The Coast Guard is a combat force that has gone to war since the first days of the republic. In addition to its more well-known role in “[augmenting] the navy with men and cutters,” the Coast Guard has a strong history of contributing to specialized, niche missions in which its predominantly peacetime roles give it expertise, especially in small-unit, low-intensity conflict such as counterdrug (CD) operations, maritime interdiction operations (MIO) surge operations, and counter terrorism (CT) operations. Much of today’s “tactical operations” in the Coast Guard can date their beginnings to the 1980s and earlier, finding their origins in the port security and counter drug programs.
The tragic events of 9/11 changed and accelerated the need for highly proficient Tactical Law Enforcement professionals in the Coast Guard. That need ushered in the newest phase of our proud history establishing the Deployable Specialized Forces (DSFs) as a key component of the Maritime Trident. Today, Tactical Law Enforcement professionals serve proudly at Port Security Units (PSUs), Tactical Law Enforcement Teams (TACLETs), the Special Missions Training Center (SMTC), Maritime Safety and Security Teams (MSSTs), and the Maritime Security Response Team (MSRT).
Port Security Unit
The Port Security program of the Coast Guard can be traced back all the way back to 1917 with the passage of the Espionage Act and due to the Black Tom explosion, Coast Guard’s Captain of the Port (COTPs) were given responsibility for the security of port areas.
US territorial port security became a vital role of the Coast Guard through the years, and especially during wartime operations. In the 1980s, the concept of a Rapid Deployment Force was developed to protect vital overseas ports and military equipment. As a specialized service for the U.S. Navy in wartime, the Coast Guard created an equally special entity known as Port Security Units (PSU). A PSU is a deployable unit organized for operations to provide waterside protection to key assets such as pier areas, high value assets and harbor entrances at the termination/ origination point of the Sea Lines of Communications (SLOCs). They conduct outside continental U.S. (OCONUS) port security in support of requesting regional combatant commanders.
Prior to 1990, the organization of a PSU was notional. The first three test units were in Buffalo, N.Y. (PSU 301), Cleveland (PSU 302) and Milwaukee (PSU 303). The blue prints for the original concept evolved out of the Ninth Coast Guard District’s Reserve program. Eventually, the Coast Guard “settled out” with eight PSUs (nearly one for each District) and has distinguished themselves as a vital component of the Coast Guards wartime and security plans.
Special Missions Training Center
The origins of the Special Missions Training Center lie in the Coast Guard Port Security Unit program. Originally located in Port Clinton, Ohio (center of the Ninth Coast Guard District’s Reserve program), the PSU Training Detachment (PSU TRADET) was tasked with improving the mission effectiveness, unit readiness, and providing pre-deployment support for the Coast Guard’s Port Security Units (PSUs).
In November 1998 PSU TRADET relocated to Marine Corp Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina and by the summer of 2001 its mission had expanded to include non-lethal weapons and the Fast Boat Center of Excellence, as well as conducting training for cutter small boats over-the-horizon tactics designed to enhance interdiction abilities in counter narcotics operations. After the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, the PSU TRADET began training the newly created Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Teams (MSSTs).
The unit grew and evolved to accommodate the broadened responsibilities and growing inter-agency and international training requests. In August 2002, the name of the command changed to Coast Guard Special Missions Training Center (SMTC) to better incorporate its multi-faceted capabilities. SMTC was commissioned as a Headquarters unit on 29 July 2003.
Today, all DSF Tactical Operators find the way through “the schoolhouse”, whether it is through the Basic Tactical Operator course (BTOC), the PSU basic skills course, or the Tactical Coxswain course. SMTC is and will continue to be the proud keeper of the highest standards of training, proficiency, and professionalism in the Tactical Law Enforcement operations community.
