Safety First!
by Wayne Spivak
National Press Corps
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary

The Role of the Coast Guard Auxiliary
in Homeland Security
A unique test of Leadership and Management

Of the five armed services2 that have served and protected this great country for the past 219 years, the oldest and most unique is the United States Coast Guard. Founded by Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton as the Revenue Cutter Service in 1790, the predecessor of the Coast Guard began what was and is a long multi-mission tradition of service to this nation.

From Law Enforcement to Military Service, Search and Rescue to Environmental Protection, the Coast Guard serves the nation, on our navigable waters and on the high seas. Standing for the last 64 years, as a force multiplier, and the chief component of the Coast Guard’s Recreational Boating Safety initiative, the Coast Guard Auxiliary (originally the Coast Guard Reserve), has performed side by side with the Active Duty and Reserve Coasties on every mission permitted by law (Title 14, USC Chapter 23) and directed by the Commandant of the United States Coast Guard.

What is unique about this group of men and women is their diversity. What is and has been their strength has also been their weakness. They are not military. They are not paid. They are the civilian volunteer uniformed members of the COAST GUARD.

Their uniforms have changed over the years, as well as their numerical strength, but they have always provided a flexible backbone that during the last 64 years has been called upon many times to supplement a service that has today only 35,000 Active Duty and 8,000 Reserve members3. In fact, in many parts of this country, the Auxiliary “is” the Coast Guard, as there are no regular Coast Guard patrols.

Auxiliary History

Founded by an Act of Congress in 1939, the Auxiliary was formed to supplement the Coast Guard and provide additional eyes and ears. The Auxiliary or least the idea of an Auxiliary began with a letter by Malcolm Stuart Boylan, Commodore of the Pacific Writers' Yacht Club in Los Angeles, California. On August 23, 1934, to Lt. Francis C. Pollard of the Coast Guard:

This brings me to the suggestion that a Coast Guard Reserve would be an excellent thing to perpetuate these traditions, preserve its entity, and, more practically, to place at the disposal of Coast Guard officers, auxiliary flotillas of small craft for the frequent emergencies incident to your twenty-two prescribed and countless unexpected duties..4

Several years later in January 1939, Rear Adm. Thomas Molloy, USCG gave a speech in which he likened the climate of World War I. RADM Molloy stated that "Should a similar crisis arise in our national life again, your boats and your experience will be needed.5" The Coast Guard Reserve was later formed on 23 June 1939, and with our entrance into the Second World War, the Coast Guard needed two sets of skills from their pool of maritime friends, which include yachtsman, Reservists, and boaters. In February 1941, Congress de-established the Reserve as a volunteer civilian group, and re-established it as a military unit. They also, re-formed the civilian volunteer group into what was to be called the Auxiliary. The emphasis was on a civilian, non-military group.

During World War II, many Auxiliarists joined the Temporary Reserve, a sub-set of the Reserve component, very similar to a Sheriff’s Posse. Temporary Reservists were either paid or unpaid. Regardless of their remuneration status, when called upon and assigned, these Auxiliarists were then transformed into Coast Guard Reservists. And as a Reservist, became a member of the military for their tour of duty, which may have lasted only a few short hours.

Throughout the War, the Reserve, and the Auxiliary were active in all aspects of the national security. From Search and Rescue of torpedoed vessels, to harbor patrols, from training to administrative duties, and they also served as drivers, messengers, and auto mechanics. Depending on where these men and women served, depended on the types of training they received and the types of duties they performed.

During the last 64 years, Congress has modified the 1941 laws that govern the Auxiliary, they were last changed in 1996 (Coast Guard Authorization Act of 1996). Congress redefined the Auxiliary:

“The purpose of the Act is to allow the Auxiliary to assist the Coast Guard, as authorized by the Commandant, in performance of any Coast Guard function, duty, role, mission or operation authorized by law.”6

Post War Auxiliary

In the years since the War, the Auxiliary returned back to their original concept and design; that of four primary missions or cornerstones: public education, operations, vessel safety checks and fellowship .

Public education courses on boating topics, navigation, rules of the road are the mainstay of the recreational boating safety programs.

Operationally, the Coast Guard utilizes the Auxiliary in close shore Search and Rescue (SAR).

