U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary

I originally joined to give back to the community. I found much more.

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Communications, the Cold War and the Coast Guard
Originally published in 054-06’s quarterly publication | The Capstan, June 2015 | Christopher Weber

When she left for open waters in 1945, the M/V Coastal Messenger didn’t seem a likely player in America’s Cold War. Although designed for military and naval cargo shuttling, the end of World War II destined her for tours with both the Standard Fruit Steamship Company and Grace Line, Inc.

Then, in 1952, the Department of State acquired the M/V Coastal Messenger with plans to use her as a mobile transmitting facility. The U.S. Information Agency’s “Voice of America” program, also known as “Operation Vagabond,” needed a way to transmit its programs through and behind the infamous “Iron Curtain.”

Who better, politicians figured, to operate the ship than the U.S. Coast Guard? In a memorandum of understanding between the Department of State and the U.S. Coast Guard, the ship joined the Coast Guard’s fleet as the cutter Courier. Its call sign: Vagabond-A.

Dr. Wilson Compton, head of the U.S. International Information Administration, said the Courier was “designed to provide another electronic weapon for combatting [sic] Soviet jamming and to enable the Voice of America to cover areas beyond the reach of present broadcasts.” 

The Courier spent the majority of its time off the coast of Rhodes, Greece. She broadcasted nearly 12 hours a day, seven days a week, in 13 different languages.

Though the Department of State covered all costs, command and discipline was left to the Coast Guard’s commanding officer. Coast Guard personnel, tasked with maintaining cutter operations and security, worked alongside USIA employees. All discipline fell to the commanding officer, who received orders directly from the Commandant of the Coast Guard.

Command responsibilities were clearly outlined in the memorandum between the Department of State and the U.S. Coast Guard. It read, in part, that “internal security and policing will be the sole responsibility of the Coast Guard officer commanding the vessel. As of the date of this memorandum of understanding, heavy armament would serve no useful purpose and will not be initially provided.  Small arms and light machine guns will be provided by the Coast Guard for internal and external security. Demolition of electronic equipment, destruction, and/or abandonment of the vessel will be the responsibility of the Commanding Officer who will act under instructions from the Commandant of the Coast Guard when time is available and will act under his command responsibility and prerogatives when time does not permit consultation with higher authority.”

Operation Vagabond consisted of 78 transmitters at 10 overseas relay bases – the Courier was the only mobile transmitter. On board, the Courier carried a single RCA 150 kilowatt medium-wave transmitter and two Collins Radio Company 207B-1-type 35 kilowatt short-wave transmitters, as well as a Collins 231D-20 three kilowatt transmitter. Nearly 1,500,000 watts were generated from the diesel engines.

After leaving for Rhodes, Greece in July, 1952, the Courier began broadcasting in September of the same year. She received orders to return stateside in July, 1964, and returned in August of 1964. “The only U.S. vessel in commission [at that time] that has been on duty outside the continental limits of the country for twelve consecutive years” was sent to the Coast Guard Reserve Training Center in Yorktown, Virginia.

The Courier spent the next decade as a training platform, even recommissioning at Yorktown in 1966. Ultimately (and after, according to some reports, spending time with the James River ghost fleet), the vessel was sold for scrap in February of 1977.

More information on the Courier can be found online at: http://www.uscg.mil/history/webcutters/Courier1952.asp.

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Rescue 21
Originally published in 054-06’s quarterly publication | The Capstan, Vol. XLVXIII Issue 2 | Christopher Weber

Constructing Rescue 21 not only cemented the U.S. Coast Guard’s role in modernizing radio telecommunications, but also transformed one of the service’s primary missons: search and rescue.

Covering the majority of the eastern seaboard, Gulf of Mexico and the west coast, Rescue 21 is a network of high-sight antennas with the capability to guard marine radio channels to at least 20 nautical miles from shore. Reaching initial operating capacity (IOC) in December 2005, Rescue 21 replaces the National Distress and Response System that has been in place since the 1970s.

Ideally, Rescue 21 takes the ‘search’ out of search and rescue. Utilization of digital select calling (DSC) enables more audible transmissions alongside an ability to record and replay messages. Lines of bearing to the very-high frequency (VHF) radio transmissions, triangulated between towers, shrink search times and enable watchstanders to identify hoax calls. Mariners with DSC-enabled VHF radios send authorities information on the vessel’s make, model, location and other pertinent information.

Realistically, though, Rescue 21’s ultimate potential is hampered by low DSC saturation among boaters. While current models of VHF radios are required by law to include DSC capability, many boaters continue to use more dated models or fail to properly integrate DSC radios with on-board global positioning systems (GPS).

