Civic Leaders Hit the Water With
Visit to Coast Guard in Yorktown

By Terri Lukach

Petty Officer 3rd Class Josh Sutherland, right, from Coast Guard Training Center, Yorktown, Va., instructs Bryan Neel, participant in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference on how to manuever the 41-foot utility boat he is driving. JCOC is a weeklong, multiservice orientation program, hosted by the secretary of defense, for civilian public opinion leaders to get a better knowledge of national defense issues.

Photo by Scott Reed / DoD Photo

COAST GUARD TRAINING CENTER YORKTOWN, Virginia – A group of civic leaders touring stateside military bases paid a visit here April 29 to learn firsthand about the U.S. Coast Guard and its mission.

In Yorktown, the Coast Guard’s core competencies and missions were on display for participants in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference. The sheer variety and efficiency of what the Coast Guard does every day was a surprise to many of the participants.

"I always thought of the Coast Guard as just a lifesaving service," JCOC participant Dawn Bannwolf said. "I had no idea they had so many important missions."

The Coast Guard is the oldest continuous seagoing service in the United States — and the smallest. At one quarter the size of the U.S. Navy, it is about the same size as the New York City Police Department.

The Coast Guard was first proposed in Federalist Paper No. 12 and established by Alexander Hamilton in 1790 to prevent smuggling on the high seas and ensure the collection of tariffs. Since that time, the Coast Guard has had three different homes, first in the Treasury Department and later in the Transportation Department. In 2003, it was transferred in its entirety to the Department of Homeland Security, where it now comprises 25 percent of the new department.

JCOC is a weeklong, multiservice orientation program for civilian public-opinion leaders. Throughout the day of demonstrations here for the program’s participants, real-life scenarios were played out, just as they occur in ports and waterways around the country, for the benefit of the JCOC participants. The simulations employed many of the service’s seagoing assets.

In a demonstration of port security and facilities protection, a mission of significant importance in the post-Sept. 11 world, the JCOC participants witnessed a "hostile-vessel intercept" from aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Frank Drew. In the exercise, an incoming fast boat was kept at bay and eventually intercepted before it could break the security perimeter and harm a vessel under Coast Guard protection.

A land version of facilities protection demonstrated by the Coast Guard involved inspecting a vehicle attempting to enter a protected area. While the driver was detained outside the vehicle, Coast Guardsmen used small cameras with liquid crystal display screens to search under the chassis and the dashboard, and inside the engine compartment for bombs or explosives.

In the simulation, the searchers detected raw wires and an antenna, which led them to believe the car was wired to detonate. The suspect was ordered to place his hands on his head. Instead, he drew a pistol and fired on the Coast Guard personnel, who fired back, "killing" the suspect.

Shipping-container security is another mission crucial to protecting the continental United States. Using two actual containers of the type that arrive in ports every day, JCOC participants were shown how Coast Guardsmen inspect first the outside of containers for damage and leakage and second the contents for hazardous materials and contraband.

As part of the JCOC demonstration, a Coast Guardsmen boarded and searched a "foreign vessel" for chemical or biological hazards in a simulation using the latest technology for detecting weapons of mass destruction.

The Coast Guard is perhaps best known for search-and-rescue missions, and JCOC participants witnessed two "man overboard" drills. The first, using a dummy victim, demonstrated the skill and teamwork necessary to pluck a foundering swimmer from the sea and transport him to safety. The rescue took place aboard a 41-foot Coast Guard utility boat.

In the second, a live person was dropped into the sea. Using the Coast Guard’s new vertical-insertion capability, a Coast Guard helicopter was summoned to the scene, and a diver lowered by rope into the water. The diver stabilized the victim and secured him onto a litter. The victim was then raised into the helicopter.

In an "aids to navigation" demonstration, JCOC participants boarded a Coast Guard buoy tender vessel to observe how buoy anchors are both lowered to and lifted from the seabed. A solar-signal buoy, complete with 1,700-pound concrete foundational anchor, was inserted then retrieved just as it would be during a typical Coast Guard refurbish or replace operation.

Throughout the day, JCOC participants asked questions and interacted with the Coast Guardsmen.

"I was just amazed at how they do so much with such a small force," one participant said. "I never realized the Coast Guard was involved in all of these activities."