Sharing the Coast Guard’s story

En route to the Canadian Coast Guard – U.S. Coast Guard Summit. U.S. Coast Guard photo created using Instagram.

En route to the Canadian Coast Guard – U.S. Coast Guard Summit. U.S. Coast Guard photo created using Instagram.

Written by Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft.

Coast Guard men and women have placed Service before self for 224 years; humble service is in their DNA. Yet, throughout two centuries of service to the Nation, there have been scores of advocates to help tell their story; one of the most intrepid was Ellsworth P. Bertholf.

Now, Bertholf wasn’t your average storyteller. In 1897, more than 200 American whalers were in danger of starving after their vessels had become trapped within 19 degrees of the North Pole. Bertholf was part of the relief party that went on a four-month, 1,600-mile journey in to rescue the whalers.

With Coast Guard veteran Jack Hamlin and other Legion of Honor awardees after a ceremony at Utah Beach. U.S. Coast Guard photo created using Instagram.

With Coast Guard veteran Jack Hamlin and other Legion of Honor awardees after a ceremony at Utah Beach. U.S. Coast Guard photo created using Instagram.

The word “epic” has been used to describe the rescue – President William McKinley himself described it as a “great journey” through “a barren waste of ice and snow” – but it was his role following this mission – that of storyteller – that caught my attention.

Bertholf was confirmed as the Captain-Commandant of the Revenue Cutter Service on June 15, 1911. Just five months later, a presidential report was released recommending the dissolution of the Revenue Cutter Service. In addition, the U.S. Life-Saving Service was scheduled for transfer to a different department.

No sooner had Bertholf taken the helm than he was thrust into a battle to save his service.

As lifesavers and cuttermen were hard at work in life-saving stations and at sea, Bertholf went to work in Washington. He spoke passionately about the missions of his service, conveying the value it brought to the Nation. He spoke to the administration, Congress and citizens about his vision of a Coast Guard as we have come to know it today – a military, multi-mission, maritime service.

He may have been tenacious in Alaska, but Bertholf was even more so in Washington D.C. His determination led to the merger of the Revenue Cutter Service and the U.S. Life-Saving Service to form the present day United States Coast Guard; Bertholf was named the first Commandant.

Bertholf understood the need to convey the value of the Coast Guard to the American public and our national leadership. Even in the early 1900s, he knew that those who saved lives, patrolled our waters and protected the sea and those who sailed on it, did so in silence. They served humbly. So, he told their story.

In my role as Commandant, following in Bertholf’s footsteps, I intend to do the same. Bertholf may have had an edge in storytelling, but I also have an advantage – social media.

Social media has changed the way we connect with others, engage in conversations or share our mutual interests. Social media is part of our daily lives. To me, that means that social media is part of telling the Coast Guard’s story.

A video teleconference with Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven Cantrell and 70 students from the Chief Petty Officer Academy. U.S. Coast Guard photo created using Instagram.

A video teleconference with Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven Cantrell and 70 students from the Chief Petty Officer Academy. U.S. Coast Guard photo created using Instagram.h

Since my change of command, I have shared the many missions of the U.S. Coast Guard on Twitter and Instagram. Today I launched a Facebook page where I hope I can deepen my conversation with key stakeholders and partners. My leadership team – Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard Vice Adm. Peter Neffenger and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven Cantrell – will also be on Facebook and Twitter to communicate, share and engage.

We know that the way people take in and share information has changed, including the desire for real conversations at an individual and organizational level. Engaging on these social media sites will not only provide value to the Coast Guard but will also make us, as leaders, more aware.

Thirty-four of my 37 years in service have been in the field. Like all Coast Guard men and women, I know the feeling of completing a mission then barely having enough time to put over the brow and mooring lines before the next call comes. It’s what we do. But as Commandant, I will tell their story. Using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram I aim to share and engage what we do, who we are and how we serve.

As the Coast Guard’s 25th Commandant, I look forward to continuing in the spirit of the first Commandant as he shared the value of the Service he led to the Nation.

Editor’s note: You can find the Commandant on Facebook at Facebook.com/ADMZukunft. Engage with him on Twitter at Twitter.com/ADMZukunft and follow him on Instagram at Instagram.com/ADMZukunft. Check back on Monday for links to connect with Vice Adm. Neffenger and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven Cantrell.

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  • Mitchell T Kamlay

    Sir,
    This is an outstanding and inspiring story. One that will be shared on the USCGAUX Flotilla 20-19 9th Central Facebook page. Thank you.