Seeking recognition as a Coast Guard Community


December 12, 2013

Recently we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Maritime Safety and Security Team in Camden County. It was a wonderful tribute to our Coast Guard.

It wasn’t that long ago that seeing the Coast Guard uniform in our community was a rarity. With the creation of the MSST, and shortly thereafter the establishment of the Maritime Force Protection Unit at Kings Bay, the Coast Guard has had a strong presence and tremendous impact on our community.

MFPU Kings Bay became operational in July, 2007. Along with MFPU Bangor, the two MFPU’s were conceived to support the Coast Guard’s mission of protecting our strategic submarines entering and leaving their respective bases. They are single-mission units fully funded by the Navy.

One of the reasons for the assignment of this escort duty is because the Navy, or for that matter, the civilian contractors do not have law enforcement capabilities. Federal statue gives the Coast Guard the authority to prosecute violators of federal laws and make arrests if necessary.

The Coast Guard historically has enforced U.S. maritime law, dating to the late 1700s when the Revenue Cutter Service enforced tariff and trade rules. As the only federal military service to reside outside the Defense Department, it is not restricted to conduct law enforcement operations by the Posse Comitatus Act. This act prohibits the Army and Air Force from engaging directly in law enforcement. The Navy and Marine Corps comply with this act by Defense Department directive.

As a personal observation, the addition of the MFPU adds a safety factor too. I’m sure boaters and fishermen are excited about seeing one of these huge, beautiful ships as they leave for sea. The Coast Guard’s law enforcement duties ensure that they move quickly to avoid any obstruction.

Thus the MFPU team is a team of vigilant guardians who provide fleet security, deterrence by presence, protection by escort, defense by force and terrorism prevention through strategic partnerships.

Vice Adm. Peterson, then Commander of the Coast Guard’s Atlantic Area and one of the keynote speakers said at the commissioning ceremony, said, “This is a unit ready for initial operations. This is a new and unique mission. It’s a great day for the Coast Guard.”

Preparations for this unit included 10,000 training hours for the Coast Guard personnel assigned to MFPU.

Many of you remember the commissioning of the two 87-foot Coast Guard cutters, SEA DRAGON and SEA DOG. Keith Post was commissioning chairman for both of these cutters and did an incredible job. The unit also has six 33-foot Special Purpose Craft – Law Enforcement vessels and six 64-foot Special Purpose Craft – Screening vessels, all new platforms in support of this great mission.

Cmdr. Stephen Love and his Executive Officer, Lt. Cmdr. Tom Evans, have continued the tradition of involvement in this great community. They are familiar faces at many of our Navy League meetings and other events. Cmdr. Love and his team of approximately 150 personnel recently received the prestigious Kimball Award, for readiness and standardization excellence.

The Maritime Safety and Security Team Kings Bay, or MSST 91108, was the first Coast Guard unit in Camden County and has a completely different mission and, in fact, has an entirely different chain of command. It, too, was a new mission for the Coast Guard when personnel came to Camden County in 2003.

The Maritime Safety and Security Teams were established to bolster the Coast Guard’s ability to protect this country’s shores from any threats and to respond to specific episodic events requiring an increased security posture for a limited duration. They are capable of deploying personnel and equipment on short notice, via air or ground. MSST 91108 also exercises security contingency plans in major ports and augment Coast Guard and Captain of the Port capabilities in Georgia and Florida.

Our unit in St. Marys has the designation of 91108. The 911 is for the day the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked by terrorists and 08 is the 8th unit commissioned.

The Coast Guard evacuated more than 2,000 people that day in New York. The Maritime Safety and Security Teams were created as a result of that horrific terrorist attack.

When we heard of this new mission being formed, we let it be known that Camden County wanted a MSST in our community. We were thrilled when we received the call that MSST 91108 would be located in St. Marys. We were thrilled again when the announcement came that brought to our community a great group of 85 professionally trained men and women.

