Former Coast Guard Top Enlisted: We're Ashamed of Congress

Two crewmen aboard a Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf small boat signal the crew of the USS Decatur during the Northern Edge exercise in June, 2011. (U.S. Navy photo)
Two crewmen aboard a Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf small boat signal the crew of the USS Decatur during the Northern Edge exercise in June, 2011. (U.S. Navy photo)

Steven Cantrell served as the 12th master chief petty officer of the Coast Guard from 2014 to 2018. Leilani Cale-Jones served as his deputy.

As we watched the recent reporting on USCGC Bertholf's departure for her scheduled deployment in support of the Coast Guard's statutorily mandated mission of national defense and national security, we felt a flurry of emotions, ranging from pride in the service we were fortunate to serve for a combined 65 years, to fear for the feeling of helplessness that each of those women and men and their families must feel in light of complete uncertainty of when their pay will resume, to anger that these brave men and women (and their families) should have to be subjected to such absurdity in 2019.

We worry about those young families with special needs, and about the new recruit who will graduate into the service knowing they will stay put until a budget is passed and who may be thinking to themselves that raising their hand to support and defend our Constitution was possibly a mistake.

We worry that those operating in hazardous and unforgiving environments in support of their country will be thinking and worrying (rightfully so) about things they should never have to worry about and are powerless to change.

Related: Retired Coast Guard Master Chiefs: Washington Is Failing Our Service

These patriots do not carry out the missions of the U.S. Coast Guard protecting and defending our great country to get rich, but they have the right to expect to be paid as entitled and when due as anyone else would.

What we have witnessed in these past several weeks is nothing short of amazing. The outpouring of community support for our Coast Guard active duty, reserve, civilian employees, and retiree community has been truly inspirational to watch.

We have seen patrol boat crews devote their time to volunteering at a local homeless center, serving meals to the homeless community despite their own stresses of not being paid. Chiefs are devoting countless hours to setting up food pantries for our workforce and their families. And spouse clubs are disseminating support in all sorts of ways from child care to medical appointment assistance. They're doing all this, mind you, with their own households and lives in as much turmoil as those they are helping.

As our Coast Guard is a humanitarian service, none of this comes as a surprise to us. Our active-duty and reserve forces will continue to go out and make mission, will save lives and interdict migrants and drugs that are trying to cross illegally into our beloved country.

They will continue to salute smartly despite their obvious anxiety of what comes next (or, in the example of pay, what will not come next) and being powerless to say or do anything about it.

We will continue to hear stories of these fine Americans and their loving families and the stress they endure, with those on the outside continuing to sympathize and offer their own political anger.

Our motto of Semper Paratus will still be there when this shutdown ends, but it is equally important to put a tremendous spotlight on the good work our active, reserve, civilian and retiree members are doing to remain Semper Paratus for each other during this awful time.

We all have a bitter taste regarding the use of our pay as a political football to kick around by people who have an obligation to pay just debts and provide for the general welfare of the United States while they themselves are getting paid.

The Coast Guard workforce has every right to be bitter, but please don't let that bitterness take away from all the good that is being done all around the country by those who support and serve in the nation's oldest continuous seagoing service and keeping our service Semper Paratus.

To our brother and sister Coasties and your families, we say that we are so proud of you, your character and composure during this silliness, and your devotion to each other.

The most demoralizing thing a child can hear from their parents is "I am so ashamed of you" when they do something stupid.

To our congressional and administration leadership, we say: We are so ashamed of you.

The opinions expressed in this op-ed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of If you would like to submit your own commentary, please send your article to for consideration.

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