A Bigger Coast Guard
Commandant doesn’t want to face new challenges with ‘a hollow force’
By JOHN C. MARCARIO, Assistant Editor
Focus on Size
Climate change, more dense population along
the U.S. coasts and the ever-present threat to
homeland security have prompted Adm.
Thad Allen, Coast Guard commandant, to press for a
larger force, saying the service can train an additional
1,500 to 1,700 people per year.
“I want to form a discussion moving into 2010,” said
Allen, voicing concern that the focus on the service will
shift in two years, when his tenure as commandant
ends and a new president is in office. “I would like to
position the Coast Guard so that when I leave we don’t
have a hollow force.”
In February, during a pair of speeches at the National
Press Club in Washington, Allen painted the picture of
a service that needs to quickly grow in size to face the
In his state of Coast Guard address Feb. 14, he made
three key points for increasing the size of Coast Guard,
which had 40,698 active-duty members at the end of
fiscal 2007. Allen noted that:
■ Ice melting in the Arctic region is resulting in a larger area of water to cover.
■ Despite having record cocaine
seizures in 2007, the Coast Guard
is facing more sophisticated smugglers and faster get-away vessels.
■ The more-dense population
along the coasts presents an increased risk during hurricanes and
“There is a limit to what any organization can accomplish when
the overall end-strength has not
changed materially in 50 years,”
Allen said Feb. 14.
He illustrated the point by noting that his entire force could fit
into the new Nationals Stadium in
Washington, which seats 41,222.
Cmdr. Brendan McPherson,
press secretary to the commandant, said increasing the
Coast Guard’s size is a high priority.
“The commandant wants to build a Coast Guard for
the 21st century,” McPherson said.
Retired Adm. James M. Loy, the Coast Guard commandant from 1998-2002, has supported an increase
in the force for decades.
“As a guy who spent 42 years in that uniform, my
answer has been ‘yes’ for a long time,” he said.
The Coast Guard is now the size it should have been
before 9/11, according to Loy, but its role in maritime
security drastically increased after the terrorist attacks.
“This nation probably gets more per dollar from the
Coast Guard than virtually any other in that establishment, as it is one of the most under-resourced services
in the nation,” he said.
Allen noted that the size of the service has not
changed much since he joined in 1967.
“We operate one of the oldest fleets in the world,
with a work force that is not appreciably any bigger
than when I entered the service,” he said.
During the last 50 years, the Coast Guard’s strength
Adm. Thad Allen wants to increase the number of Coast Guard
personnel by up to 1,700 per year, and is urging discussion on the
■ The service currently brings in about 4,000 enlisted members
and 400 officers each year.
■ Officers enter the service through the Coast Guard Academy
cadet program in New London, Conn., or one of the service’s officer candidate programs, such as direct commission and Officer
■ Enlisted members enter through the Recruit Training Program
in Cape May, N.J.