USCG admiral delivers speech in Bay Area

February 23, 2012 7:37:47 PM PST
For the first time ever, the commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard gave his annual State of the Coast Guard address outside of Washington D.C. Admiral Robert Papp broke with tradition and spoke in Alameda, but he was also delivering a message to the country.

The admiral did not sugarcoat the situation. He came to talk money with a nearly $2 billion backdrop. The Coast Guards three national security cutters are the only three in existence, and they're all at Coast Guard Island Alameda to help the admiral make a point.

Admiral Robert Papp began his address this morning by asking everyone to take a breath.

"Seriously, take a deep breath. Do you smell that? Do you know what that is? It's new Coast Guard cutter smell," said Papp.

The reference to the three relatively brand new ships docked behind him drew a laugh, but the admiral's message was a plea for serious money -- $10 billion this year and $11 billion next year.

"What you need to operate on the high seas whether it's in the Atlantic or the Pacific are modern, capable, multi-mission, high endurance cutters and aircraft. We're working hard to get them," said Papp.

The commandant told the audience most of the guard's 40-ship fleet was built during the Vietnam War. And if they were Navy ships they would've been mothballed by now. In order to fund the building of new ships, he said he was willing to cut 1,000 sailors from the active duty ranks.

"I don't see anything happening in the Bay Area in terms of scaling back immediately. I think right now we're resourced pretty good out here," said Papp.

In fact, the admiral said the Coast Guard will be beefing up its Bay Area presence, at least in the short term.

"Next year when you have the America's Cup out here, there's going to be a need for more Coast Guard security operations," said Papp.

Admiral Papp says he's getting support from the president and the secretary of Homeland Security and in San Francisco from Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California.

"Of course I'm extremely supportive of them and you now they have a program to upgrade their fleet that is over the budget we have at this time. We've have deficit issues and we have problems," said Boxer.

Boxer quickly turned the conversation back to what she wanted to talk about which was taxing the richest Americans.

Getting back to the Coast Guard, they've got $1.5 billion budgeted for new ships next year. That's about what it'll cost to build three more ships like the ones that were in the Bay Area for Thursday's speech. The first were $700 million each, but the cost has come down, they're about $500,000 a piece today.

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