Frequently Asked Questions
by Mike Benjamin, PSC
I joined the Coast Guard Reserve in the summer of 1965 right after high school. I had wanted to be in the regular Coast Guard from the time I was eight years old. Helping others and being a Marine both appealed to me. The recruiter offered the Coastal Forces Program in the Reserves. I figured the training would be great and I would be in the Coast Guard. I could go back to college within the year, what a deal! I fully expected to be called to active service, since Viet Nam was heating up by the day.
Until many years later, I never heard us referred to as the "SEALs of the Coast Guard." Our mission and certainly the degree of training were very different. The fact that we were 6 by 6 reservists compared to full time dedicated regulars made a big difference. I remember one of the boot Company Commanders asking me what I was going to do after boot. I told him, Coastal Forces. He said they were a tough outfit. Compared to other Coast Guard personnel, we were trained to a very high degree in a very specialized area. Compared to the Rangers, SEALs, and other special operations types, we were not trained to the degree they were. We were trained well for our mission.
We were told the Coastal Forces Program existed to observe and report infiltrators coming from the sea. This was probably very accurate, but the degree of of training would also suggest a very wide range of additional missions. The Russians had a fleet of over 300 submarines so the obvious focus was to inform the FBI and military commands of landings or other suspicious activity by Russian/Soviet Spetsnaz forces. These highly trained officers and enlisted persons often were assigned as athletes in Olympic teams and overseas diplomatic units. This gave the teams or individuals valuable overseas experience in addition to the tough training at home. The objective of these Soviet special forces units and individuals in time of conflict or just proceeding was murder of political and military leadership, cause disorganization of the enemy, set off nuclear stores, destroy strategic civilian and military targets. The Afgans really respected the Spetsnaz formations, while regular army units were not. These were not giants, but they very capable, well indoctrinated and ruthless.
The training to counter and deal with this Soviet potential threat was intense. The Coastal Forces "A" School was designed to train the trainers for the Reserve Costal Forces units around the country. The first six weeks after boot at the school located at Alameda were spent in intensive weapons training, water survival, physical exercise, leadership, hand-to-hand combat, communications and classroom instruction. Each day first thing we ran five miles. Three-four hours were spent in the water and two-three hours on the mats in hand-to-hand combat training each day. Three hours were typically spent each evening on academic assignments and lesson plan development.
I found the Coastal Forces Team 11 members to be an exceptional bunch. Certainly the draft brought in many highly educated persons to the Reserves, but the members in this team were very exceptional. Coast Guard standards to get into this "A" School were very high, but the individuals in my team were exceptional. The average was 23 years old with a four-year degree in a very demanding area. We had on MBA, several high school teachers, several pharmacists, two architects, one lawyer and persons taking time out from college. Many went on to very high places. The professional level and leadership of our group was top shelf.
The intense physical training and hand-to-hand combat training (260 hours) was focused on getting ready to go to Camp Pendleton, California. Team 11, consisting of 20 Coastal Forcemen, was integrated into a Second ITR Rifle Company. We were placed throughout the 240-man company in separate platoons. I was the only Coast Guardsmen in the third platoon. We slept and ate with our Marine brothers. The training was very intense. The majority of these Marines were going to Viet Nam. The first contingent of combat veterans back from Viet Nam were our Troop Handlers and trainers. Several were Korean War vets. Rough & ready and complete describes them well. The Coast Guardsmen held up very well in terms of physical stamina and ability.
The training focused on company, platoon, squad and fire team tactics and deployment in patrolling, ambush, attack and defense. Other areas of training included: infiltration under live fire, field craft, camouflage; the latest infantry weapons; use of military explosives, grenades, flamethrowers, mine warfare and identification, night tactics. The Marines were issued the M-1, since ammunition was very plentiful for these obsolete weapons. The BAR was used, as the Fire Team support weapon. The weapons used for familiarity by the Coastal Forces were the M-79, M-14, BAR, M-1, M-1 Carbine, .45 ACP Thompson, M-60 LMG, 1919A4 LMG, .45 ACP Pistol, 3.5 Rocket Launcher, and a flame thrower. The fully automatic Colt AR-15 was issued as the Coast Guard weapon for deployment with the Coastal Forces. These weapons were the early ones with the light bold carrier and very high cyclic rate of fire. They jammed very often. Cleaning and maintenance of this piece was still undergoing some evaluation. Ammunition was found to be one of the problems. A slower cyclic rate also reduced some of the malfunctions.
Once the six weeks of Marine ITR training was completed, the focus of training was tightened up. SCUBA training and more hand-to-hand combat techniques were added to the training time. Much more focus on the training of the trainer and leadership was done. Several field exercises with swimmers attempting to infiltrate were conducted. The training was good, but it was nice to go home.
The San Diego Reserve Unit 11-82741 only had a small cadre of Coastal Forces graduates. This unit was not dedicated to Coastal Forces. Certain units on the West Coast were specifically selected to reorganize as Coastal Forces units, very similar to the PSUs of today. These units had a few CF "A" School graduates in key places, while the rest had to be trained from the bottom up in infantry related issues.
I was sent to a multi-unit two-week course and maneuver in Ventura County, California in the summer of 1966. The few Coastal Forces graduates in the 150-man group did well, but the officers and other enlisted personnel just were not trained well. The motivation and aggressive patrol capabilities were very limited. Most of the enlisted simply wanted to get in their time and go home. This was the time of the anti-Viet Nam War issues really springing up. The "A" school graduates were much more focused and understood the mission better. The "A" school graduates moved up very quickly. You just cannot put a green uniform on a sailor and expect him to do a job without motivated leadership and direction. There was a sense of frustration in the units. Individuals drove some units, but the effectiveness under "peace time' conditions was not a positive motivator.
The program was eliminated in the spring of 1967. I was given the opportunity to lateral from CF-2 to PS-2. I did this, as an expedient. Once you were E-5 in my unit, some of the mundane requirements were lifted.
I owe the Coast Guard much. The training in the Coastal Forces Program was exciting and uplifting. My later experiences in MSO and small boat operations were exactly what I wanted. Being the Reserve Chief of several small boat stations was a very satisfactory situation. Assisting others in need was always at the heart of my drive in the Coast Guard. This I did on a number of occasions.
These things are good. Perhaps, the world is a little better for our service.
Mike Benjamin, PSC, USCGR