“Studies by the Coast Guard show that 86 percent of the cases to which the Coast Guard responded occurred within 3 miles of shore and that 95 percent of the cases occurred within 10 miles of shore.”8

The vessels that the Auxiliary volunteers own and offer for use to the Coast Guard make them ideal platforms to assist the Coast Guard in close shore SAR. It is same types of vessels, that are, by in large, calling for help from the Coast Guard.

In addition to SAR by boats, the Auxiliary has a very active Aviation program (AUXAIR). Private aircraft (single engine) cost a fraction of the cost to run in comparison to the Coast Guard Aviation’s fleet, and with this in mind, the Coast Guard uses the Aviation Wing extensively to do Safety Patrols.

The Vessel Safety Checks (VSC) program was designed to inform the public (boater) of not only the federal, state and local boating laws, as it relates to equipment, but to make sure boater’s carried the correct, and working safety equipment. A VSC examiner carries no legal or law enforcement authority and the results are not given to any law enforcement authority. It is for this reason that the VSC program is so effective.

The Auxiliarist checks the vessel with the owner/operator present and shows them what they did right or wrong and strongly suggests that they correct their errors, as well as take additional boating education. If they possess all the required equipment, and comply with all applicable laws, they are given a VSC sticker. While the sticker won’t stop them from being boarded by law enforcement, it does tell law enforcement that these people do take their vessel safety seriously.

Auxiliarists are also involved in most of the other missions that the Coast Guard is involved. From the Auxiliary Interpreter Corps, to the National Press Corps, from Environmental Protection to Recruitment of both enlisted and officers, as well as the Academy Introduction Mission (AIM) program, which brings in one-fourth of every entering Coast Guard Academy class, the Auxiliary is there, side by side with the Active Duty, Reserve and Civilian components, and volunteering for this duty at the same time, all while being an un-paid – uniformed – civilian force.

Homeland Security

On September 11th, 2001, this country as well as the rest of the world was shocked into a “New Normalcy” by the attacks on New York City and Washington DC. The destruction of the World Trade Centers and the attack on the Pentagon moved this country to a defensive posture it had not had for more than forty years (since the Cuban Missile Crisis).

One of the leading federal agencies to respond was the Coast Guard. New York City is New York City because of its strategic port, from the time of its founding by Henry Hudson. It is a City that is surrounded by water. Washington DC is also a city that has major waterways crosscutting major centers of governmental power.

It was the Coast Guard that was alerted and activated to provide security for these maritime cities, as well as other equally important maritime cities, such as Boston, Miami, San Diego, and San Francisco, to name a few.

Not only did the Coast Guard step up to the plate, but as a small service, it had to realign its workforce and assets in order to meet this challenge. Stepping in, right behind the moving Active Duty and Reserve units were Auxiliarists.

These men and women took time out from their business lives, their educational studies, to maintain communications, handle the mess duties, and become the small unit maintenance people. At the same time, Auxiliarists ran most of the Search and Rescue cases, and acted as the eyes and ears for the Coast Guard in many parts of the country.

According to Richard Schaefer of the Office of Search & Rescue (G-OPR) at Coast Guard Headquarters, the person in-charge of statistical analysis of Search and Rescue; “The total number of SAR cases between 2000 and 2002 were 116,541. Of this number, more than 92% (107,720) were within 20 nautical miles from shore.9” And according to the Boat Crew Seamanship Manual "About 90% of all cases do no require searching.10" In other words, Rescue with No Search.

Unlike National Guardsman and Reservists, there are no laws that protect the livelihood of an Auxiliarist, because an Auxiliary is not a military unit. These men and women, not only risk their lives, but their livelihoods, by providing the services enabling them to be a force multiplier for the Coast Guard.

Today there are multiple missions that the Auxiliary is manning, which relate to Homeland Security. Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) is the single largest nationwide program currently in existence. There are other programs (Operation Noble Eagle) as well as District-wide and Group-wide programs such as the First CG District’s Coastal Beacon11 and Coast Watch12 .

Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) is the critical, yet not fully developed component, of the homeland security equation. The crux of MDA requires adequate information, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance of vessels, cargo & people to be shared with law enforcement agencies and the maritime community at large. Simply put, it is possessing total awareness of vulnerabilities, threats & targets of interest in, on, or near navigable waterways…

It is here, given our “New Normalcy”, our new Department of Homeland Security, and the paradigm change in the way this country now operates that the challenge of utilizing 40,00014 trained men and women becomes a “unique test of leadership and management.”

