Translating the Coast Guard uniform

Coast Guard members in dress uniform

A tactical law enforcement team is inspected during a change of command ceremony in San Diego. Many of the members are proudly wearing the Tactical Law Enforcement Insignia above their ribbons. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jetta H. Disco.

When you see a Coast Guardsman, you can’t help but notice the ribbons, devices and insignias adorning the dress uniform. These decorations translate much like a foreign language or the signal flags on a ship – recounting the member’s years of service and accomplishments.

Member receives the Tactical Law Enforcement Insignia

Lt. Shaun Vaccaro is presented the Tactical Law Enforcement Insignia at the Deployable Operations Group Headquarters, July 7, 2011. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Anderson.

While the brightly colored ribbons symbolize customary personal honors, awards and distinguished service, the more rare shiny, metallic insignias represent special qualifications and assignments. Whether it’s a commanding officer, command chief, marine safety specialist, cutterman, aviator, diver or a coxswain designation, the device is more than just a pin on the uniform. Like the symbols on a nautical chart, the insignias are your guide to recognizing the talent, experience and leadership necessary to build America’s Coast Guard.

One of the Coast Guard’s newest uniform insignias, the Tactical Law Enforcement Insignia, recognizes the Service’s commitment to maritime security. The events on September 11 nearly a decade ago affected every American and changed the nation. The Coast Guard responded – adapting its missions, training its people and working to push our maritime borders outward in order to detect, deter, disrupt and intercept terrorist threats across the maritime domain.

Maritime Safety and Security Team training

Maritime Safety and Security Team members conduct hook and climb training in Boston. MSSTs provide enhanced port safety and security and law enforcement capabilities to economic or military significant ports. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Similar to the development of the Maritime Law Enforcement rating and the evolution of the Coast Guard Deployable Specialized Forces, the Tactical Law Enforcement Insignia continues to demonstrate the importance of this skill set in our Service.  Members who prove proficiency, receive prescribed training and earn required experience in law enforcement are authorized to wear this hard-earned device.

So, the next time you see Coast Guard men or women in uniform, appreciate the specialized training and service they performed to wear the ribbons, device and insignias adorning their uniform. Feel free to shake their hand, thank them for their service and ask about their careers – because each member has a unique story to tell about their contributions to keeping America’s waterways safe and secure.

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