, 7,899 Reserve
As far as "veteran" status goes -- absolutely the USCG qualifies. Qualified USCG members receive veteran's benefits, are eligible for GI Bill benefits, and the ones I know have been relatively serious about Veteran's Day.

Oh, and while USAA, not the federal government, determine their own eligibility rules, Coast Guard service counts for them.
posted by Nerd of the North at 8:58 PM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

One other thing concerning USAA: primary eligibility for USAA is generally through military service (they started as something like a credit union and that was their qualifying limitation.) BUT..

Children of primary members are also eligible for membership (of a somewhat different sort, I think) and some of their services don't require membership at all.

I have eligibility through my father's naval service and have used USAA insurance and financial services in the past and have generally had an excellent experience with them. If you can qualify, they are one of the better providers you can deal with in many cases.
posted by Nerd of the North at 9:04 PM on April 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

I grew up Army (three generations), but work for the Coast Guard. No, they do not get respect from the other services, and in some ways that lack of respect is justified. The Coast Guard is, by law, a military service, but its culture is radically different from the cultures of the other services. For one thing, the Coast Guard is also a federal agency - there are almost two Coast Guards: the CG that does search and rescue, and enforces environmental laws and does the kind of stuff that makes them the good guys, and then the CG that is the top-heavy bureaucracy filled with people like me who have never stepped foot on a cutter and never will. (As a civilian that's a good thing, but civilian CG bureaucrats are way outnumbered by CG officers who are pushing paper rather than skippering boats or flying rescue missions.)

The CG has a huge chip on its shoulder with respect to the other services, which is unfortunate, because what they do is fundamentally different from what the other services do. Samuel P. Huntington famously described military officers thus, "“[t]he direction, operation, and control of a human organization whose primary function is the management of violence is the peculiar skill of the officer.” You can see why this description is not a good fit with the Coast Guard, which has many statutory missions, only some of which require the use of force. Yet the Coast Guard continues to yearn for some sort of military cultural parity with the larger services, which it can never really have because they don't have the same missions.

I could go on at length about why CG culture doesn't change, while the cultures of military services are relatively dynamic and reflective of larger changes in society over the years, so none of this is likely to change. The CG has a long and proud tradition that it should stand upon, rather than constantly seeking to prove it can operate on the same level and the same playing fields as the other services. When the first Coastie went to Navy Seal school, at least ten flag officers jizzed their pants in excitement. Coasties got deployed to Afghanistan, and again with the jizz explosions. Ridiculous. I just want to grab the entire service and say, "HEY! You do you. Let the Army do the Army."
posted by ereshkigal45 at 9:07 PM on April 13, 2015 [9 favorites]

The Coast Guard is, by law, a military service

Got a cite for that? I don't doubt it, I just can't find it and I've been looking for what, minutes now. They were long minutes, though.
posted by ctmf at 9:11 PM on April 13, 2015

Oh, I found it, sort of, in the CFR. Sort of. 38 CFR Section 3.7(h)

Sort of. It says, "while under jurisdiction of the Treasury Department, Navy Department, or the Department of Transportation." Which, um, Homeland Security. Hopefully that's an old version.
posted by ctmf at 9:21 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Officers of a handful of other non-military government branches are also eligible.

A lot more than that, apparently. Check out 38 CFR Section 3.7(x) for some special cases. I bet there's a few MeFi posts worth of interesting to be had in there.
posted by ctmf at 9:31 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

CTMF, that's a very old reference. The Department of the Navy and the Department of War were merged together to create the Department of Defense, 65 years ago.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:46 PM on April 13, 2015

Actually, I got it flopped, which I always do. The Coast Guard is by definition an "armed force". 10 U.S.C. Section 101(a)(4): "The term “armed forces” means the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. The Coast Guard is also a uniformed service. "(5) The term “uniformed services” means—
(A) the armed forces; "
posted by ereshkigal45 at 9:56 PM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Former Coastie and USAA member since my first paycheck lo these many years ago. I never experienced/witnessed/performed anything other than good natured rivalry. Each branch has their own nickname(s) that are used by other branches to varying degrees. When I was in, we were "puddle-jumpers" since our boats were smallish.

I don't think you can really answer a question like "Does the Navy respect the Coast Guard?" No answer to that would be anything other than a sweeping generalization, neither accurate nor helpful. There are plenty of people who respect other branches and plenty who never think the Coast Guard or any other branch is worth anything.

WRT veteran status, I always explained is as: I was sworn in. I was subject to the UCMJ, I would have been arrested had I not shown up for work. I am eligible for VA benefits including burial at a national cemetery (with the Patriot Guard please) and was eligible for the GI Bill. Therefore, veteran.
posted by Beti at 10:15 PM on April 13, 2015 [10 favorites]

The "Higgins Boat" was the landing craft you think of when you think of amphibious landings in WWII. From here:
In the beginning of the war the Navy had very little experience with small boats like the Higgins, but the Coast Guard had been using small water craft to rescue people ever since motorized boats came into service. Because of this experience Coast Guard crew members were called into action driving landing craft during the early invasions of Pacific islands.

