We Stand in the Arena... -- by Capt. Timothy Espinoza, USCG (Ret.)

"It is not the critic who counts; nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. Rather, the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” -Theodore Roosevelt, Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

In the above excerpt from his historic speech, Theodore Roosevelt famously talked about “the man in the arena”… As I contemplate his words, I am struck by what our 26th President is alluding to so eloquently; in my interpretation, he is profoundly exalting us into service and being greater than the sum of self. There are unfortunately those who have never had the opportunity to serve while others may lack the internal fortitude to serve. Regardless, we in the DSF community have chosen to serve our country; as such, we are in the unique minority. While others may sit on the sideline and criticize, we have chosen the profession of arms with the honor of running to the sound of the gun in the protection of our people in this greatest of nations. In essence we are the “strong men” and “doer of deeds” and we stand dead center in that arena President Roosevelt so eloquently talked about.

As a prior Army Officer and State Trooper, and having had the privilege of serving at various levels in the Coast Guard Law Enforcement, training, US NORTHCOM, Boat Forces, DSF Community, I have been privileged with a unique perspective on where we are organizationally. Specifically, the Deployable Specialized Forces (DSF) community’s value to our service and Nation is no longer being questioned. In a time where the Coast Guard (and all military services) are reducing in size, the USCG has saw fit to expand our DSF footprint with the stand up of MSST San Diego/Enhanced Team West and expanded our school house by putting Special Mission Training Detachments (SMTDs) at both MSRT and MSST San Diego. Nationally, USCG DSFs are clearly recognized and deployed both INCONUS and OCONUS as a legitimate specialized capability.

To understand how far we’ve come, we must first remember where we have been and upon whose shoulders we stand. Although our Law Enforcement mission has existed since the days of the Revenue Cutter Service, it is only in relative recent years that we have had formalized training as a Law Enforcement organization. Our law enforcement training roots stem from the Maritime Law Enforcement School in Yorktown, VA and BTM School in Petaluma, CA. In 2004 I was privileged to transition both the BO and BTM schools to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Charleston, SC and commission the Maritime Law Enforcement Academy and succeeded in achieving full course accreditation. On the tactical side, our schoolhouse has grown from its origins as the PSU TRADET to the establishment of the Special Missions Training Center in 2003, offering standardized and repeatable courses in Tactical Operations and Boat Assault (tactical/pursuit), which had merely been unit level and in many cases ad hoc until that time.

It is important to remember that 2003-2004 is relatively recent in the history of our organizational niche. Fast forward to present, we have Tactical Operators and Coxswains serving alongside Special Operations personal here at home and overseas. The professionalism and expertise of the entire DSF and training community has led to a second enhanced team developed on the west coast. My assignments have afforded access to whole of government specialized communities (HRT, SOCOM, BORTAC, Carrier Strike Groups, etc) and my exposure to these worlds confirmed my beliefs, that we are among the best at what we do. We are the world’s premier maritime law enforcement boarding teams and tactical boat drivers. I can go on and on about the capabilities and missions conducted by the DSF community (CD, SNMR, CBRNE, FR, H&C, PMOT, K9s, UNBs, NSSEs, Counter-Piracy, CIP, etc) but I will sum it up as simply this… make no mistake, USCG DSFs stand in that arena as both front-line federal law enforcement officers and a tactical military force to be reckoned with.

The understanding of our proficiency is an important part of the culture and leadership in our community. No one gave you that device on your chest… you have earned it through exhaustive training, successful operations and unmatched expertise. Your commitment to excellence grants you the right to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the world’s best in the tactical law enforcement community. I would submit that in maritime law enforcement/tactical operations, USCG DSF is on par with the very best our nation has to offer.

How we survive and thrive “in the arena” if you will, has always been and will always be wholly
dependent upon us. As with the gladiators facing the lions, we stand at the ready with the goal of mastering our craft and guarding our collective flanks from those who would cause us harm. Always remember, being the best and being a professional comes at a price. The term professional can have many meanings and interpretations. My personal analysis of the word is that professionals, through prolonged study, experience and training, have developed themselves to be the elite in their craft. So much so, that society no longer has the ability to judge their execution of those duties and delegate any criticism of that profession to those which execute it.

As such, remember, we are always on parade and open to scrutiny, therefore, WE MUST carry ourselves and hold one another accountable to the highest standards of ethical and moral conduct at all times. This poised professionalism coupled with our expertise is the foundation of DSF personnel, the Tactical Operator and the quiet professional.

There is much work yet to be done as we hone our craft in pursuit of excellence. Being a quiet
professional starts with us understanding and mastering our profession and integrating seamlessly as one very sharp dagger on the Coast Guard’s Trident of Forces. As iron sharpens iron, I challenge each of you to test yourself and continue to serve within the DSF community as able. Opportunities abound between our operational DSF units, our TRACENS (MLEA, SMTC, SMTDs) and key DSF staffs to account for an entire DSF career. MCPO Dewitt’s previous article talked about “ME proficiency” and the need to serve at higher levels in the DSF and Law Enforcement communities. Regardless of assignment, I believe there is no greater opportunity to be part of the solution than continued service. If not you then who… our nation needs your continued service.


In closing, I am truly honored to write the third leadership letter in the Coast Guard Tactical Law Enforcement Journal. Master Chief Dewitt’s article on ME proficiency, followed by Adm. Atkins’ article on leadership proficiency remind us of just how far we have come as a community. I applaud the CGTLEA and its leadership team. The association and this journal serve as artifacts of our journey.

Remember who you are, why we serve and hold your faith. Honor, loyalty, humility and a willing heart… Knights, Warriors, Guardians… where stand ye?

Most respectfully,
Capt E