The U.S. Coast Guard has spent its entire history building an incredible reservoir of goodwill in the Great Lakes.I'd have hoped the service had learned something over the years, but I guess culture sometimes is really difficult to overcome. The Coast Guard has a habit of really goofing when it comes to political initiatives... and, contrary to whatever anyone in blue might have thought, this is a political initiative. It might seem pretty straight forward -- new weaponry, new course of fire, new ranges -- but in the eyes of the public and the elected officials on the Hill, it isn't so simple.
From the countless rescues of distressed mariners to the ice-breaker Mackinaw's annual Lake Michigan run with a load of North Woods Christmas trees for Chicago's needy, people on the lakes - drunken boaters excluded - have always been happy to see the bright red ships steaming their way.
When the Coast Guard decided to move off Governor's Island in New York, the plan had to go on hold for six or eight weeks; senior Coast Guard leaders had forgotten to work with the White House and Congressional leaders in developing and implementing the plan. "Ooops; we forgot to tell the White House we're shutting down one of our largest bases in one of the biggest cities in the country. We didn't think anyone would care..."
Well, care they did. In this case, the Service didn't attempt to fly so far under the radar. There was the one announcement in early August in the Congressional Record. I sincerely doubt we called attention to it, however. And, like moving of The Rock, people do care about waterborne ranges on the Great Lakes. There are safety issues and environmental issues and international relation issues and who-knows-what-other issues.
I'm particularly fond of the environmental issues. Way back when, the Coast Guard used to toss used batteries -- the ones that powered various aids to navigation -- into the deep. When the battery was completely used, the ATON guys would just heave it over the side, deep six it. This was the standard operating procedure.
Needless to say, it's not anymore, and the Coast Guard spent millions to remediate various sites to get all the batteries removed. They littered the bottom in places, piling up, years' worth of wasted batteries jumbled together in the murky waters of rivers, bays, lakes, and the coastal environment. Yup, not good.
So, I imagine some ten or twenty years into the future, when we have shot millions of rounds into the bottom of the fragile lakes, someone will figure out it's a bad idea and ruining the environment. And then, the question will be how to clean it up. I'm not all that smart, but I'm thinking it's going to much more difficult to clean up millions of 7.62 mm rounds than it was to clean up thousands of large car-battery-sized ATON batteries.
Maybe, just maybe, the Coast Guard needs to find another way to conduct the training: perhaps a firearms training simulator? There are simulators for astronauts and aircraft pilots and shipboard officers; why not a transportable FATS that simulates being underway. Couple that with landside shooting for familiarization and qualification, and we might be able to address the needs of all stakeholders.