For a Kansan, for obvious reasons, the U.S. Coast Guard might be the least familiar service branch of the Armed Forces, yet there is no shortage of people from this area serving in America’s leading security agency on the high seas.
A Coast Guard officer with extensive local ties has recently taken command of one unit of the USCG Maritime Safety and Security Team. An analogue of counter-terrorism units of other service branches, such as the U.S. Navy SEALs, Lt. Cmdr. Leo Danaher’s command is based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
It is the only unit which is trained, equipped and authorized to guard against submerged divers who are engaged in criminal or other activity that is a threat to U.S. national security. As with other U.S. Coast Guard forces, it is also authorized to enforce federal law with regard to civilian U.S. citizens or foreigners found in maritime environments; other members of the military usually aren’t able to act as law enforcement officers.
The grandson of Leo and Ruthanna Danaher of Atchison, Lt. Cmdr. Danaher is a native of Bremerton, Washington, who graduated from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 2004 and has followed a 15-year career as a Coast Guard officer with an emphasis on small-boat operations, which are typically supported by a large Coast Guard cutter ship, a U.S. Navy vessel, or other platform. Danaher has deployed all over the world, including high-threat maritime areas of the Middle East, and spoke to Atchison Globe about his experiences.
Globe: What kind of responsibility have you taken on as the leader of an MSST?
Danaher: I’ve taken the role or the responsibility as the commanding officer. My rank is lieutenant commander, and that’s the customary rank to be at for a unit of this nature. They have 10 of these teams that are positioned across the United States. Six of them are on the Atlantic side, four of them are on the Pacific side.
Each one of the teams have a number and all of them begin with “911” because they were created to beef up deployable security capability in the maritime domain after the 9/11 attacks. Just acknowledging those vulnerabilities that exist not just domestically but internationally with maritime commerce and maritime security.
Globe: Where did you learn to do what you do?
Danaher: I graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in May of 2004 in New London, Connecticut. I’ve been in a little more than 15 years. You don’t count the Academy time, because even though you go to school for free, you’re there as a student in uniform. You do get to go to Coast Guard units to prepare yourself for service. Your clock doesn’t officially start until you graduate from there. I came out of that institution.
Have you had to deal with dangerous situations?
Danaher: When you serve in the Middle East you get there thinking it will be action all the time. It’s not, but there are situations where people can get hurt, people can get killed.
What is an example of one of your day-to-day responsibilities?
Danaher: One of the main responsibilities of this unit is law enforcement. All of our personnel hold some kind of law enforcement certification. We can plug and play in the maritime world. The Coast Guard as a branch of the military focuses on law enforcement and public safety. That’s unique to the other branches because without authorization under martial law, the other branches would not be permitted to use law enforcement authority.
What do you think the main mission of the Coast Guard should be today?
Danaher: I would say that the global temperament for maritime trade and commerce is becoming significantly more valuable to sustaining the lifeblood of nations. As that continues, vulnerabilities will increase. That is in the form of asymmetric threats and belligerent nations. The Coast Guard has a unique presence, a unique ability to assist in that. We are, this unit in particular, focusing on domestic and international missions to help safeguard that maritime domain. If you’re interested in serving in the Coast Guard, you will do defense-type operations but also homeland seucirty operations. What this is unit does, it is small in numbers, but it is on the forefront of our nation’s defense.