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Silence and knowledge

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I don’t know about you, but if there are two things I could use a lot more of these days they are silence and knowledge. Every two minutes it seems an alert goes off on my phone, keeping me abreast of the latest presidential tweets, Republican vs. Democratic feuds or administration fiats. Some peace and quiet would be heavenly. Instead, a recent electronic ping informed me of the new White House budget and subsequent ones of exactly what would be funded and what would be slashed.

The Coast Guard, our least appreciated but arguably most useful branch of the Armed Forces, may be facing severe budget cuts, despite proposed massive increases to overall military spending. Politico recently reported that the White House budget includes a 14 percent cut in the Coast Guard’s budget, from $9.1 billion to $7.8 billion. The reaction to this has not been a happy one. Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director, has denied the accuracy of the report.

So time will tell how this plays out as the facts are debated, but now is an especially good time to consider how fortunate we are to have the Coast Guard.

Respect. Devotion to duty. These are its core values. Alexander Hamilton is considered the father of this branch of the service for his proposal in 1787 that “a few armed vessels, judiciously stationed at the entrances of our ports, might at a small expense be made useful sentinels of the laws.” He’s been right for 227 years.

The Coast Guard is the only branch of the Armed Forces that does not fall under the purview of the Department of Defense. Instead, it’s part of Homeland Security, serving in war and peace. Here’s just some of what the Coasties do in the course of a year:

• stop more than 100 metric tons of cocaine bound for U.S. shores

• inspect 25,500 shipping containers, conduct 5,000 safety and marine pollution-­related facility inspections and monitor around 2,000 cargo transfers to ensure safety and protect the marine environment

• deploy boats and personnel to protect critical maritime oil infrastructure and train naval forces in Iraq

• monitor icebergs in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans as part of the International Ice Patrol

• conduct icebreaking operations in the Great Lakes, keeping $33.5 billion worth of freight moving through the winter months

• make more than 6,000 fisheries conservation boardings

• board and inspect around 1,500 vessels posing a greater-than-normal security risk to the United States

• investigate and respond to more than 3,000 pollution incidents

Last but certainly not least, on an average day the Coast Guard conducts 109 search-and-rescue missions and saves 10 lives. That’s more than 3,500 people a year — many of them plucked from certain death in severe storms that also risk their rescuers’ lives. The Coast Guard accomplishes all this with an active-duty roster that’s smaller than that of the New York City Police Department. And since they’re not an arm of the Department of Defense, Coast Guard members do not share in many of the programs, benefits and entitlements of military branches.

The Coast Guard motto, Semper Paratus — “always ready” — is well known. More relevant for all of us to ponder right now is the Coast Guard Academy motto: Scientiæ Cedit Mare: “The sea yields to knowledge.”

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This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue.

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