“Proceedings Podcast Ep. 314: USCG Vice Commandant Admiral Poulin on Force Structure and Strategy”

ADM Steven D. Poulin, Vice Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard

The U. S. Naval Institute has issued a podcast, a wide-ranging interview with the Vice Commandant, Admiral Steven D. Poulin. If you are a regular reader here, I don’t think you will be surprised by any of it.

I have to admit a dislike for podcasts as a medium. They take longer than reading. Comprehension is probably less. If you miss something and want to check what was said, it is difficult. Frankly, people talking off the cuff probably don’t give as good, or as complete an answer, as they would with written media. At the very least I wish a transcript accompanied the oral version. I might feel differently if I still had a long commute when I might want something useful to do while stuck in traffic. 

Since this podcast was a part of a regular US Naval Institute podcast series, I would think most of the listeners were not Coast Guard and were likely more familiar with the Navy and/or Marine Corps. It may have been a missed opportunity to explain the Coast Guard’s place as an element of seapower to a naval audience, whereas the answers seemed more oriented toward a Coast Guard audience.

Also, during this podcast, we hear the frequently sighted similarity in size of the Coast Guard and the New York City Police Department. While there is some truth to this, both have about 50,000 full time employees, over 35,000 NYPD uniformed officers and over 40,000 active-duty Coast Guard’s men, Admiral Poulin did push back on this a bit sighting Coast Guard Reserves and Auxiliary.

I don’t think it is helpful to say we are small, which leads to the assumption we are unimportant as a military service. A comparison with other naval services is more relevant.

Since the 1950s the US Navy has shrunk considerably, while the Coast Guard has grown. When I entered the Academy in 1965, in terms of personnel, the Navy was about 22 times larger than the Coast Guard. The Marine Corps was about 8 time larger. Now the Navy is less than nine times larger, and the Marine Corps is about 4.5 times larger.

I would point out that the US Coast Guard has more active uniformed personnel (40,000), more aircraft (200), more ships (243), and certainly more boats, than the Royal Navy (34,130 active uniformed personnel, 160 aircraft, and 85 ships) or the French Navy (37,000 active uniformed personnel, 178 aircraft, and 180 ships). That is not to say the Coast Guard is a more powerful than these highly professional mid-sized navies, that include nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers, but the Coast Guard is not insignificant. We have a large pool of highly trained mariners and aircrewmen. If we ever again have a major non-nuclear war against a near peer adversary, the Coast Guard will make a substantial contribution, perhaps even more so than it did during WWII.

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