A.M. de Quesada, Fellow, the Company of Military Historians
7th U.S.C.G. Aux. District Historian
Origin of the Coast Guard Auxiliary – Why was It formed? Purpose, mission, original members
Origins of the 7th District
Much like the Coast Guard’s organizational composition, the Coast Guard’s district system has gone through numerous iterations. The district system of organization was initially created for the Lighthouse Service. Established by an act of Congress on 7 June 1838, there were six districts on the Atlantic Coast and two on the Great Lakes. This number increased as the nation continued to grow with westward expansion and the acquisition of Alaska and Hawaii.
The creation of the United States Life-Saving Service (USLSS) also saw the adoption of the district system to facilitate administration. By 1881 the service had 183 stations organized into 12 districts that handled small boat and administrative responsibilities. These were:
While the USLSS used a district system, the US Revenue Cutter Service did not. Instead cutters were organized simply by the location of their home port. While the Lifesaving Service was created to aid seamen from wrecked vessels along America’s coastline, the United States Revenue Cutter Service (USRCS) was created in 1794 to enforce America’s Maritime Laws including assisting the United States Navy in times of war.
With the merger of the USLSS and USRCS to create the Coast Guard in 1915, the USLSS district system was adopted by the new combined service nationwide. The only differences were the establishment of 13, instead of 12, districts with slightly different borders. This organization was maintained during the service’s attachment to the Navy during World War I and continued into the 1930s. By 1939 the district organization remained, but the borders were modified along with the names. So, what once constituted the First District and most of the Third, became known as the Boston District. With war on the horizon, the Coast Guard was again attached to the Navy in November 1941. As a result, the Coast Guard districts became part of the Naval District System. By 1944 the districts were again re-organized and the numerical designation re-established. This time, however, there were 14 districts with the territories of Alaska and Hawaii each constituting separate organizations.
This organization had been, more or less retained, with slight modifications. These include consolidations of districts and the creation of area commands. These area commands, initially known as the Eastern Area and Western Area, were renamed, in January, 1973, to Atlantic Area and Pacific Area, respectively.
Over the years, the number of districts, through mergers, was whittled down to 10 by 1987. On 30 May 1996 the 8th and 2nd Districts were combined to form the new 8th District. As such, the Coast Guard’s current district organization numbers 9 districts. These nine districts are really run as sixteen different districts by carving some districts into regions – 1NR (northern region), 1SR (southern region), 5th NR & SR, 8th CR (Coastal Region), 8th ER (Eastern) & 8th WR (Western, 9th CR (Central) , 9th ER & WR, 11th NR & SR. Their designations and HQs are:
In the years following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, the Coast Guard made changes in the organizational structure of the 7th District. Before 2004, field operations in a single port fell under multiple, mission-based commands (Group, MSO, and VTS) that were physically dispersed, had unique chains of command and different program managers at Coast Guard Headquarters, lacked a consistent voice to the public, and had some mission overlap. The attacks of September 11 called for a new Coast Guard unity of effort that was cumbersome to achieve using the previous multiple command port-level structure. The Coast Guard’s move from the Department of Transportation to the Department of Homeland Security and implementation of the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 (MTSA) provided further impetus to restructure.
In 2003, the Coast Guard began to consolidate field activities for its Commercial Vessel Safety, Port and Environmental Safety, Marine Environmental Response, Port Security, Waterways Management, Bridge Administration, Search and Rescue (SAR), Recreational Boating Safety missions under one local Sector Command. The organizational change to Sectors eliminated the historical segregation of prevention and response activities at the local level and created a comprehensive unit that brings together field activities, authorities, and resources to provide the most effective organization and the best value to the public.
Sectors replaced Coast Guard Groups, Marine Safety Offices (MSO), Activities, and Vessel Traffic Services (VTS). Previously, a Group and its units provided Search and Rescue (SAR), maritime law enforcement, recreational boating safety, and maintained aids to navigation. MSOs enforced federal laws and regulations related to the safety and security of vessels, port facilities, and the marine environment, and assisted other law enforcement agencies. The new Sector organizations are based on the Activities prototype commands established in 1996 in New York and Baltimore, and (later) San Diego. The Activities units were praised for their efficiency and unity of effort in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
A Sector is a shore-based operational unit of the United States Coast Guard. Each Sector is responsible for the execution of all Coast Guard missions within its Area of Responsibility (AOR), with operational support from Coast Guard Cutters and Air Stations. Subordinate commands within a Sector typically include Stations and Aids-to-Navigation (ATON) Teams. Some Sector commands also have subordinate units such as Sector Field Offices and Marine Safety Units that are responsible for mission execution in parts of the Sector's AOR. There are 37 sectors within the Coast Guard. The Sector Command combines responsibilities and authorities previously shared by two or more commands into a single operational unit with a command and senior staff of highly competent experts.
