What does a Coast Guard Reservist do?

Dale Marshall

A Coast Guard reservist is a fully trained member of the Unites States Coast Guard (USCG), a multi-missioned component of the nation’s armed forces under the jurisdiction of the Department for Homeland Security (DHS). The Coast Guard has approximately 42,000 active duty personnel and another 7,500 – 8,000 reservists. Reservists are civilians whose reserve contract calls for them to spend one weekend per month, plus two weeks per year, as fully functioning members of the USCG. Unlike reservists in the other services, whose weekend drill consists strictly of training, coast guard reservists spend their weekend drill and summer camp time assigned to active duty units performing regular Coast Guard duties.

Coast Guard reservist may assist regular U.S. Coast Guard crews, such as those that conduct harbor patrol missions.
Coast Guard reservist may assist regular U.S. Coast Guard crews, such as those that conduct harbor patrol missions.

The Coast Guard is unique among the American armed forces because it has a wide variety of duties that keep its forces constantly active. The other services, like the Army, Navy and Air Force, in most cases are either at war or training for the next war. Some of the Coast Guard’s responsibilities other than homeland security include maritime law enforcement (MLE), marine environmental protection (MEP), search and rescue (SAR) and ATON — aids to navigation on rivers, intra-coastal waterways and offshore.

The Coast Guard employs more than 40,000 active duty personnel and up to 8,000 reservists.
The Coast Guard employs more than 40,000 active duty personnel and up to 8,000 reservists.

The Coast Guard reserve, created in 1941, was dramatically restructured in 1994. During the Vietnam War and the period that followed, some people argued that, given the Cost Guard's many duties, it didn't make sense to maintain a large reserve force dedicated to training for mobilization. In 1994, then, the Coast Guard dissolved most dedicated reserve units and assigned their members to active duty units in a force augmentation measure called “Team Coast Guard.” Afterward, when a Coast Guard reservist reported for weekend drill or his two-week annual obligation, he’d have specific duties alongside active-duty Coast Guard personnel, rather than training, drill or makework activities. The only dedicated reserve units remaining are port security units (PSUs), which train extensively for combat and force protection missions and take turns rotating into Southwest Asia in support of American military operations in the area.

A Coast Guard reservist, then, can count on being actively involved in performing any of the Coast Guard’s missions whenever he’s on duty. A Coast Guard reservist will get additional training after boot camp, of course, but it’s blended into his other duties and doesn’t take the majority of his drill time. When off-duty, most reservists maintain regular civilian jobs. From time to time, Coast Guard units may be deployed for active duty with their reserve members being involuntarily activated. This doesn’t happen often, and such deployments are as likely to be for domestic disaster assistance, such as for hurricanes or other disasters.

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