As a northeasterner with a pronounced political bent, I only avail myself of certain specific advantages that come with my citizenship: the freedom to burn flags and religious texts on the front lawn of grade-school campuses, the right to use magazine-fed semiautomatic rifles to protect my breakfast nook from Redcoat infestation, the liberty to eat cheeseburgers while ogling co-eds in star-spangled bikinis, etc. But like any U.S. citizen with a brain and a conscience, I support the heck out of the troops, who put their lives on their line for me and everyone I love - yes, even you, Slow Earl – simply because it's their job to do so.
Like most other ignorant Americans, I don't know exactly what that comprises on a day-to-day basis, though I'm guessing it's not all covert missions in former Soviet republics. That's why I'm so intrigued by the videos that public affairs officers have started posting to the Coast Guard's YouTube account with almost manic frequency.
As opposed to TV spots that depict military service as an adrenalized fusion of Top Gun and an exceedingly intense game of hide-and-seek, the YouTube channel simply lays out the type of work that Coastguardsmen and women do. It highlights their technical knowledge and problem-solving faculties, and downplays the showing-Somalian-pirates- who's-boss component of the gig. It humanizes them.
To be honest, I'm not sure what the public affairs folks are attempting to accomplish by sharing this material with the masses. They sure don't seem hell-bent on using it to bolster recruitment. The clips contain no propaganda and, aside from a single professionally produced video ("Legacy," which traces the evolution of the Coast Guard through the years), no recruit-baiting fluff. They don't attempt to lure otherwise disinterested individuals with, like, quick-cut montages of deep-sea ops set to the strains of "We're Not Gonna Take It."
Instead, "Hoist on the High Seas" shares footage, complete with scratchy audio, of a medevac rescue of an ailing individual from a big honkin' boat. For those who want to see something more involved, check out the series of clips that concludes with "Healy Ice Breaking Time Lapse," which detail the extrication of a fuel tanker from the frozen Bering Sea. Do any of the videos boast Hollywood twists (oh no! the rogue admiral just stabbed the lieutenant commander in the eye with a butter knife!)? Of course not. They don't even try, trading manufactured thrills for authenticity. In doing so, they present a fascinating sketch of several stages of the operation.
Kudos, too, to the Coast Guard for making its YouTube channel more easily navigable than any other. The clip names pack no puns: "MH-65 Dolphin helicopter sea ice landing" depicts, in the most straightforward way humanly possible, a MH-65 Dolphin helicopter sea ice landing. Similarly, "Survivor Speaks on Importance of Life Saving Equipment" features Travis Niemi, a commercial fisherman, discussing "the importance of his personal protective equipment after being stranded at sea in a life raft for approximately 10 hours because his boat sank after having anchor issue Dec. 28, 2011," according to the clip blurb.
There's not much more to say about the videos, really. I'm happy to have received a glimpse, however stripped down and personality- free, of how Coastguardsmen and women go about their business. It'd be neat if other branches of the Armed Forces offered a similar get-to-know-us primer. That's all.