Maritime Safety & Security Team
MSSTs were created under the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 (MTSA) in direct response to the terrorist attacks on 11 Sept. 2001, and are a part of the United States Department of Homeland Security’s layered strategy directed at protecting seaports and waterways. MSSTs provide waterborne and shoreside antiterrorism force protection teams for strategic shipping, high interest vessels, and critical infrastructure. MSSTs are a quick response force capable of rapid nationwide deployment via air, ground or sea transportation in response to changing threat conditions and evolving Maritime Homeland Security (MHS) mission requirements. Multi-mission capability facilitates augmentation for other selected Coast Guard missions.
Originally modeled after the Port Security Unit (PSU) and Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET) programs, MSSTs provide a complementary non-redundant capability designed to close critical security gaps in United States strategic seaports. MSSTs are staffed to support continuous law enforcement operations both ashore and afloat.
Tactical Law Enforcement Team | Law Enforcement Detachement
Probably the most well known component of the Coast Guard’s modern day Tactical Operators is our Law Enforcement Detachment program (LEDET). The Coast Guard officially established the LEDET program in 1982. The first LEDETs operated directly under Coast Guard groups and districts, where they served as law enforcement specialists, conducting training and local operations. In 1986, Public Law (P.L.) 99-570 specifically authorized the establishment of billets for active duty Coast Guard personnel to carry out drug interdiction operations from naval surface vessels provided by the Department of Defense (DoD).
Since the Posse Comitatus Act and department policy strictly prohibit Department of Defense personnel from directly engaging in law enforcement activities, LEDETs were tasked with operating aboard United States Navy (USN) ships to investigate contacts and conduct boardings in accordance with Coast Guard policy and directives. In accordance with P.L. 99-570, LEDETs were to deploy aboard U.S. Navy “ships of opportunity”, transiting or operating in areas frequently used by illegal drug traffickers. In 1988, P.L. 100-456 made it a requirement that Coast Guard law enforcement personnel be assigned to each appropriate Navy surface vessel that transits a drug interdiction area.
The 1989 National Defense Authorization Act designated the DoD as the lead agency of the Federal Government for the detection and monitoring of aerial and maritime trafficking of illegal drugs into the United States or any of its commonwealths, territories, or possessions. In turn, the Coast Guard was designated the lead agency for the interdiction and apprehension of illegal drug traffickers on the high seas. In order to meet these statutory responsibilities, the DoD began deploying surface assets to drug interdiction areas, making ships available for direct support of Coast Guard law enforcement operations.
In the 1990s, the individual LEDETs were consolidated under four Tactical Law Enforcement Teams (TACLETs): TACLET South, based in Opa-locka, Florida; Pacific Area TACLET (PACTACLET) based in San Diego, California; TACLET North based in Chesapeake, Virginia; and TACLET Gulf based in New Orleans, Louisiana. TACLET Gulf was decommissioned in 1999/2000, and unit members were transferred to the remaining TACLETs to increase team size. TACLET North was combined with MSST Chesapeake in 2004 to create MSRT (read below).
Maritime Security Response Team
The establishment of TACLET North (and MSST Chesapeake) would be short-lived as the Coast Guard realized that a post 9/11 world would require a highly specialized resource with advanced counterterrorism skills and tactics. In 2004 (although training began as early as 2003) TACLET North and MSST Chesapeake merged to become the Enhanced Maritime Safety and Security Team (EMSST).
In May 2006 the name was changed and the unit was officially commissioned as Maritime Security Response Team (MSRT) with the mission statement “to be a first responder to potential terrorist situations; deny terrorist acts; perform non-compliant security actions; perform tactical facility entry and enforcement; participate in port level counterterrorism exercises and educate other forces on Coast Guard counterterrorism procedures.”
The unit contains many aspects of the Maritime Safety and Security Teams and TACLETs, such as boarding operations and high-speed tactics, but brings a more robust set of resources to the national security table.
