The Coast Guard is not the largest branch of the military — the Army takes that title; nor the oldest — that’s the Army, too. But those facts don’t diminish the importance of the U.S. Coast Guard’s duties: enforcing maritime law and performing rescue missions to keep our coasts safe and secure. The approximately 79,000 men and women who serve in the Coast Guard as active-duty personnel, reservists and auxiliary members make protecting our waters their livelihood.
For many, serving in the armed forces becomes a full-time, years-long commitment; a dedication of their lives to their chosen branch. However, there are ways to serve on a part-time basis as reservists. Pursuing a role in the Coast Guard’s Port Security Unit (PSU) — on bases in Cape Cod, Massachusetts; Fort Eustis, Virginia; Port Clinton, Ohio; Kiln, Mississippi; Clearwater, Florida; San Pedro, California; San Francisco, California; and Everett, Washington — is a great option for those who want to serve part-time.
The Deployment Factor
The deployment factor sets the PSU apart from traditional reserve units and is also what attracts many of its members. The PSU is the Coast Guard’s only deployable unit, with the ability to deploy within 96 hours of a crisis and establish operations within 24 hours of arrival.
“What attracted me to PSU is the opportunity to deploy,” said Petty Officer First Class Selena Bolen. “Deploying in a PSU is very rewarding because there are opportunities to learn and opportunities to gain camaraderie with your second family. I think people get a little intimidated by the fact that you can deploy and you don’t know what that’s about, but embrace that. Embrace the unknown because it’s going to provide a lot of fulfillment and memories that you’re going to have for a lifetime.”
Since its inception over 100 years ago, the PSU has provided international support to the U.S. Navy in times of crisis or threats to port security. Notably, PSUs provided support during Operation Desert Storm in the 1990s, after the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, and in reaction to the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Their quick ability to react and report for duty has lent itself to innumerable missions over the PSU’s century of service.
Who Should Apply
The PSU recruits men and women between the ages of 17 and 40 years old. As reservists, members of the PSU typically hold full-time civilian positions and take military leave when called to fulfill training or deployment duties.
Involvement in the PSU provides valuable skillsets and discipline that can translate to other employment.
“What attracted me to join the PSU was the training and being able to go a little bit further than a traditional reserve unit in the Coast Guard,” said BM3 Paul Santonastaso. “If I had to convince someone to join the PSU, I’d say it’s a great opportunity to take your career by the handles, get additional qualifications and do more than you would in a regular reserve unit. The Coast Guard has helped me prepare for my civilian career by giving me leadership opportunities and opportunities to work in high-stress situations and be able to make decisions on the spot.”
Prior military experience is not a requirement to join the PSU. Applicants without prior military service or applicable Coast Guard experience attend an eight week basic training in Cape May, New Jersey. Prior-service and applicants with related experience may attend a three-week Direct Entry Petty Officer Training (DEPOT) and enter at an advanced paygrade. In either case, the requirements for service are the same: personnel prepare for contingency operations during weekend drills and two weeks of annual active duty.
When the opportunity for deployment arises, the unit(s) tapped for deployment report for duty and embark on their assignments. Units consist of 146 personnel (140 reservists and six active duty members) who are part of either the Waterborne Security Division, the PSU’s “visible” element that conducts boat operations, or the Shoreside Security Division, which works behind the scenes to coordinate boat operations. Each role is crucial for the success of the unit during their time abroad.
The potential deployment area spans the world, only excluding polar areas or ice-covered waters. Once deployed, units offer waterside protection to key assets including piers, high-value vessels and harbor entrances until security threats are resolved.
The prospect of serving your country, even on a part-time basis, is a noble pursuit that many hold in high esteem. Joining the Coast Guard PSU is an opportunity to contribute time and skillsets to America’s armed forces while gaining valuable knowledge, experience and training that personnel, reservists and auxiliary members can apply in full-time or future professional endeavors.