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In his first state of the service address, Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr. described a Coast Guard that is reaching its limits, having taken on too much since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
The service has assumed substantial homeland security duties since the attacks and doesn't have the resources to "perform at 100 percent in every one of our statutory missions on every given day," Papp, the Coast Guard commandant, said Thursday.
Papp delivered his address, which was webcast, at The Bolling Club in Washington.
The admiral said he worries that the service has lost sight of its professionalism and its focus on seamanship and airmanship, given a recent spate of accidents. He also said he thinks that, in many cases, the pace of change and operations has caused people to train to meet basic qualifications rather than to become proficient.
"In order to achieve proficiency in our most needed activities and capabilities, we may have to reduce our range of activities and capabilities. This is acceptable," Papp said. "Let me repeat this. We may need to reduce the number and range of capabilities we've added since 9/11, until properly resourced, and this will be acceptable."
Papp used the word "woeful" to describe the condition of some of the Coast Guard's cutters, stating that doing more with less is not an acceptable option.
"Without continued recapitalization we will not be Semper Paratus," he said, referring to the Coast Guard's Latin motto, which means "Always Ready."
The Coast Guard is no stranger to performing dangerous missions with constrained resources, Papp said. "But we've always had each other, we've always had meaningful work that provided for the safety and security of our country.
"We are blessed by our people, our missions and our heritage. For over 220 years we have been everywhere America has needed us to be. We are on scene today, adapting for tomorrow, and always ready."
At the end, Papp proclaimed this year as the "Year of the Coast Guard Family." Coming on the heels of the administration's pledge to do more to support military families, the Coast Guard will renew its focus on ensuring that its housing, child-care development centers and other family-support programs are top notch.