Since its creation in 1939, the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary followed under the USCG District system with the only difference being its organizational structure. The basic component in the organizational chart begins with the individual units known as Flotillas. Next up the ladder is a division made up of Flotillas and division staff positions within a certain department or mission area in the district. At the top of the ladder within the 7th USCG Auxiliary is District (and district staff positions) that comprises a designated geographical area. At the very top of the ladder that oversees these districts is National.
In January 1939, United States Coast Guard Rear Admiral Thomas O. Malloy gave a speech in New York City in which he stated that in the last year, the Coast Guard had received 14,000 calls for assistance and had performed 8,600 "in peril" rescues - a record number. An emphasis needed to be placed on educating boaters on basic seamanship and knowledge of federal laws. Furthermore, there were over 300,000 recreational boats operating in federal waters and the Coast Guard needed help to keep up with the search and rescue demands.
The need was recognized for a military reserve as a resource of manpower in case of America's entry into the war. In addition, civilians like Malcolm Stuart Boylan, Commodore of the Paciﬁc Writer's Yacht Club in Los Angeles, had been pushing Washington to organize yachtsmen to assist the Coast Guard on a volunteer basis. In response to these pressures, a legislative bill was submitted to Congress on June 23, 1939, establishing the Coast Guard Reserve. Its purpose was to promote recreational boating safety and to support the operations of the Coast Guard.
Groups of boat owners would be organized into flotillas, and these into divisions within the Coast Guard Districts. They would be supervised by regular Coast Guard officers. Then in September, World War II began in Europe.
In February 1941, the U.S. involvement in the European war was looming. Legislation was passed which changed the name of the Reserve to the Auxiliary and formed a regular military Reserve in which men would be subject to military law and Articles of War.
The pre-war buildup of personnel had begun. With Coast Guard officers on board, the Auxiliarists patrolled regattas, guarded harbors, enforced the 1940 Motor Boat Act and the Espionage Act, and delivered supplies to lighthouses. By the summer, the Coast Guard was on near war footing due to the Battle of the Atlantic, which had been raging for two years between the British and the Germans. Following the torpedoing of the U.S. Merchant ship, Robin Moor, Franklin D. Roosevelt declared an Unlimited National Emergency on May 27, 1941.
To meet the need for warships, the first civilian boats were enrolled by the Auxiliary in June. By November 275 40-90-foot vessels and most of their crews had been taken into Coast Guard service. By the end of 1941, almost 200 flotillas had been formed around the country. On December 7, following the Japanese attack on Pearl harbor, many Auxiliary units began 24-hour security patrols. Then on December 12th, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler met with Naval Chief Erich Raeder and they decided to send U-boats to raid commerce off the U.S. coast.
J. H. (Jack) McVey served as the first Commander of the Temporary Reserve Unit Flotilla 2, Division 2 (Currently Flotilla 32). Flotilla 2 was commissioned on Dec. 13, 1941, six days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Sixty-one members of this unit patrolled the beaches and offshore area from Boynton Beach to Hallandale protecting South Florida during WWII. USCG Base 6 and its predecessor the House of Refuge have rich histories of use during WW II and prohibition eras.
The first six German submarines had arrived in January 1942. By the middle of May an estimated l80 vessels had been sunk along the east coast, some in sight of on-lookers on shore. Official records state "Time after time these Auxiliarists took their tiny boats out, a few armed with rifles, to haul drowning, burning merchant seaman from the sea."
To meet the threat, in June 1942 new legislation allowed Auxiliarists to enter the military Reserves on a part-time basis, with or without pay. Thousands transferred in with their boats. In July the Coastal Picket Force was formed. This largely consisted of 50 to 100-foot sailing vessels and motor cruisers which became the eyes and ears of the Navy. They manned stations on the 50-fathom curve of the Atlantic coast and were to detect, and if necessary, attack German submarines. Auxiliarists enrolled the majority of these vessels and manned them as Reservists, along with the newly recruited civilian yachtsmen. During the war, they also tramped the beaches and stood lookout on the coasts. Thousands guarded docks and ammunition ships.