The Problem(s)

The astute reader may have picked up on the proportional relationships between the different components of the Coast Guard. Currently, the Active Duty has 35,000 members, the Reserve 8,000 and the Auxiliary 40,000 members. The Auxiliary is, on paper, an equal strength force.

This being said, there is a world of difference between the 40,000 Auxiliarists and the 43,000 Active Duty/Reservists.

  1. The mean age of the Auxiliary is 59 (50% of all Auxiliarists are between 50 and 69 years of age).
  2. The Auxiliarists are volunteers.
  3. 3. The Auxiliary and its members are not covered by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), Chapter 43 of Title 38, U, S. Code.

Prolonged continuous service of its members, as in the September 11th call-out is problematic. Even so, over 124,000 person-hours were contributed by the Auxiliary to the Coast Guard from the period 11 September 2001 to 7 December 2001.15 If one were to use the traditional 8-hour day, that’s 15,500 days, or a workforce of 3,100 full-time volunteers (using a 40 hour work-week), which was fielded in response to the attack.

Leadership and Management of the Auxiliary is not a straightforward matter. The Auxiliarist is not subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), and there are two distinct “chains of command”, one “Gold” or Coast Guard, the other “Silver” or Auxiliary.

On the Gold side, there is the Coast Guard Chain of Command, while on the Silver side there is the Auxiliary Chain of Leadership and Management. In both cases, no military order can be given to any Auxiliarist, and yet, the Auxiliary is based upon a military model and doctrine.

Auxiliarists are proud of their membership and training. When you wear the uniform or fly the Auxiliary Ensign, you are a member of Team Coast Guard. Your actions as a member of this organization will reflect directly on the United States Coast Guard. In many areas, you will be the Coast Guard’s only link with the public. This recognition is a PRIVILEGE as well as a RESPONSIBILITY.16

In the Auxiliary we do not hold a rank, but, our insignia does identify the office we hold. Most members of the armed forces are unaware that we have no rank and therefore, when on a military installation we are seen as Coast Guard officers with rank.17

Management of the Auxiliary is also developed around this duality. On the Coast Guard side, the management of the Auxiliary resides with the Chief Director of the Auxiliary (CHDIRAUX), through the individual Districts’ Director of Auxiliary (DIRAUX). The Chief Director reports to the Commandant through the Assistant Commandant of Operations. The local Director of Auxiliary reports to both the District Commander, and to the Chief Director of Auxiliary in Washington DC.

The Auxiliary, meanwhile has its own duality (does this make it a quad-ality?). The National organization sets policy in conjunction with the CHDIRAUX, and other CG offices. These policies are then promulgated down the Auxiliary chain, as well as the DIRAUX chain, where they can be modified by either the Auxiliary District or Division. In addition, as it is in the Coast Guard, the Coast Guard District or local DIRAUX can also modify these policies.

This catch-22 breeds confusion between policies, as well as consistency. However, this is not the major issue facing the Coast Guard and the Auxiliary. It is the both lack of focus and leadership at different points in the chain and the ability to enforce a methodology that breeds accountability, which in turn develops reliability. It is these two issues that has caused the greatest harm to both organizations.


There seems to be a general lack of communication skills in the Auxiliary. Harvard Business School Professor Nitin Nohria believes "Communication is the real work of leadership".18 Leadership, accordingly is

Whether you’re the visionary-charismatic type of leader or the subtle mover of men, without understanding the role of communication, you've failed to understand the fundamental aspect of leadership.

Leadership is made possible by words (either verbal or written) and deeds. Good communicators take complex situations and simplify them for the user group that is being addressed.19

The message from Flag Officers is TEAM COAST GUARD: “…we can take lessons learned at this Summit to propel the Coast Guard into becoming an Employer of Choice for all our members, whether active, reserve, civilian or auxiliarist and truly embody our concept of Team Coast Guard.”20 In many instances this message looses its punch at the local unit level.

On the Coast Guard side, while there is a very communicative supportive Flag Officers, this message changes based on the experiences of local units with their particular Auxiliary counterparts. In an informal survey of units located in the Texas panhandle area, it was reported that small boat stations and other similar units did not want to associate with the Auxiliary.

Accountability and Reliability

The factors one would normally attribute for this schism; age, agility, training level; did not play a role in this general attitude. It was not directly even the lack of military bearing that has created this divide. It was the lack of accountability and reliability of the Auxiliarists that those who were polled encountered.

