ISS3 2017

Reservist Magazine is the award-winning official publication of the United States Coast Guard Reserve. Quarterly issues include news and feature articles about the men and women who comprise America's premier national maritime safety and security

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Page 32 of 55

An Officer and a Gentleman Mail flooded the offices of representatives within the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), and in late February 1970, the commandant was called to appear before the committee. Handy was two steps ahead. He worked with Doug Bennett, the secretary for Rep. Alexander Pirnie – a member of the HASC. Through Bennett, Handy sent Pirnie questions he could ask, which the commandant would have to answer truthfully (without giving his opinion). The most significant facts to be expressed, Handy said, were that the commandant had been blindsided by the elimination, and that without the Reserve, the Coast Guard's national security mission could fail. Handy, by this time, had risen to the rank of captain with almost 30 years of service under his belt. He watched as Adm. Willard J. Smith, Commandant of the Coast Guard, testified under what the committee described as "trying circumstances." They were incensed by the fact that their jurisdiction over the legislation of reserve manpower hadn't been considered. "If we needed 16,590 Selected Reservists as a minimal need 4 or 5 or 6 months ago," said committee Chief Counsel William H. Cook, "how do you justify the decision today that these people could now be safely eliminated?" "I think this is a value judgment," Smith said, "a judgment where this particular program fits in with the priority of other programs." Handy said the committee "could tell by his tone" that Smith was exasperated. After several minutes, the captain was called as the second witness, and he took the microphone. (One note: Handy did not do any of his work in an official status, leaving him free to speak as a private citizen.) "Adm. Smith and I had discussed the fact that his hands would be tied by having to support the President's position, and that I would have to present the facts," he said, noting the palpable tension during any testimony. Dressed in a suit and seated opposite the chairman, Handy strategically addressed the committee as "the guardian of the Reserve components." A stark contrast to the commandant, who could not disobey the department's direction, Handy spoke with confidence and passion, calling the OMB's justification for Reserve elimination "a contradictory fantasy" and a "usurpation of the powers of Congress." He blasted OMB and DOT for being "dictatorial," and imposing decisions "without opportunities for advice, protest, appeal, or any other comment." Handy supported his remarks with information from DOD and the Navy (whose statements did not align with OMB's), as well as the laws themselves, notably the one enabling the Reserve components to protect the nation. Handy called out Volpe for having full knowledge of the weak nature of his plan to rely solely on retirees (who are not subject to a 30-day recall) to do the work of almost 17,000 reservists, citing the Force Analysis study that had been sent to the secretary as proof of the need for the SELRES strength. I can picture the commandant in the audience behind him, mute and dependent upon his reserve captain to express the true needs of the Coast Guard. Handy presented financial and time estimates for restarting the Reserve after a lapse in funding, and he concluded with the frank suggestion that the committee speak directly with Volpe himself. Throughout the printed testimony, it's evident his directness seemed to entertain the committee, and the chairman scolded the audience for applauding when Handy finished. He relished this opportunity to bring the thoughts of the ROA to life. "I might have used some sarcasm," he admitted. He'd spoken for more than 20 minutes using only his notes. "The time went by fast," said Handy, adding wryly, "I don't recall that any time limits were set, but I suspect they regretted that." And I suspect his wit has been this sharp all his life. Adding to the committee's alarm, Assistant Secretary of Defense (for Manpower and Reserve Affairs) Roger T. Kelley testified next that he'd never been consulted in the elimination decision – odd, since the Coast Guard was a critical part of the Navy's wartime maritime defense. He said in an emergency, the contingency plan required reservists who were ready to perform their jobs immediately, without requiring months of training to regain currency. This contradicted DOT and OMB statements and editorials that blithely explained the Navy would handle any problems that arose, and the elimination of the Coast Guard Reserve would create "no loss in national security." Through the spring, Handy and his friends, Capt. John Kwekel (head of the ROA's Coast Guard Affairs Committee) and Capt. Joe Weilert (president of the New York CGROA) designed new kits for the ROA members to lobby their congressmen with correct information about the necessity of the Reserve. Amazingly, especially given the lack of technology, the reservists coordinated seamlessly nationwide via newsletters and phone trees. And it was having an impact. Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee Vaughn Gary sent Handy a letter in April that said, "I found… the letters [the Congressmen] are receiving concerning the CG Selected Reserve Appropriation are having a very excellent effect. Practically everyone… mentioned the fact that he had received a number of letters on the subject. One member mentioned to me the fact that he thought it was significant that the CGR were not called out along with the Reserves of the other branches of the service. Apparently that is being used as opposition material." (This idea was first introduced in Handy's testimony to the HASC, when he said the elimination "could only be the first step leading to the similar destruction of the Selected Reserves of the other Armed Forces…") The plan was working.

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