The Auxiliary's most important role, however, was its onshore work. 50,000 men and a few women patrolled harbors, rivers, keys, bridges and factories. They guided naval vessels and landing craft and conducted search and rescue. They boarded vessels to check identification papers and to seal radios on merchant ships entering ports. Auxiliarists cleared debris, assisted with drownings, floods, on-the-water plane crashes, boat fires and explosions.
By mid-1943, with the German submarine threat aided and demand for personnel overseas increasing, most water patrols were ended. The temporary Reservists were pulled in to perform training and shore duty for the duration of the war. Following the war, as millions of Americans returned to civilian life, the Auxiliary re-established itself as a peacetime organization.
In June 1945, Coast Guard Headquarters reorganized the USCG Auxiliary's District where the three departments (Marine, Aviation, and Communications) fall under a District Commanding officer, District Executive Officer, and District Training Officer. The old titles of Division Captain and District Commodore were eliminated. In 1946, the eliminated titles were reintroduced by a meeting between District Auxiliary commanding officers and District regular USCG officers. In addition, Flotillas were established in Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands during that same year.
Legislation was passed which added aircraft and marine radios as Auxiliary operational facilities. A March 1946 conference of District Directors and Commodores held in Washington, directed that membership would be restricted to facility owners and urged intensification of activities.
In 1947, the Courtesy Marine Examination program (CME) was implemented on a national basis. Under it, qualified Auxiliarists inspect pleasure boats for required equipment and systems. That same year, on 5 February, the first flotilla appeared on Saint Croix, U.S. Virgen Islands. Flotilla No. 14 was organized by Lieutenant Commander George A. Downing, District Director of the Auxiliary, as part of an extension of the CG Auxiliary organization. Robert Douglas Armstrong was appointed the first Commander for the Flotilla which included all three branches: boats, planes and radios. Then in January 1948, the Auxiliary launched its public education program at the National Boat Show in New York City. Visitors were given free lectures on topics ranging from piloting to weather.
By 1949, 13,000 Auxiliary members nation-wide had established the three traditional cornerstone programs of operations, public education and vessel examinations. The fourth cornerstone, fellowship, had always cemented Auxiliary friendships and unit cohesion.
In 1951 the Auxiliary District Commodores revised its organizational scheme by forming a national board that is headed by an elected national commodore. The Auxiliary also expanded, opening new flotillas across the country, in the Caribbean and re-activating Alaska. Individual members also began to receive recognition for their contributions. In 1953, Miguel Colorado of Puerto Rico, was awarded the Plaque of Merit, the highest lifesaving award, for saving two survivors of a capsized boat. He also organized flotillas in Puerto Rico, spearheaded safe boating campaigns and was later elected Commodore of the 7th District in 1963.
During the 1960s, Auxiliarists inspected over 50,000 vessels for required equipment. Even the "King of Rock n’ Roll", Elvis Presley, received a safety decal in 1960. By 1961, Auxiliarists also educated nearly 100,000 fellow citizens on the regulations of the 1958 Federal Boating Act. They also trained state law enforcement officials in seamanship and the law.
In 1968, the Auxiliary received a citation for Distinguished Service to Safety by the National Safety Council. In 1969, Ed Cook of Pompano Beach, Florida became known as Mr. Search and Rescue, executing over 200 cases.
In 1970 Division VII was formed, centering In Sarasota. In 1973, the Coast Guard integrated women into the regular active duty service, ending their reserve status, and began to assign them to ships in 1977. Although women had been members of the Auxiliary since its earliest years, the feminist movement and the larger number of active duty women in the Coast Guard encouraged more women to join the Auxiliary. The Auxiliary provided the Coast Guard with its first female vessel operators and pilots. Bolling Douglas of the 7th District was elected the first female district commodore in 1979.
During the l980's, the Academy Introduction Mission (AIM) program was solidly established and a new computer program to track Auxiliary mission hours was implemented. additionally, the Auxiliary assisted in providing security patrols around Cape Canaveral, Florida during NASA’s launch of rockets and space shuttles. In 1980, twenty-three members of Flotilla 11-3 received a "USCG Certificate of Operational Merit" for aiding CG activities at the sinking of U.S.C.G. cutter "Blackthorn" at the mouth of Tampa Bay. In 1987, the Auxiliary participated in the search for remains of the Challenger Shuttle explosion off of the Florida coast.
