This article by Jessica Evans originally appeared on We Are the Mighty
Today marks 230 years that the Coast Guard has been serving the United States. The Coast Guard supplies a unique and valuable service to our country and is the only military organization within the Department of Homeland Security. To help celebrate its 230 birthday, let’s take a look at some fun facts about the Coast Guard that you might not know.
1. Writers, take heart.
Alex Haley, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Roots, was the Coast Guard’s first journalist. After graduating high school at age 15, Haley enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1939 at the age of just 18 as a Mess Attendant Third Class, one of the only two ratings available to Black service members at the time. During his long patrols, Haley started writing letters to his friends and family – sometimes as many as 40 a week!
2. Swimmers, brush up on your freestyle.
Becoming a Coast Guard rescue swimmer is exceptionally difficult. In fact, more than half the people who try out for this assignment fail. Fitness standards for rescue swimmers include being able to function for thirty minutes in heavy seas. Swimmers must be able to think, perform challenging tasks, and react, all while either being submerged, holding their breath, or being tossed around by high waves.
Related: SEE HOW THE COAST GUARD TRAINS ELITE RESCUE SWIMMERS
3. Flags for all occasions.
The Coast Guard has two official flags – the CG Standard and the CG Ensign. The Ensign is flown by cutters and shore units, while the Standard flag is used at ceremonies. The Standard is used to represent the Coast Guard, but the Ensign flag is something altogether different. Since law enforcement is one of the Coast Guard’s core missions, the ensign flag is the visible symbol of law enforcement authority and is recognized globally.
4. Coast Guard deploys. No, really.
Service members of the Coast Guard have served valiantly in 17 wars and conflicts in US history. The CG was America’s first afloat armed force. It predates the Navy by several years and is older than most other federal government organizations. The Coast Guard’s motto, Semper Paratus (Always Ready), is proven time and again in its readiness to deploy.
5. Protecting the US is just a small part
In addition to protecting the United States coastlines, Coast Guard service members serve all over the world. You can find CG ships as far north as the Arctic, as far south as Antarctica and everywhere in between.
Related: 7 CRAZY THINGS THE COAST GUARD DID DURING WORLD WAR II
6. The Coast Guard isn’t very big
With roughly 40,000 Active Duty service members, the Coast Guard is just a little larger than the NYPD. Compared with over 554,000 in the Army and roughly 200,000 in the Marine Corps, the Coast Guard is definitely much smaller. But what the branch doesn’t have in personnel, it makes up for in might. Since its service members have acting law enforcement authority, their mission goes a long way to keeping America’s coastlines safe.
7. Coast Guard families don’t have the same resources
Resources available to other military families like Military One Source and MyCAA are inaccessible to CG families. In most situations, these DoD resources aren’t inclusive to members of the Coast Guard. Instead, CG personnel and families receive support through the Coast Guard Office of Work-Life, as well as the CG SUPRT organization.
8. It’s not easy to join
The Coast Guard is one of the most difficult branches of the military to get into because it accepts such few recruits. In addition to having to undergo a credit check and a security clearance, you should probably also have a college degree in hand. The branch requires a minimum of 54 points on the ASVAB, and if you have a shellfish allergy, you’re eliminated from applying. Basic training takes place at just one location, Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, in Cape May, New Jersey. It’s a good idea to know how to swim before joining, and if you’re selected, you should be comfortable jumping off a five-foot platform into a pool, swim for 100 meters, and then tread water for five minutes.
So there you have it! It turns out that the Coast Guard is one of the most elite branches of our military. As part of DHS, its service members help keep America’s 95,000 miles of shoreline safe. Maybe in time, DoD resources will open up to these valuable service personnel and their families. Until then, happy birthday, Coast Guard!