8 Things You Didn't Know About The U.S. Coast Guard

How much do you know about the United States Coast Guard? If you're thinking, "well, they guard the coast," you're correct, but you've barely skimmed the surface of all that they do. When you think of the U.S. military, they're probably not the first branch that comes to mind. As I started to do some research, I came to realize that they're an incredibly unique organization and do so much more than I ever expected.

First of all, they're a small, tight-knit group that does a ton to serve our country, even though it's the smallest of our country's five military branches. They operate 11 missions, from protecting marine habitats to performing search-and-rescue missions to stopping drug smugglers in their tracks. There's even a whole aviation support sector of the Coast Guard, which boasts over 200 aircrafts.

Have you learned something yet? We've partnered with the U.S. Coast Guard to bring you eight facts that'll have you thinking twice about these maritime homeland defenders.

1. The Coast Guard Celebrated Its 225th Birthday This Year

Founded by Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton on Aug. 4, 1790, the Coast Guard was the only armed force afloat in the country until the Navy was established in 1798, eight years later. Its primary focus was to prevent smuggling and help the nation enforce trade laws — hence the U.S. Treasury's involvement. At its inception, the organization was known as the Revenue Marine and then later the Revenue Cutter Service. That changed in 1915 when an act of Congress merged the service together with the U.S. Life-Saving Service, forming the "new" Coast Guard.

2. Becoming A Rescue Swimmer Is Extremely Hard

Being a Coast Guard rescue swimmer requires you to excel in one of the most stressful environments on Earth: heavy seas. Rescue swimmers need strength, flexibility, endurance, and the ability to think and perform tasks while being tossed around by 20-foot waves. They also must learn the pre-hospital skills needed to keep a person alive immediately post-rescue. The minimum standards to pass the rescue swimmer certification test are rigorous, to say the least — more than half who go out for it fail.

3. Two Coast Guard Officers Have Gone On To Be NASA Astronauts

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Bruce Melnick, a 1972 graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, rose to the rank of commander in his 20-year career in the service. In 1987, he was selected by NASA to be an astronaut, making him the first Coast Guard aviator to participate in the program. Daniel Burbank, a captain in the Coast Guard, became the second when he was selected in 1996. He went on to spend 188 days in space over the course of four missions. Fun fact: Burbank is also a member of the astronaut band Max Q.

4. The Oldest Active Serving Member Died At Age 105

Anthony Christy was the keeper of the Christina River Lighthouse in Delaware. He died while on duty in September 1862 at age 105. He is still the oldest lighthouse keeper on record — in fact, Christy was appointed to his post in 1853 at age 96, reminding us that we're never too old to follow our dreams.

5. The Coast Guard Is A Part Of The Department Of Homeland Security

Since 2003, the Coast Guard has been a part of the Department of Homeland Security. In fact, it's the only military organization belonging to the department. Prior to that, it had been a part of the Department of Transportation and before that, the aforementioned Department of the Treasury. During times of war however, the USCG can be transferred over to the U.S. Department of the Navy by Congress. The last time that happened was in 1941 during World War II.

6. "The Dude" Has Served

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The Big Lebowski's Jeff Bridges is one many celebrities to have served in the U.S. Coast Guard. The list also includes boxer Jack Dempsey, musician Tom Waits, actor Humphrey Bogart, news anchor Walter Cronkite, fashion designer Perry Ellis, golfer (and iced beverage connoisseur) Arnold Palmer, and many more.

7. The Coast Guard Is Smaller Than The NYPD

With just over 42,000 active duty members (compared to almost 50,000 in the New York Police Department), the Coast Guard is the smallest military branch. Of course, what is lacks in numbers, it makes up for in breadth of responsibilities. They are a small but mighty group.

8. The USCGC Courier Holds The Record For Longest Overseas Deployment

Coast Guard Cutter Courier, a converted cargo ship launched in 1952 as a joint operation with the Department of State, was stationed off the island of Rhodes, Greece, for 12 years with not a single return to U.S. territorial waters. The cutter served as a portion of the Voice of America radio network, broadcasting everything from jazz music to news reports to information about the Soviet Bloc in an attempt to weaken Soviet propaganda during the Cold War. USSR leaders sent out submarines to try to sink her but never succeeded. Courier returned to Yorktown, Virginia on Aug. 25, 1964 and was used for dockside training the following year.

This post is brought to you by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Images: Getty Images (3); Coast Guard News/Flickr (3); upnorthmemories/Flickr (1)