The Old (Coast) Guard Was Tougher

Recently saw this on Bill Wells FaceBook page and thought it might be worth opening a discussion. I am republishing it here with his permission.

The current Coast Guard, and that of the immediate past, has relieved officers and enlisted men from command for any number of reasons. The “Relief for Cause,” or the “Loss of Confidence” reasons can mean anything and usually do. However, there is no legal process, the officer or enlisted man has little recourse and their careers as over. Many of the cases have devolved into using the “failure to abide by the Core Values.” It must be remembered that Core Values were implanted as part of the now defunct Total Quality Management System. The initial use of the values were to provide a guide for organizational conduct as shown in the Business Dictionary that defines Core Values as, “A principle that guides an organization’s internal conduct as well as its relationship with the external world. Core values are usually summarized in the mission statement or in a statement of core values.”

However, since inception the Core Values have been used as a hammer for punitive, extra-legal functions. The Coast Guard’s Core Values of Honor, Respect, and Devotion to Duty are claimed to have come from the Coast Guard’s history, but no one has pointed to that source. It is more faith and a belief system gone wrong. When first adopted no one could define just what the three words meant to the Coast Guard at large. So, explanatory paragraphs became additions to the words but these only confused the issue because the additional wording contained more core values, rules, and philosophical sloganeering. Still seeing the troops did not understand the additions, the Coast Guard added Twenty-Eight Competencies of leadership that all circled back to the Core Values providing more confusion.

So, how was the Old Guard tougher? They followed the prevailing rules. For example, in 1913 the Treasury Department charged Captain Horace B. West, USRCS, at a General R. C. S. Court with:

Neglect of Duty with six specifications.
Violating lawful regulations with eight specifications.
Conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman with four specifications.

All these charges sound series until the reasons for the charges are known. West was found guilty on ‘neglect of duty’ and violating regulations and not guilty for unofficer-like conduct. His crimes consisted solely of his apparent dislike for paper work. West failed, according to the New York Times, to make “reply to several reports and communications transmitted to him from the Treasury Department. Although, the USRCS had had a service motto, “Semper Paratus,” since 1896, he was not charged being in violation of it and all it could have referenced was he was not ready to do paper work. The charges were not his first brush with not filing paperwork. In 1905, while in command of the cutter Woodbury at Portland, ME., he failed to submit assistance reports and for not having officers comply with a General Order. The assistance reports were more important because they provided the statistical data the Treasury Department used to justify the existence of the USRCS.

His sentence consisted of a suspension from the service for six months on half pay. A vacation of sorts and he resumed full service and his command with no real adverse effect on his career. Of course, West understood it all. He was an 1880 graduate of the Revenue Cutter School of Instruction (later the Coast Guard Academy).

The Treasury Department of West’s era would have never relieved him for cause. If they had specific charges and proof they brought the person to a legitimatize trial to exact that pound of flesh. Using the sloganeering of core values does little to inspire confidence in the ability of the Coast Guard’s leadership to address situations in a fair and military manner. Perhaps it is time to look at the Core Values and see that they do represent the Service beyond being a punitive cat o’ three tails.

3 thoughts on “The Old (Coast) Guard Was Tougher

  1. The link is broke – Is what is posted here the entire writing?

    Honor, Respect, & Devotion to Duty is somewhat CG gospel today…if not soon to be (god forbid) CG lore. Bill’s piece is a reminder of how the corporate psycho babble of the 90’s have ingrained themselves into todays CG and will undoubtedly become part of its bastardized history.

    If I had to guess, I would say that new Coasties at Cape May and Canoe U probably hear the saying “Honor, Respect, & Devotion to Duty” more than they do the term Semper Paratus.

    I’m surprised the new saying has not made it yet to song – One certainly does not hear Semper Paratus sung by newly minted E-7’s going through indoctrination (old Chief’s initiation).

    • The Coast Guard changed the lyrics to “Semper Paratus” to accommodate women, but I agree that the “core values” have not made it into the Service anthem.

      I have wonder why the “core values” did not disappear with TQM. The “Guardian Ethos” went away, perhaps because the original purpose of the “core values” has been corrupted they too should go.

      I would bet that if any of those new Coasties and Canoe U students were asked the the meaning of either the “core values” and the motto “Semper Paratus;” all they could do is mouth the words. I wonder how many know the Ten General Orders?

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