The only Coast Guard member to ever receive the Medal of Honor was Signalman First Class Douglas Munro. He was killed steering his Higgins Boat while evacuating Marines from Guadalcanal.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:48 PM on April 13, 2015

The Pacific ocean is bitterly cold off the Oregon coast. Any one whose boat has flipped has great respect for the Coast guardsmen who dropped down out of a 'chopper to rescue him.
posted by Cranberry at 12:38 AM on April 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

All the military people in my life seem to respect the Coast Gaurd and give it the same friendly ribbing. (My favorite ex-Navy guy called it the "knee-deep Navy.") But my favorite ex-Army guy says he doesn't think most service members share that respect because the CG is not DoD, and because they rarely see them.
posted by evilmomlady at 4:13 AM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Does the Coast Guard get respect from Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines?

Among the enlisted ranks, there is no respect between the different services, nevermind the coast guard. Marines have no respect for Air Force, and so on.
posted by Flood at 4:43 AM on April 14, 2015

the CG that is the top-heavy bureaucracy filled with people like me who have never stepped foot on a cutter and never will

I feel like this is true in the other branches as well. Some of my family members had long civilian careers pushing the Army's paper, and a lot of the Army bureacracy exists only to continue justifying itself.

I've heard, anecdotally, that the Coast Guard is the most selective branch, hardest to get into.

I ran across this discussion of respect on a USCG forum, and also 10 Things We Wish People Knew About the Coast Guard
posted by Miko at 5:34 AM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

BTW, Navy Federal Credit Union's website states that its field of membership includes Coast Guard active duty, reservists, civilian employees, retirees and annuitants.
posted by ogooglebar at 6:18 AM on April 14, 2015

Anectdata: my old man was in the USN and saw USCG ships deployed in Vietnam while he was there. Regular ol' service rivalry would preclude him from saying much else, but he's always allowed that USCG folks are The Real Deal, and especially so as regards search-and-rescue, drug interdiction and the other stuff you normally hear about.
posted by jquinby at 7:24 AM on April 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

I was accepted to the waiting list to attend the USCG Academy (USCGA) back in 1994. Both of my uncles were old Navy guys who both delighted in calling me "Potential Puddle Pirate." whenever the situation presented itself. Which really was any situation they decided. All in good fun, for sure.

Here is a fun stat about the USCGA. The USCGA is the most selective United States Service Academy. It accepts the fewest number of Freshmen each year of any United States Service Academy. Only around 300 are accepted to the USCGA per year, while 1,300+ are accepted to the other academies per year. See, the USCGA is the hardest to get accepted at!

(Percentage wise, well, details, whatever. That was my story and I stick to it to this day.)
posted by lstanley at 8:15 AM on April 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

FWIW, I'm ex-Navy Submarine Service and I respect the hell out of the Coast Guard. Anyone who goes down to the sea in ships deserves respect.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 8:40 AM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

See, the USCGA is the hardest to get accepted at!

There are several reasons why this is incorrect, but the bottom line is that comparing admissions to the three major service academies with admissions to the CG Academy is comparing apples and oranges. Admission to three major academies requires a nomination from a member of Congress. If you're from one of the three-member Congressional delegations where your state is served by one at-large Congressperson, like AK, SD, ND or WY, this probably isn't so bad. There will be fifteen nominations available for your state with its population of 400 to 600k. (Five for each senator and congressperson.) If you're from someplace like Orange County - wealthy, great schools - it might suck a bit more because you're competing with a much larger pool of candidates who meet the basic requirements, and you're competing for the five nominations your Congressman has, plus the ten nominations held by your two Senators for a population of 30M. You can't shake a stick at all the Eagle Scouts, class presidents, and National Merit Scholars that are seeking Academy nominations. And even then, nomination does not guarantee an appointment to the Academy for which you are seeking entry. Congress alone has about 2700 nominations, but there are also Vice Presidential nominations (forget the number he has), and then there are also Presidential nominations which are only available to children of servicemembers and a few other categories.

But there's even more to it than that, because before someone even requests a nomination, if they've expressed any interest in a service academy, e.g., by asking that their PSAT or SAT scores be sent to that institution, they will be contacted by an Academy representative, usually a retired alum, whose job it is to shepherd all the candidates in his region through the qualification and nomination process - for example, getting a medical exam, passing a physical fitness test - so really only students who are really motivated and sort of pre-qualified are encouraged to request a nomination. Depending on the congressional District, the member may consult with that Academy representative as to who the best qualified candidates are before making his or her nominations.

For the Coast Guard Academy, you submit an application, just like any other school, and an admissions board decides whether to accept you. The process is as opaque as at any other college - a board meets behind a closed door and makes admissions decisions based on who-the-hell-knows.

My nephew graduated from the United States Military Academy (West Point), as have other family members and friends. However, I have worked with hundreds of graduates of the Coast Guard Academy. I would not compare the two groups. No, I would not. I will not make a qualitative judgment, although I obviously have an opinion. They are different. That is all.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 2:13 PM on April 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

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