Elements of the MSRT, known as the Direct Action Section (DAS), are made up of “Operators” that have made it through all phases of the assessment and selection process. These “Silent Professionals” train in advanced CQC (Close Quarters Combat). They are trained to quickly and surreptitiously board suspicious vessels or land based targets by vertically inserting from helicopters or using other undisclosed methods and neutralizing enemy personnel. The Tactical Delivery Teams (TDT), boat drivers, are trained in advanced vessel tactics and stealthy delivery of the Direct Action Section.
The Coast Guard has a long and proud history of Tactical Operations. The common lineage shared across the DSF spectrum is a testament to the imagination, moral courage, conviction, and integrity of the Coast Guard Tactical Operator. Behind this history story are men who chose to change their organization for the better, often times against staunch bureaucracies who said “it’s not the Coast Guards way” or “it couldn’t be done”…but it was.
The most difficult part in putting together a collection of Coast Guard Tactical Law Enforcement history is realizing that our DNA goes back even further than the 1980’s. All throughout the Coast Guards and our nation’s history, we have had men who chose to take on risk in defense and security of America. From our first Revenue Cutter boarding teams, to the beach patrols of WWII, to our Drug Interdiction Assistance Teams (DIAT), and the founders of the Maritime Law Enforcement Academy we have had men do what is right, pick up a gun and fight for our country.
As historian of the Tactical Law Enforcement association, I hope to hear and share stories of our Guardians past to preserve and honor their history and to inform and educate our future operators on our legacy and traditions.
COASTAL FORCES PROGRAM
Coastal Forces Rating, U.S. Coast Guard Reserve
1963 - 1967
from the Coast Guard History page. Written by Mike Benjamin, PSC)
I joined the Coast Guard Reserve in the summer of 1965 right after high school. I had wanted to be in the regular Coast Guard from the time I was eight years old. Helping others and being a Marine both appealed to me. The recruiter offered the Coastal Forces Program in the Reserves. I figured the training would be great and I would be in the Coast Guard. I could go back to college within the year, what a deal! I fully expected to be called to active service, since Viet Nam was heating up by the day.
Until many years later, I never heard us referred to as the "SEALs of the Coast Guard." Our mission and certainly the degree of training were very different. The fact that we were 6 by 6 reservists compared to full time dedicated regulars made a big difference. I remember one of the boot Company Commanders asking me what I was going to do after boot. I told him, Coastal Forces. He said they were a tough outfit. Compared to other Coast Guard personnel, we were trained to a very high degree in a very specialized area. Compared to the Rangers, SEALs, and other special operations types, we were not trained to the degree they were. We were trained well for our mission.
We were told the Coastal Forces Program existed to observe and report infiltrators coming from the sea. This was probably very accurate, but the degree of of training would also suggest a very wide range of additional missions. The Russians had a fleet of over 300 submarines so the obvious focus was to inform the FBI and military commands of landings or other suspicious activity by Russian/Soviet Spetsnaz forces. These highly trained officers and enlisted persons often were assigned as athletes in Olympic teams and overseas diplomatic units. This gave the teams or individuals valuable overseas experience in addition to the tough training at home. The objective of these Soviet special forces units and individuals in time of conflict or just proceeding was murder of political and military leadership, cause disorganization of the enemy, set off nuclear stores, destroy strategic civilian and military targets. The Afghans really respected the Spetsnaz formations, while regular army units were not. These were not giants, but they very capable, well indoctrinated and ruthless.
The training to counter and deal with this Soviet potential threat was intense. The Coastal Forces "A" School was designed to train the trainers for the Reserve Coastal Forces units around the country. The first six weeks after boot at the school located at Alameda were spent in intensive weapons training, water survival, physical exercise, leadership, hand-to-hand combat, communications and classroom instruction. Each day first thing we ran five miles. Three-four hours were spent in the water and two-three hours on the mats in hand-to-hand combat training each day. Three hours were typically spent each evening on academic assignments and lesson plan development.
