Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the Coast Guard has placed a greater emphasis on port security. The attacks prompted the Coast Guard’s move from within the U.S. Department of Transportation to a key spot in the Department of Homeland Security that has given it a more visible mission. It operates within the Department of the Navy, however, when Congress declares war or the president directs.
This shifting role in America’s defense has placed new demands on Coast Guard personnel, who are now more necessary due to the latest conflict in Iraq, where their duties include manning patrol boats in the Persian Gulf to ensure safe passage for Navy vessels, helping operate and maintain Iraq's offshore oil terminals and teaching the country’s new marine force how to secure the region’s ports and waterways.
Since the Coast Guard is the United States’ smallest armed service — comprising 39,000 active-duty personnel as of June 2005 — it has correspondingly lower recruiting goals than the other branches, but it has met and exceeded its recruiting targets for active-duty missions in recent years, though its reserve recruiting has proven more challenging.
Recruits attend eight weeks of boot camp at the Cape May, N.J., Coast Guard Training Center, where they are instructed in basic seamanship, maritime law enforcement and other skills such as firefighting. Successfully completing boot camp earns a recruit the rank of Seaman seaman Apprentice apprentice and assignment to a unit, where he or she will receive specialized training in a particular career field while fulfilling a four- to six-year service requirement.