The men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard pride themselves on being semper paratus, or always ready. At sea, they answer the call when lives are on the line. In addition to their search and rescue function, the Coast Guard has taken on a variety of other duties, from securing our ports and responding to oil spills to monitoring endangered whales and intercepting drug traffickers.
And year after year, come all sorts of storms – meteorological and political – they have remained always ready.
But for how much longer?
Because of an organizational quirk, this branch of the military is not under the jurisdiction of the Department of Defense, which is largely exempt from the partial federal government shutdown. It’s part of the Department of Homeland Security, and Coasties, like their colleagues in many other branches of the federal government, have gone without a paycheck since late last year.
We take the Coast Guard at its word that, so far, their ability to respond to emergencies hasn’t been compromised. If that’s true, it’s thanks entirely to the dedication of its members, who are remaining at their posts despite obvious financial hardships. Particularly for young enlisted Coasties, meeting everyday expenses is hard enough when the paychecks come every two weeks. Now, they’re turning to local food pantries and other charities to help make ends meet. They’re joined by other furloughed federal workers, some of whom have no guarantee of receiving back pay.
Put simply, it’s shameful.
The shutdown, a cudgel wielded by the president to try and advance his border wall plan, is having real impacts on real families. But far from expressing shame, President Trump seems gleeful about the shutdown, which, on Dec. 11, he said he was proud to initiate.
We ask a great deal from our men and women in uniform, and they don’t let us down. But at some point, thanks to lapses in training, maintenance and other “nonessential functions,” the U.S. Coast Guard will cease to live up to its motto. We can’t allow that to happen.