Additionally, cellular devices often create an illusion of functionality. If within range of signal, some boaters feel a cell phone works as well as, if not better than, a VHF radio. Like any technology, however, innovation comes with drawbacks. Battery life, indirect communication with authorities, poor or no signal and a tendency to react poorly with water list among reasons cellular devices do not compare favorably with marine radios when underway.

Even without high rates of DSC use, Rescue 21 offers an invaluable resource to the U.S. Coast Guard. With extended range and triangulation ability, watchstanders can provide crews with accurate coordinates of the distress call origin. While communication with the boater remains a primary mechanism of information collection, Rescue 21 supplements and enables a quicker and more precise response effort.

In the event of a natual disaster, Rescue 21 offers stable communications. Housed in strategic locations along the east coast, mobile units can deploy to replace or augment existing structures. With emergency response organizations adopting standardized incident command structures (ICS), communication capability plays an increasingly important role.

Rescue 21 proves its worth on a near-daily basis. Sector Baltimore, for instance, responded to 37 distinct distress calls July 25, 2010 as a result of a fast-moving series of cells. 77 people were assisted or recued as Rescue 21’s capabilities helped watchstanders launch assets from six small boat stations – all in two hours.

Given the state-of-the-art technology at play, its easy to assume mariners require comparable equipment while underway to derive benefit from Rescue 21. That isn’t the case, though. Rescue 21 towers can receive, at minimum, a one second transmission from a one watt power source with an antenna two meters above sea level up to 20 nautical miles from shore. While terrain and other variables play into the equation, Rescue 21 still far exceeds past methods of distress transmission reception.

While Rescue 21 remains in its relative infancy, the system’s potential is undeniable. As DSC becomes more commonplace, expect the U.S. Coast Guard to be among the forefront of telecommunication use and distress response.

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Unit William and Mary hosts graduation, Change of Watch
Christopher Weber, outgoing Unit William and Mary Unit Leader and incoming AUP Deputy Division Leader, recounts 10 MAY’s graduation and Change of Watch ceremony.

Auxiliary University Programs (AUP) Unit William and Mary, detachment of Flotilla 6-7 Williamsburg, celebrated its graduating members and enjoyed a Change of Watch May 10. Ariel Deutsch, class of ’14, received a diploma certifying her completion of AUP’s Program of Study before Robert ‘Seb’ Meekins relieved Christopher Weber as Unit Leader, the senior-most level of student leadership within the Unit.

Roughly thirty members attended the ceremony. The U.S. State Department, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and family and friends of the Unit listened to various speakers and ceremonies. Genieve Brei, a rising sophomore and member of the Unit, preformed as the Master of Ceremonies.

Outgoing Unit Leader Chris Weber opened the evening reminding the crowd of the Unit’s accomplishments over the past year, most notably in its work with NASA DEVELOP, the U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office and AUP’s first-ever National Operations Weekend. Weber encouraged members to find pride in their uniform, their work and their shipmates; moreover, Weber pushed members to prove their talents and skill as often as possible.

More: http://college.cgauxnet.us/wm/in-the-news/unit-william-and-mary-hosts-graduation-change-of-watch

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Coast Guard Training Center Yorktown hosts AUP for Advanced Skills Weekend
Article by Christopher Weber, AUP Class of 2015 at The College of William and Mary

Yorktown, VA – Joint operations are usually limited to online courses and phone calls in Auxiliary University Programs with units scattered around the country. Internships and summer operations bring some students together, but it would otherwise be easy for shipmates from another unit to remain unknown as just names on a roster.

That all changed over the course of Advanced Skills Weekend (ASW), sponsored by the Auxiliary’s Fifth Southern District from October 12-14 at United States Coast Guard Training Center Yorktown. Members from Unit Piedmont NC, Unit Washington, and Unit William and Mary met for an AUP-oriented training and operations.

More: http://college.cgauxnet.us/news/archive/asw12

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AUP Unit Washington hosts summer operations weekend
Article by Christopher Weber, Class of 2015, AUP Unit William & Mary

Auxiliary University Programs Unit Washington, with the sponsorship of Flotilla Northern Virginia (054-25-12), hosted an AUP Operations Weekend on June 28-30, 2013. Students and staff from AUP Unit Washington, The College of William and Mary, Auburn University, and the Remote Collaborative Unit reported to Columbia Island Marina Saturday morning for an all-hands briefing, detailing three main operations for the coming days.

While Flotilla Northern Virginia manned a vessel safety check station at Columbia Island, multiple crews left the marina for underway boat operations training. A third team reported to Coast Guard Station Washington, located on nearby Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, for a Telecommunications Operator course that extensively tests Auxiliarists’ knowledge of operating radio equipment.

More: http://college.cgauxnet.us/news/archive/JUNOpsWknd

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