During 1990-91, the Coast Guard began integration of Auxiliarists into everyday operations: Auxiliarists inspected commercial fishing vessels, flew as air observers in C-130 aircraft, worked in Coast Guard offices, and qualified as Coast Guard boat crew. Some of the highlights during this decade were Auxiliarists from the 7th District assisting in the Haitian/Cuban boat lift, the largest search and rescue operation since WW2, Auxiliarists providing relief during Hurricanes Bonnie and Floyd, as well as, supporting the Coast Guard during Desert Shield/Storm by filling many billets vacated by CG active duty deployed overseas.
For the first time since World War II, the Coast Guard Auxiliary lent major operational support to the Coast Guard in protecting U.S. cities, coastlines, ports, and citizens against foreign attacks, due to Al Qaeda’s terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D. C., on September 11, 2001. During this time, (known as Operation Noble Eagle), many Flotillas were involved with security port patrols, watchstanding, transportation, and other needs for the Coast Guard, as well as for other Federal, State, and local law enforcement/government entities. In addition to performing security port patrols for nearly 18 months after 9/11, Flotilla 79 trained members of the 6th Security Forces Squadron (USAF) in safe boating courses (the unit acquired new boats to patrol the coastline around MacDill Air Force Base and needed to have crews trained in seamanship skills). The Auxiliary also published its first official history entitled: United States Coast Guard Auxiliary: A History, 1939-1999, authored by John A. Tilley of East Carolina University (U.S. Government Printing Office). The following year, the U. S. Coast Guard is transferred from the Department of Transportation to the Department of Homeland Security.
During 2004, Auxiliarists become victims and rescuers during the unprecedented four hurricanes that hit Florida: Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne. The following year Hurricane Katrina hits Louisiana and the Gulf Coast in August. Hurricane Rita hits Texas and Louisiana in September and Hurricane Wilma hits Florida in October. Auxiliary members from the 7th District assisted at these disasters. Search and rescue operations alone saved 24,135 lives from imminent danger, usually off the roofs of the victims' homes as flood waters lapped at their feet. Coast Guardsmen "evacuated to safety" 9,409 patients from local hospitals. In total, 33,545 lives were saved. Seventy-six Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary aircraft took part in the rescues. They flew 1,817 sorties with a total flight time of 4,291.3 hours in the air. The air crews saved 12,535 lives. A total of 42 cutters and 131 small boats also participated, with their crews rescuing 21,200 persons. More than 5,000 Coast Guardsmen served in Katrina operations. Numerous members from the 7th District assisted in the relief operations and later continued on in the relief through volunteering for FEMA.
Auxiliary members provided support with Deepwater Horizon disaster assistance in 2010. On 16 November 2016, the Coast Guard Foundation and its supporters gathered to honor and celebrate the achievements of those serving in the Coast Guard’s Seventh District - a district which encompasses an area of 1.8 million square miles and shares operational borders with 34 foreign nations and territories.
The month of September, 2017, saw devastated areas of the 7th District caused by two major hurricanes. Hurricane Irma hit Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Florida Keys. As it traveled up Florida, Irma became a tropical storm heading north to Georgia and South Carolina. Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands were hit once again by Hurricane Maria ten days later. Many Auxiliarists living in these areas were affected, disabling the effectiveness of many of the Flotillas located in these areas.
Today the Seventh U. S. Coast Guard District is unique in its geography, diversity, and in many of its missions. Currently, it is the largest of the 16 Coast Guard Districts nationwide. It encompasses most of Georgia and Florida, and all of South Carolina, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It is supported by six (6) Sectors, twenty (20) Small Boat Stations, and four (4) Air Stations.
As a component of the Coast Guard and its Seventh District, the Auxiliary has (as of December 2017) over 4,500 dedicated members serving in a broad range of missions and activities. It is organized into 17 divisions and 102 flotillas that are collectively supported by more than 270 active surface vessels (“facilities”), 28 active aircraft facilities, 266 active land-based radio facilities, more than 950 Vessel Examiners, 500 Recreational Boating Safety Marine Dealer Program Visitors, 785 Public Education Instructors, 290 qualified boat “coxswains,” 474 qualified “crew” persons, 29 “air observers,” and 53 pilots.
Auxiliary Units Reporting to District 7 (April 2018):
These Historical Highlights only touch on the tremendous work done by the Coast Guard Auxiliary in the past 60 years. To preserve our history, the O.W. "Sonny" Martin. Jr. Coast Guard Auxiliary Records Collection at the Joyner Library at East Carolina University houses Auxiliary records, letters, manuals, papers, photos and videos. For more information on sending historical memorabilia or accessing Auxiliary records, contact your local Auxiliary District Historian.