The Long Blue Line: 9/11 and the U.S. Coast Guard

Sunday, September 10, 2017

This blog is part of a series honoring the long blue line of Coast Guard men and women who served before us. Stay tuned as we highlight the customs, traditions, history and heritage of the Coast Guard.

Written by William Thiesen, Ph.D.
Coast Guard Atlantic Area Historian

Deployed Coast Guard rigid-hull inflatable boat with World Trade Center burning in background. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Deployed Coast Guard rigid-hull inflatable boat with World Trade Center burning in background. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The day war was declared on the Empire of Japan, President Franklin Roosevelt referred to Dec. 7, 1941, the day of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, as “a date which will live in infamy.” Little did he know the nation would face a similar date nearly 60 years later. On Sept. 11, 2001, Al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners, crashing two into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon and one targeting the Capitol Building in a Pennsylvania field. The attacks killed nearly 3,000 people, over 500 more than the number lost at Pearl Harbor.

Medium-Endurance Cutter Tahoma serving as on-scene coordinator for vessel traffic after the attack on the World Trade Center. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Medium-Endurance Cutter Tahoma serving as on-scene coordinator for vessel traffic after the attack on the World Trade Center. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

With the 9/11 attacks, the War on Terror had set in motion dramatic changes to the Coast Guard. Our units and personnel were some of the first military responders, providing communications and security, evacuating civilians by water and assisting those in need. On Sept. 14, Operation Noble Eagle deployed even more Coast Guard men and women on port security missions, search and rescue efforts and clean-up operations. Thousands of Coast Guard Auxiliarists and Reservists were mobilized in the largest homeland defense and port security operation since World War II.

Eleven days after 9/11, President George W. Bush set-up the Office of Homeland Security. In November 2002, he signed the Homeland Security Act creating the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). By March 2003, the Coast Guard had left the Department of Transportation becoming the largest agency within DHS. It was a record-setting sixth agency change for the service.

A Coast Guard port security unit boat providing security in New York Harbor after the 9/11 terrorist attack. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

A Coast Guard port security unit boat providing security in New York Harbor after the 9/11 terrorist attack. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

In December 2001, President Bush signed legislation amending the National Security Act. Coast Guard Intelligence became part of the nation’s intelligence community and our intelligence branch became the Office of Intelligence (CG-2). In 2003, the Coast Guard commissioned Maritime Information Fusion Centers for each Area command (MIFC-LANT and MIFC-PAC) to support Coast Guard units and commands.

Two Coast Guard mobile command posts set up in Manhattan to help coordinate the service’s response efforts. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Two Coast Guard mobile command posts set up in Manhattan to help coordinate the service’s response efforts. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

President Bush also signed the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA) to protect the nation’s ports and waterways from terrorist attacks. The MTSA led indirectly to the International Ship and Port Facility Code and the formation of our International Port Security Programwhose members monitor security standards in foreign ports. Under the MTSA, the Coast Guard also formed thirteen Maritime Safety and Security Teams (MSSTs), supporting the Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security (PWCS) mission and providing non-compliant vessel boarding capability for Coast Guard missions. In 2004, the service began forming the Maritime Security Response Team (MSRT) on the East Coast and, in 2013, began forming a second MSRT on the West Coast. In 2007, the service stood-up the Deployable Operations Group (DOG) to oversee Deployable Specialized Forces (DSF), such as the MSRT, MSSTs, Port Security Units, National Strike Force teams, Regional Dive Locker personnel and Tactical Law Enforcement Teams (TACLETs). Later, the service decommissioned the DOG and Area commands re-assumed tactical control of DSFs.

National Strike Force team members assisting in Ground Zero clean-up efforts. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

National Strike Force team members assisting in Ground Zero clean-up efforts. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Two Coast Guard chaplains at Ground Zero assisting in the response effort. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Two Coast Guard chaplains at Ground Zero assisting in the response effort. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

National Strike Force team members assisting in the aftermath of the terrorist attack. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

National Strike Force team members assisting in the aftermath of the terrorist attack. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

After 9/11, the Coast Guard focused on unity of effort and responsiveness. In early 2002, the service set-up Joint Harbor Operations Centers in its port commands. In 2003, the Coast Guard adopted the Incident Command System enhancing its effectiveness in major domestic response efforts. Prior to 9/11, field commands included separate Marine Safety Offices, Vessel Traffic Services, and Groups. The service designed a “Sector” structure to combine these activities and set-up Sector commands in 2005.

Beginning in October 2001, the Coast Guard supported Operation Enduring Freedom with port security, force protection and military outload security. Early 2003 saw Middle East deployment of Coast Guard cutters and DSFs in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Coast Guard stood-up new units like the Redeployment Assistance and Inspection Detachment (RAID) and Patrol Forces Southwest Asia (PATFORSWA). While RAID was decommissioned in 2015, PATFORSWA continues to support cutters and DSFs in the Northern Arabian Gulf.

The 2001 terrorist attacks reshaped the Coast Guard, including new homeland security units, alterations in existing Coast Guard units and the transition to a new federal agency. The service’s response demonstrated its flexibility and relevance in the Coast Guard’s greatest transformation since World War II.

Maritime Security Response Team members deployed in a special operations rigid-hull inflatable boat. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Maritime Security Response Team members deployed in a special operations rigid-hull inflatable boat. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

 


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