These are the Americans who flew over the rooftops of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, saving thousands from flooded homes. These are the men and women who were the first ashore in Haiti after the earthquake, rendering aid, treating wounds, and delivering children in unsanitary, primitive conditions. These are the heroes who mobilized to respond to the worst marine environmental disaster in the nation’s history. These are the selfless service men and women who provided medical support to other Department of Homeland Security agencies to screen incoming airline passengers during the Ebola crisis and today are supporting the Department on the southwest border. These are the people who stand search-and-rescue watch and patrol our coastal waters and the Arabian Gulf. And these are the Americans who have accompanied the remains of my friends and colleagues to their final resting place in Arlington Cemetery, rendering honors and exercising the manners of our profession.

I am the son of a Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer and brother of a Coast Guard spouse. Our family’s life has revolved around the service my parents revered. A part of the “Greatest Generation”, they emerged from the depression and World War II to raise a family that moved frequently and fearlessly. They were tough and resilient.

Read the essay by the 23rd Commandant of the Coast Guard, Adm. Thad W. Allen (Ret.), at Proceedings Magazine