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The Most Epic Things the United States Coast Guard Has Ever Done

List RulesVote up the most amazing and awesome stories about the US Coast Guard.

There are many sides to America's military forces. There's the side that most people know: big guns and explosions, stomping soldiers, and screaming jet fighters. But America's military complex is unique in the world, because it also takes a full-spectrum approach to saving lives. Yes, sometimes that does mean using violence; but just as often, it means lending a saving hand to those in need, as these United States Coast Guard stories prove.

What does the Coast Guard do? Technically speaking, they're America's seaward fist line of defense; the hard line between law and lawlessness on the high seas. But a big part of the Coast Guard's job has also been showing up to aid those who have suffered coastal disasters. While most of us think of these services as rendered with ships and helicopters, the Coast Guard has been involved with many humanitarian and search and rescue missions over dry land and far away from any saltwater.  Wherever disaster strikes in conjunction with water, you can count on the coast Guard to be there. At that is just one of the many reasons why the Coast Guard is the best.

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    125,000 Cuban Refugees Rescued

    Photo: Florida Keys--Public Libraries / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    The 1980 Mariel Boatlift is so well known at this point, it's practically become part of the popular canon in America -- likely because it was featured prominently in everybody's favorite cocaine-flavored Al Pacino movie, Scarface. There isn't much to say about the Mariel Boatlift that hasn't already been said; the story is very similar to that of the Camarioca Boatlift of 20 years earlier, which you'll also find on this list. 

    It was essentially another plot by Castro to rid himself of and hopefully kill as many political dissidents as possible. The strategy was the same: A surprise announcement, limited time offer, and a frantic rush to America on tinfoil rafts. Only this time, they'd number in the hundreds of thousands. The plan this time was to absolutely overwhelm America's ability to rescue refugees, sentencing them to death by ocean. But thanks to the Coast Guard, things didn't turn out that way. And that's why Miami still has the best food around.  

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    Let us not forget that the Coast Guard was among those first responders who were pulling people from the wreckage of September 11th. They were the first military branch on-scene for search and rescue, and first for medical care, evacuation, water, communications and even security. The Coast Guard was the first military service to show up on 9/11... and the last one to leave after clean-up. And that deserves a special place on this list. 

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  • 7

    The Great Camarioca Boatlift

    You've probably heard of the great Cuban boatlifts of the late 1950s and early 1960s. After Fidel Castro took power, many Cubans not wishing to live under his Communist dictatorship chose to leave as refugees to America. The United States had already abandoned its "Wet Foot, Dry Foot" policy, and was officially taking all comers from Cuba. They came over in the thousands, in craft that would barely survive floating in a bathtub... never mind on the open sea. Many Cuban refugees never made it to America, and there weren't enough free Naval resources available to search for them. A fact which Fidel Castro knew well.

    Late at night on September 29th, 1965, Castro made the surprise announcement that he would be opening the enormous Camarioca Port to refugees who wanted to defect. But the hitch was, it would only be open from October 10th to November 15th. After which, there would be no more free passage. The scene played out as Castro expected; it was utter anarchy, with 2,979 Cubans scrambling to leave in just a few weeks, packed on hastily constructed rafts that were never more than inches from tearing apart. It was Castro's plan to "let" his exiles leave, knowing full well most of them would never make it. 

    But the coast Guard foiled Castro's evil plan, mobilizing a huge force of offshore vessels and chartered ships to pick the exiles up right from Camarioca Port. Unfortunately, many refugees didn't get the message, and left early. The Coast Guard sent out every aircraft and helicopters in the inventory to search for them; and as far as anyone knows, not a single refugee was lost. Fidel was denied his nasty victory, and America gained another 3,000 proud patriots. 

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  • 8

    The Anthrax Attacks Connected to the 9/11 Attackers

    Photo: Wikipedia

    In 2001, right after 9/11, a series of anthrax-laced letters went out to Senator Majority Leader Tom Daschle, and a few other places in New York and Florida. Near panic ensued, particularly on the basis that once Anthrax enters an environment, the spores can live practically forever in the soil. The EPA asked for the Coast Guard's help, and the Guard quickly had Strike Teams headed to Washington and Florida. 

    The Coast Guard was the first on scene with testing equipment, medical treatment  and decontamination equipment. The Guard coordinated entries into the affected locations, and were the first to figure out that the first attack had been against the American Media Inc. office in Boca Raton, Florida -- the very city where the 9/11 hijackers had lived and learned to fly. It was also the Coast Guard that made the connection with a local pharmacist, who told them Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi had come into the pharmacy earlier seeking treatment for some kind of irritation on Atta's hands. The very sort caused by, say, casual contact with Anthrax. 

    Thanks to the coast Guard's efforts, the nation discovered that this wasn't just the first wave in a new series of terrifying coordinated attacks, but rather the last-minute bluff of a man who was already dead. 


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