I recently ran across this headline: “Commandant: Coast Guard Suffering Under Strain of Tight Budgets”.
Some things never change. As some of you may know, I’m a former Coastie (1982-1990), and at no point during my career do I remember anyone mentioning how great it was that the president and Congress finally decided to properly fund us. We all watched with envy during the 1980s as President Reagan built his 600-ship Navy while the Coast Guard was fed scraps. We periodically suffered through operating shortfalls severe enough to keep our old boats tied to the dock because we had no fuel to conduct routine patrols and training. Through good times and bad, the Coast Guard has always gotten the short end of the budget stick.
While this is shameful, it comes as no surprise. Most of what the nation’s smallest branch of the military does is a complete unknown to the general public and most politicians. But as government agencies go, it’s the biggest bargain out there. No other agency handles such a broad range of responsibilities with such a historically constrained budget. And with some notable exceptions (the licensing fiasco?), the Coasties do most things very well. But time and again, whenever the fiscal axe falls during tough budgetary and economic times, the Coast Guard always winds up paying an unfair price compared to the rest of the federal government and other military branches.
I’m sure I’ll catch hell for sounding unpatriotic, but I think we’re at the beginning of a very painful process of finding out that we can no longer afford to operate our vast empire. We can’t pay for garrisoning troops all over the world, and borrowing money that we’ll never be able to pay back. We’re going to have to quickly decide what’s really important and then act decisively. If we don’t then it will be dictated to us by circumstance, which would be far less desirable.
I think we need a well-funded Coast Guard here at home a lot more than we need another naval battle group overseas or more U.S. Marines in Afghanistan.
Of course, I fully expect that the Coast Guard will wind up taking this entirely on the chin … again.
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