WASHINGTON – The Coast Guard marked its transfer to the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday according to military tradition, with a change-of-watch ceremony replete with color guard, speeches, silent drill team and John Philip Sousa marches.
The Coast Guard on Saturday will formally become about one-fourth of the new department in the biggest government reorganization since the Department of Defense was created in 1947. The Coast Guard moves from the Department of Transportation, where it's been for 36 years since its transfer from the Treasury Department.
The Coast Guard's mission will continue unchanged, though it is taking on added responsibilities for securing ports and in the potential conflict in Iraq. About 1,500 active Coast Guardsmen are being sent to the Persian Gulf, aboard four cutters that have already arrived and seven on their way, according to Cmdr. Jim McPherson.
"No branch of the military has as much history protecting the homeland as the U.S. Coast Guard," Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge told about 1,500 Coast Guardsmen inside the D.C. Stadium-Armory.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the Coast Guard has been more involved with national security, having started a sea marshal program, created highly trained special maritime safety teams and assessed potential terrorist threats at U.S. ports.
Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta's voice broke as he spoke of his special affection for the Coast Guard. "Tom, please take good care of them," said Mineta, who was made an honorary Coast Guard officer.
Ridge was to participate in a later ceremony with Treasury Secretary John Snow and Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson to commemorate the transfer of agencies and their new enforcement responsibilities.
Agencies moving to Homeland Security include Customs, the Secret Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Border Patrol. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms will move to the Justice Department from Treasury.