While Commandant Adm. Bob Papp praised the heroics and hard work of many Coasties at his annual State of the Coast Guard speech, he also came down hard on alcohol abuse and sexual assault incidents in the service.
"I reject the assertion of some experts that sexual assault is an unavoidable element of military service culture. Not in my Coast Guard," Papp said during the Feb. 27 speech at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C.
The key will be bystander intervention and holding "predators accountable," he said.
There were 156 reports of sexual assault in the Coast Guard in 2012.
Papp also talked about eradicating the "insidious problem of alcohol abuse." How will he do this? By targeting Coast Guardsmen who display "at risk" behavior.
"We will intervene early to help those who show signs of alcohol abuse," Papp said. "And we will exercise leadership to set the example — at all levels."
Other highlights from Papp's speech:
• Perception problem. A misunderstanding of the Coast Guard's role persists among too many Americans, Papp said.
"People are often surprised to hear the same Coast Guard that is rescuing mariners off the coast of North Carolina, managing oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, teaching boating safety in Florida and maintaining aids to navigation along the Mississippi is the same Coast Guard that is doing joint boardings off the coast of Africa, patrolling the Arabian Gulf, interdicting smugglers off of South America or breaking ice in Antarctica," he said.
The problem is that if people don't realize the broad Coast Guard mission set, they probably don't know the service's true value, either.
• Arctic study. The service's first Coast Guard Arctic Strategy will be released in this month, Papp said. This document will focus on raising awareness of the environment and indigenous population, improving communications and navigation infrastructure, and building partnerships, both with agencies in the U.S. and among countries around the world with an Arctic interest, Papp said.
The Arctic is quickly opening up as a new ocean for the Coast Guard to patrol: Though the area is still covered in ice most of the year, the lowest sea ice extent in recorded history was observed in September, Papp said.
As human traffic in the area increases, so does the Coast Guard's job. Last summer, Shell had nearly 200 people a week coming and going from the small town of Barrow, Alaska, and it's likely they'll be back this summer drilling exploratory wells in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas.
• New ombudsman program. During the speech, Papp called out the achievements of Casey Van Huysen, ombudsman for Sector New York during Hurricane Sandy in October. An ombudsman is a communication link between military personnel and the command, and an advocate for Coast Guardsmen's families, according to the Office of Work-Life's website. In her role as ombudsman, Van Huysen collected supplies for Coasties and their families affected by the storm.
This year, all Coast Guardsmen and their families will have a lifeline like this thanks to a new policy that will require every unit to either have its own ombudsman or have access to one, Papp said.
• Replacing the aging fleet. Despite a difficult budget situation, Papp said he is pleased with the service's plans to acquire ships in 2013.
The fifth fast-response cutter, which will replace the Island-class 110 patrol boats, will be delivered in March. Eight more are in production at Bollinger Shipyards in Lockport, La., and five are under contract.
Papp added that three finalists for the offshore patrol cutter, which will replace the medium endurance cutter, will be announced soon. A contract for a single design is expected to be awarded this year.
Three national security cutters, which will replace the 50-year-old high-endurance cutters, are already in operation. The fourth will be christened in October, the keel of the fifth will be laid soon, and a contract to begin procurement of materials for the sixth ship has already been awarded, Papp said.
• New headquarters. The service will be moving headquarters "in a few short months," Papp said.
It will move from the southwest waterfront in Washington across the Potomac River to Anacostia on the St. Elizabeths West campus in southeast D.C.
Clark Construction Group LLC, which is leading the building of the service's headquarters, expects the project to be completed by June.