I found the Coastal Forces Team 11 members to be an exceptional bunch. Certainly the draft brought in many highly educated persons to the Reserves, but the members in this team were very exceptional. Coast Guard standards to get into this "A" School were very high, but the individuals in my team were exceptional. The average was 23 years old with a four-year degree in a very demanding area. We had on MBA, several high school teachers, several pharmacists, two architects, one lawyer and persons taking time out from college. Many went on to very high places. The professional level and leadership of our group was top shelf.
The intense physical training and hand-to-hand combat training (260 hours) was focused on getting ready to go to Camp Pendleton, California. Team 11, consisting of 20 Coastal Forcemen, was integrated into a Second ITR Rifle Company. We were placed throughout the 240-man company in separate platoons. I was the only Coast Guardsmen in the third platoon. We slept and ate with our Marine brothers. The training was very intense. The majority of these Marines were going to Viet Nam. The first contingent of combat veterans back from Viet Nam were our Troop Handlers and trainers. Several were Korean War vets. Rough & ready and complete describes them well. The Coast Guardsmen held up very well in terms of physical stamina and ability.
The training focused on company, platoon, squad and fire team tactics and deployment in patrolling, ambush, attack and defense. Other areas of training included: infiltration under live fire, field craft, camouflage; the latest infantry weapons; use of military explosives, grenades, flamethrowers, mine warfare and identification, night tactics. The Marines were issued the M-1, since ammunition was very plentiful for these obsolete weapons. The BAR was used, as the Fire Team support weapon. The weapons used for familiarity by the Coastal Forces were the M-79, M-14, BAR, M-1, M-1 Carbine, .45 ACP Thompson, M-60 LMG, 1919A4 LMG, .45 ACP Pistol, 3.5 Rocket Launcher, and a flame thrower. The fully automatic Colt AR-15 was issued as the Coast Guard weapon for deployment with the Coastal Forces. These weapons were the early ones with the light bold carrier and very high cyclic rate of fire. They jammed very often. Cleaning and maintenance of this piece was still undergoing some evaluation. Ammunition was found to be one of the problems. A slower cyclic rate also reduced some of the malfunctions.
Once the six weeks of Marine ITR training was completed, the focus of training was tightened up. SCUBA training and more hand-to-hand combat techniques were added to the training time. Much more focus on the training of the trainer and leadership was done. Several field exercises with swimmers attempting to infiltrate were conducted. The training was good, but it was nice to go home.
The San Diego Reserve Unit 11-82741 only had a small cadre of Coastal Forces graduates. This unit was not dedicated to Coastal Forces. Certain units on the West Coast were specifically selected to reorganize as Coastal Forces units, very similar to the PSUs of today. These units had a few CF "A" School graduates in key places, while the rest had to be trained from the bottom up in infantry related issues.
I was sent to a multi-unit two-week course and maneuver in Ventura County, California in the summer of 1966. The few Coastal Forces graduates in the 150-man group did well, but the officers and other enlisted personnel just were not trained well. The motivation and aggressive patrol capabilities were very limited. Most of the enlisted simply wanted to get in their time and go home. This was the time of the anti-Viet Nam (sic) War issues really springing up. The "A" school graduates were much more focused and understood the mission better. The "A" school graduates moved up very quickly. You just cannot put a green uniform on a sailor and expect him to do a job without motivated leadership and direction. There was a sense of frustration in the units. Individuals drove some units, but the effectiveness under "peace time' conditions was not a positive motivator.
The program was eliminated in the spring of 1967. I was given the opportunity to lateral from CF-2 to PS-2. I did this, as an expedient. Once you were E-5 in my unit, some of the mundane requirements were lifted.
I owe the Coast Guard much. The training in the Coastal Forces Program was exciting and uplifting. My later experiences in MSO and small boat operations were exactly what I wanted. Being the Reserve Chief of several small boat stations was a very satisfactory situation. Assisting others in need was always at the heart of my drive in the Coast Guard. This I did on a number of occasions.
These things are good. Perhaps, the world is a little better for our service.
Mike Benjamin, PSC, USCGR