Lt. Cmdr. Matt Baer is Commanding Officer of this unit and his Executive Office is Lt. Cmdr. Ron Nakamoto. They, too have become a part of the community, participating in our parades and school adoptions. They’re familiar faces at our meetings.

As a rare fact, the MSST is also a recipient of the Kimball Award, a two-time award recipient. That’s very impressive for a unit to excel at Coast Guard small boat operations, readiness and standardization when primarily used as a deployable force.

On Feb. 2, 2010, we had quite a shock when we were told that this unit would be decommissioned. Keith Post and I were invited to sit in on an announcement from an admiral from headquarters. It was a stunning announcement.

MSST 91108 was being decommissioned.

We quickly went to Washington D.C. to find out why this was happening. We found that the Coast Guard, in response to a budget reduction for FY11, stated it would decommission five of the 12 Maritime Safety and Security teams, the teams that were established after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in response to heightened security levels.

The current threat assessment is a constant concern. This was the wrong time to be reducing five of these anti-terror units. The number of MSSTs should remain at 12, we said. And that was not all. Some 1,112 fulltime Coast Guard positions would be eliminated, the Coast Guard’s operating expenses would be reduced and three cutters would be decommissioned without replacement. The budget would be reduced by approximately $300 million.

We went to work, writing everyone from President Obama to the Secretary of Homeland Security, our legislators and everyone in between. Our state House and Senate, as well as all of our cities and county’s entire bodies, voted for proclamations in support of the entire Coast Guard Budget, not just our MSST 91108.

We went to Washington and called on every committee that had oversight over the Coast Guard and 210 congressional offices. We found that there is a deep respect for our Coast Guard. Of the 210 Congressional stops we made, at 205 members sat down with us when they were told that we were there to talk about the United States Coast Guard. We told them what was happening. We also told them that in addition to the operational and support capability that would suffer, the reduction in Coast Guard positions were a mistake.

These military positions offer the best return on investment in personnel that this country has. Our military personnel are, by definition, on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This is how they can rapidly respond to national and man-made disasters. These are jobs that matter. We requested the same level of Coast Guard service be maintained in the 2011 budget, and that there be a true augmentation of funds and no reapportionment of the already scarce funds be made.

The future of our Coast Guard and the security of our nation depend on it.

With our help and many others, the entire Coast Guard budget was reinstated.

I don’t expect that to be our last fight. We recognize the value of the Coast Guard, but as we know these are difficult budget times.

Camden County has had a decade with hundreds of our Coast Guardsmen and women and their families who have lived in our community, taken their children to our schools, attended our churches and have made an impact in our community. These men and women bring a spirit of professionalism, pride and community involvement that enriches our lives.

When I was National President of the Navy League, I was always impressed by those cities that were designated as “Coast Guard Cities.” They stood out in their support of the Coast Guard, and as a Coast Guard fan, I thought it would be wonderful to have that kind of recognition.

In 2012, after the Commandant, Adm. Robert Papp’s visit to speak at our Community that Cares event, I realized that now we are one of those Coast Guard Communities! We have shown and continue to show unprecedented support to our Coast Guard units. So, we applied for this designation.

It was not easy. There has never been a Coast Guard Community. The designation only covers a city. But with our three supporting cities, we couldn’t have that. So, we have this additional hurdle to overcome. The paperwork involved was extensive. Everything had to be documented.

After several months, the application was finished and sent to the Coast Guard. First, it had to have approval from the Coast Guard itself. Then it had to go through the Congressional committees, who have oversight over the Coast Guard for approval.

Last month we passed the first hurdle. A letter from Adm. Papp said, “In accordance with Public Law 105-383, Section 409, my letters to the committees start a 90 day congressional notification period. If there is no objection from Congress, it will be my pleasure to sign a proclamation designating Camden County as “A Coast Guard Community.”

We wait with anticipation for that final approval from Congress.

By Shelia McNeill, President
The Camden Partnership