Good intentions are commendable, but in a service where even mid-range Petty Officers are invested with tremendous amount of responsibility, many times belying their age and maturity, not being able to count on a force multiplier begins to tear at the fabric of which is the Coast Guard – Honor, Respect & Devotion to Duty.

The Auxiliary works at and with the local Coast Guard unit (be it a small boat station, a group, a marine safety office or integrated services unit). Orders are cut at the local unit level, operational assignments are made by the local unit level, and certain programs are administrated through the local unit; so if the message of unity, co-operation and usage is lost, so to is the local Auxiliary Flotilla (unit).

In the days, weeks and months since September 11th, the Auxiliary has for the most part, done nothing to prepare for an event which is sure to come, another major terrorist attack on American soil. Preparation, at least in Coast Guard terms follows the precepts of Emergency Planning, which include hazard analysis, emergency operation plans, testing of plans and maintenance and revision.21

In the next emergency, where will the Auxiliary fit in? Can the diversity inherent in the broad reaching membership be a positive factor in helping to bridge what will become a logistical nightmare? Only planning, training, and a sense of reliability, based on some type of accountability principle, will enable the “New Normalcy” in the Coast Guard to succeed.

With the Iraq War looming, the Auxiliary in many parts of the Country were not included in war plans. Most areas of the country, even where the Auxiliary is the only Coast Guard presence, were not included in Emergency Operations Centers, as liaison officers.

Throughout the last year, communiqués from Auxiliary Flag Officers, concerning such issues as emergency operations planning, the move to the Department of Homeland Security as well as the “new” role, if any of the Auxiliary in Homeland Security have been met with almost a complete silence.

Our mission as stated in Title 14, in 1939: “…allow the Auxiliary to assist the Coast Guard…”22 Failure to communicate what our mission might be, has led to no clear cut organizational goals.

The Test becomes a Solution

As with every organization which relies on inter-personal communication, and the human factor, there is never a wholly simple answer or solution. The test of resolve of both the Auxiliary and the Coast Guard to more fully implement the Auxiliary into the daily lives of the Coast Guard is at hand.

Leadership must be shown from both the Flag, as well as the individual member, whether they where a gold uniform or silver. Leadership is about communication. Communication comes in many forms, both overt and subvert.

Accountability needs to be mandated. There is nothing explicitly stated in the Code of Federal Regulations, and nothing in Auxiliary Manual23 which stipulates accountability. On the contrary, there is a long history and legacy of anti-accountability. This is evidenced by the dogmatic word “Volunteer” used in our newest slogan “Americas Volunteer Lifesavers." Thus the Auxiliary, which is a voluntary force, has built an excuse to reliability and accountability by using the phrase “We are Volunteers.”

Accountability and reliability while intertwined need not be. However, the dogma of “We Are Volunteers” has corrupted the separation of these two distinct philosophical concepts. It is the ethos of Volunteerism that should embrace reliability.

While no one will ever misconstrue your volunteerism status versus an employee/employer status, to be taken in full light of abilities, and be considered fully as equal professionals, we can not utilized this volunteer status as a reason for non-performance.

How can the Coast Guard be assured that Homeland Security programs can be effectively prosecuted, if the very people they are relying on to man the program are un-reliable?

Accountability is an easier answer, those who don’t show up when scheduled to do so, are chastised by promulgation. But, is that the correct choice?

In the past, it was common place for Auxiliarists to accept new assignments and positions, if only for the ability to have “status”. These individuals would then use their new “status”, be it a title or the ability to wear the bars and/or stars of office, to impress and/or collect knowledge and accordingly power.

The Coast Guard can not afford to rely in the Auxiliary to accomplish its goals, and be given a false sense of security. Paper battalions can’t fight a war. Paper Auxiliarists can’t make programs operational.

Can reliability be inculcated by example? Can our leaders, be they gold or silver, show us a vision that will encourage Auxiliarists to modify their behavior so that reliability becomes the watchword?

These are the tests, that face the leadership, and successful completion of these tasks will develop a new Auxiliary, that will be faceted as an all-professional force. Training, skills, experience, leadership, accountability and reliability will be more than just words on white paper’s, but watchwords that a CG Coxswain or Officer-in-Charge of a small boat station can take to the bank.

Make no mistake about this, the Coast Guard considers Auxiliarists both professionals and professional partners, and the Coast Guard needs to believe in the validity of the Auxiliary missions and personnel.

