February 19 is the official birthday of the United States Coast Guard Reserve. Officially set-up in the late 1930s as a “civilian reserve” operation, it was non-military in nature. The Coast Guard Reserve Act of 1939 was the earliest incarnation. The Reserve soon evolved into something much greater than the original authors of the law had envisioned.
The Coast Guard Reserve birthday will be on Friday, February 19th, 2021.
The “regular” Coast Guard was formed in 1790. It wasn’t until much later that Auxiliary and Reserve operations would be added to this branch of military service. But when the need arose, there were thousands of people ready to answer the call.
A Brief History of The Coast Guard Reserve
The United States Coast Guard Reserve official site states that in 1939, “the Coast Guard Reserve bore little resemblance to the organization that today augments its Active Duty counterpart in nearly all mission areas.”
The original version of the Coast Guard Reserve, the “1939 version,” was known as the Coast Guard Auxiliary. A federal law passed in 1939 authorized the Auxiliary. It was intended for civilian boat owners who as part of their service in the Auxiliary would be responsible for promoting water safety, seamanship, and other water-based missions.
This is not far removed from the mission of today’s version of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, which is not the same as the Coast Guard Reserve. In modern times, both the Coast Guard Auxiliary (which is made up of civilian volunteers) and the Coast Guard Reserve (which is a branch of the U.S. military under the Department of Homeland Security) both exist and perform missions in support of the regular Coast Guard.
The 1939 version would not last. In fact, a few short years later in 1942, anyone joining would be recruited as a member of the “regular” reserve. 1942 was also the year that the Women’s Reserve was created. At the time, there were more than 200,000 reservists, men and women alike, serving in the Coast Guard during World War Two.
The Coast Guard Reserve at The End of World War Two
When the war ended, a large number of these reserve members were discharged or “released to inactive duty.” The Women’s Reserve was disbanded around the same time, but would be reauthorized during the Korean conflict.
There were many such military and military-related operations that would disband, shut down, or run minimally at the end of the war. They were reactivated later out of necessity in Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, etc.
In 1949 the first federal funding was approved for Coast Guard Reserve units. The Coast Guard Reserve would hit peak recruitment numbers during the Vietnam War. More than 17,000 members were recorded in 1969.
Disbanding The Coast Guard Reserve?
In spite of this, there was discussion of disbanding the Coast Guard Reserve following Vietnam. But this did not happen. In the early 1970s, the very first involuntary recall of Coast Guard Reservists was made in support of flood recovery efforts near the Mississippi, Ohio, and Red River regions.
There was also a notable Coast Guard Reserve effort made during the 1980 Mariel Boat Lift from Cuba. Reserve Units were such as the Air Force Reserve were utilized starting in the 1990s to be used more and more. They augmented the regular active duty mission of the United States Coast Guard.
Though, training and mobilization missions weren’t the only duties of the Reserve. The 1980s saw the creation of Port Security Units. They were deployable and could be used to handle administrative work and provide manpower to more fully round out a unit’s number of available service members.
The late 1980s were a busy time for the Coast Guard and its Reserve operation. Coast Guard Reserve members supported missions. They provided local assistance for Hurricane Hugo, a San Francisco earthquake, and an oil spill that resulted from the crash of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker in Alaska.
In 1990, the previously mentioned Coast Guard Reserve Port Security Units became the first Coast Guard Reservists to serve in such capacity in a wartime environment. They were called to active duty to support Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm.
Big Changes for the Coast Guard Reserve in Modern Times
1993 led the Coast Guard Reserve, like many other parts of the U.S. military, to experience a downsizing and consolidation. It streamlined the service and made it more efficient. The downsizing was only the beginning of new efforts. A Coast Guard “Sea Partner” training program on how to protect ocean environments began in 1994 and continues in modern times.
1994 also brought with it a restructured version of the Coast Guard’s reserve program. Many Reserve units were eliminated and their troops re-assigned to active duty units instead. Port Security Units are basically the Reserve units of today. All others work in an active duty unit when doing their Reserve time.
In 2010, Reservists supported rescue and recovery operations related to the earthquake in Haiti. Another major oil spill off the coast of Louisiana brought more than 4,000 Coast Guard Reserve members to help in the aftermath of the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon and the resultant oil spill. It has been said to be the largest oil spill in American waters according to some sources.
Reservists would also play an important role in recovery efforts following Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Since September 11, 2001, over 8,500 Coast Guard Reservists have been called into active service.
The Coast Guard Reserve Birthday
The Coast Guard Reserve birthday is not a federal holiday and there are no closures or time off scheduled specifically in observance of the birthday. However, many will have the day off if the Presidents’ Day holiday falls on February 19th.
Those celebrating the Coast Guard Reserve birthday on February 19 will likely do so on a unit-level or local level. This is because the agency is fairly small, by comparison with its Air Force and Army Reserve counterparts. February 19th is a very important day to those who serve, their families, and loved ones. Individual Reserve units will schedule their own activities and events to honor February 19th.
At any observance of the Coast Guard Reserve birthday, you are likely to experience a recitation of the Coast Guard Ethos. It includes the following pledge, called The Coast Guard Ethos:
“I am a Coast Guardsman.
I serve the people of the United States.
I will protect them.
I will defend them.
I will save them.
I am their shield.
For them I am Semper Paratus.
I am proud to be a Coast Guardsman.
We are the United States Coast Guard.”
The phrase mentioned in the ethos, Semper Paratus, is Latin for “always ready.”
Those interested in learning more about life in the Coast Guard Reserve or who want to volunteer for the Coast Guard Reserve should look at the official site. You can learn the differences between serving in the Regular Coast Guard, the civilian Coast Guard Auxiliary, and the Coast Guard Reserve.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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