As the Coast Guard moves deeper into the Maritime Domain Awareness program and the Auxiliary are brought to a higher level of participation, accountability will become paramount. MDA is arguably a law enforcement assignment. While currently one could say the Auxiliary is only acting as the eyes and ears of the Coast Guard, this level of participation is exactly what every police force has done with the “Neighborhood Watch Program”.

However, the next level in the progression from eyes to ears requires more direct law enforcement involvement. Higher levels of law enforcement involvement require some type of law enforcement powers. When asked how that could be achieved without accountability, the Coast Guard’s MDA Program Manager replied “good question!”24

Will a “new accountable/reliable Auxiliary” succeed? The answer is like the old joke about psychologists. When asked how many psychologists it took to screw in the light bulb, the psychologist paused and contemplated. A short time later, the psychologist gave is considered, professional opinion: “One”, he said, “but only if the light bulb is willing.”

“First and most appropriately, let’s talk about people, our men and women … and their critical importance… You have heard so many times that ‘our people are our most important asset.’ But let’s put that in further perspective: …[they] are our only asset…” Susan Morriesey Livingstone25 , the Former Under Secretary of the Navy wrote this about transformational change in the Navy. It holds true in the Coast Guard, and in the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Can the Auxiliary be molded into a force that is reliable, accountable, as well as professional? The answer is Yes, “but only if the Auxiliary is willing.”

2 - In a recent Washington Post Article, [Coast Guard Fights to Retain War Role by John Mintz and Vernon Loeb 2003-08-31] “Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has all but decided to remove the U.S. Coast Guard from participation in future wars…”
3 - Per the G-IPA Fact File (9 August 2003)
4 - From The Coast Guard Auxiliary in World War II by C. Kay Larson, Auxiliary National Historian
5 - From The Coast Guard Auxiliary in World War II by C. Kay Larson, Auxiliary National Historian
6 - Per the G-IPA Fact File (9 August 2003)
7 - USCG Auxiliary New Member Reference Guide 2001/2, Page 3.
8 - Per Coast Guard Auxiliary Air Operations Training Text COMDINST M16798.5B page 2-3.
9 - Private e-mail correspondence.
10 - Boat Crew Seamanship Manual COMDTINT M16114.5B, page 15-2
11 - Press Release No. 081-02:
12 - USCG ACTNY pamphlet
13 - 9 August 2003
14 - Per AuxData (USCG Auxiliary Member Database) 9 August 2003
15 - Director Gram 022/2001, 22 December 2001
16 - Auxiliary New Member Course – Student Study Guide: COMDTPUB P16794.40A
17 - Customs & Courtesy page on the Chief Director of Auxiliary website
18 - What Makes a Good Leader? by Deborah Blagg and Susan Young (Harvard Business School Bulletin, February 2001)
19 - Leaders and Leadership - Being the former, doesn't necessarily mean you exhibit the latter By Wayne Spivak, 2002
20 - CG HR Flag Voice 178 - Diversity Summit II: Out of Many, One - Leveraging America’s Strength
21 - FEMA Independent Study Course “Emergency Planning” page 2.1-2.2
22 - Per the G-IPA Fact File (9 August 2003)
23 - The Auxiliary Manual, COMDINST 16790.1E - The Auxiliary Manual promulgates guidance for Auxiliary use by the Coast Guard (CG) and serves as the primary policy guide for every Auxiliarist. As the primary policy reference, the Manual outlines the authority and responsibility for Auxiliary administration and governs the conduct, duties, and responsibilities of all Auxiliarists. [Chap 1.A.]
24 - A private, un-official discussion with the Program Manager while walking to a meeting. The MDA Program Manager has recently been hired, and has yet to fully research all the aspects of using the Auxiliary, in addition to the who, what, where, etc of the Auxiliary.
25 - Ms. Livingsone stepped down as Under Secretary Feb 27, 2003. The Pointy End of the Spear Chips Magazine (Space & Naval Warfare Systems - US Navy) Spring 2003 Page 6

The Author is a member of Flotilla 13-11 of the First Southern District. Assistance with this article was provided by the following USCG Auxiliarists: Hal Leahy, D7; Ken Sommers, D1SR; Doug Simpson, D7

Note: This article was written (for a military academic-type journal) in August 2003, before the IRAQ war. It is being released as written. Per the G-IPA Fact File (9 August 2003)