In the early 1980’s, the concept of a Rapid Deployment Force was presented to the U.S. military. Problems experienced by the military in the 1970’s (including the attempted rescue of the Iranian hostages) revealed a need for greater mobility and flexibility within the military. As the concept grew, it became obvious that during a rapid deployment of U.S. forces, vital overseas ports and military equipment needed protection.

Upon evaluation of its available forces, the Coast Guard’s logical choice to train for Port Security Unit duties was the Cleveland Reserve Unit because it was heavily operational only during the summer months and most of the existing reservists assigned had mobilization billets outside of the Great Lakes area.

In 1984, Reserve Unit Cleveland participated in a major Fleet Training Exercise called Ocean Venture 84. The entire unit and members of other Ninth District reserve units were flown by C-141 to Key West Florida to establish a mock-up of an overseas port security base. Cleveland reservists manned the utility boats to provide 24-hour-a-day waterside security. Port Security men and other non-boat personnel established a communication center, sick bay, operations center and a security perimeter. During the two-week exercise, realistic war games were conducted and although Ocean Venture 84 revealed serious equipment and training deficiencies, the overall performance of Reserve Unit Cleveland was excellent.

The lessons learned from Ocean Venture 84 were put to the test in Exercise Gallant Eagle 86.Once again the unit simulated a port security mission including the actual offloading of a military sealift ship at Imperial Beach in San Diego, California. The exercise revealed the need for the unit to have specially designed port security boats.

Ocean Venture 84 and Gallant Eagle 86 helped define the wartime role of the Cleveland Reserve Unit. Additional training needs were met through a two-week period of active duty with the U.S. Marines at Quantico, Virginia. Reservists who were used to Coast Guard working-blue uniforms changed to woodland camouflage. Personnel learned land navigation, machine gun usage, defensive tactics, squad tactics, and other military skills.

A second, smaller exercise took place at Camp Perry, Ohio in 1989. Fit Fire 89 put the Ninth District Reserve Office, Reserve Unit Cleveland, and other reserve units into a simulated call-up. All reservists were processed as though they were being recalled to active duty. Training at Fit Fire 89 included small arms and mobilization issues.

The ultimate test for all of this training occurred in the fall of 1989 when the unit was sent overseas for a realistic fleet training exercise, Bright Star 90. Selected reservists from the unit, along with two of its port security boats, were deployed to Aquaba, Jordan for a joint exercise with the U.S. Navy and the Jordanian Coast Guard. During the two-week exercise, reservists lived in tents, ate in a field kitchen, and patrolled the waters of the Red Sea. Reserve Unit Cleveland completed the exercise with flying colors and received many official commendations.

Until 1990, much of the wartime organization for a Port Security Unit (PSU) was only theoretical. Between exercises, the unit continued to augment local Coast Guard Stations and the Captain of the Port. But while the reservists were trained for peacetime missions during augmentation, the same reservists were training during exercises for a war everyone hoped would never occur.

In August 1990, Iraq invaded the country of Kuwait and the largest military build-up since Vietnam began. When allied shipping began to transport war materials to Saudi Arabia, the need to protect the ships became a major concern.

All of the training and exercises conducted during the 1980’s by Reserve Unit Cleveland resulted in the unit’s name change to Port Security Unit 302 (PSU 302).

On November 13, 1990, the unit’s members received the call: “You have been involuntarily called to active duty.” The men and women of the unit quickly left their civilian jobs and mobilized as a Port Security Unit. For one week members received last minute training at Camp Perry, Ohio and then flew to Manama, Bahrain on Thanksgiving Day.

PSU 302’s primary duty was to provide waterside security for U.S. and allied warships anchored in the port at Manama, Bahrain. Shore side security personnel established a tight security perimeter around the Coast Guard installation. PSU 302 was co-located with a Navy Mobile Inshore and Undersea Warfare Unit form Portsmouth, New Hampshire. When the operation called Desert Shield escalated to Operation Desert Storm, the tempo of operations increased significantly. During the ground war phase of Operation Desert Storm, nearly one half of the unit was transferred to a northern Saudi Arabian port to provide landing beach security for the U.S. Marines. For one week, Cleveland area reservists maintained a security perimeter in the Arabian Gulf and loading docks while the Marines offloaded their troops, tanks and supplies.

On April 19, 1991, PSU 302 returned to U.S. soil. While deployed for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, they carried out the most sacred mission of the U.S. Coast Guard—the protection of lives. PSU 302’s mission was to safeguard the lives of U.S. service personnel and their equipment. By providing an effective security force, no U.S. ships were damaged, nor were any personnel lost to enemy action or terrorist acts. For their performance during the Operations, Reserve Unit Cleveland/PSU302 received the Coast Guard’s Meritorious Unit Commendation Award. Many of the individual crewmen in the unit received individual awards for their performance of duty.

In 1994, PSU 302 was again recalled to active duty in support of Operation Uphold Democracy. They were sent to Port-au-Prince, Haiti to secure the port facilities there while exiled President Aristide was returned to power. Many Coast Guard ships were escorted into the port during that time to repatriate hundreds of Haitians refugees. Members of the unit received the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, and the Department of Transportations Outstanding Unit Award.

On June 18, 1995, the unit was moved from a “notional” unit to a self-sufficient Coast Guard unit. It was commissioned as PSU 309 for the Ninth District, as by this time, there were 5 other PSU’s either commissioned or in the process of being commissioned in other districts of the Coast Guard.

Various overseas exercises occurred after Operation Uphold Democracy, including Operation Linked Seas in Portugal, Operation Foal Eagle in South Korea, and Bright Star 2000 in Egypt. The unit was again called upon to provide waterside security for the International Naval Review/OPSAIL 2000 in New York Harbor for the Fourth of July festivities on the Hudson River. The unit received a Coast Guard Unit Commendation for its support of that mission.

In December of 2000, three separate detachments, (Bravo, Charlie, Delta) of the unit participated in aspects of Operation Southern Watch, again providing waterside security in Manama, Bahrain, and providing shipboard security forces on a naval vessel. The exemplary service the unit provided for this operation earned the unit another Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendation.

In February 2003, PSU 309 was recalled to active duty to participate in Operation Enduring Freedom to help in the war on terrorism. They were shipped to Sicily to help guard U.S. and allied ships in transit to Iraq, and were slated to move into Turkish ports, to aid security forces in that country. Due to Turkish resistance to the idea of U.S. troops on their soil, the unit was sent to Kuwait instead. PSU 309 helped shore up security forces in the port of Ash Shuaiba, Kuwait, where over 90% of the personnel and equipment were off-loaded in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. During their extended tour of duty in that location, no U.S. ships were attacked, and no terrorist actions occurred while they were on watch. The crews slept in huge Big Top tents, ate at the “Camel Hump Café,” and showered in mobile shower facilities. They endured temperatures over 120 degrees, sandstorms, and restricted duty. For their outstanding performance of duty, the unit received yet another Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendation, the Navy/Marine Corps Overseas Deployment Ribbon and the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal. Many individuals also received further award recognition for their performance of duty.

In Sept of 2005, the coastal area of the Gulf of Mexico was struck by Katrina, a Category Five hurricane. The devastation was widespread and PSU 309 was called to active duty under Title 14 and set up field operations at the Navy Seabee base in Gulfport, MS. The unit provided critical security, humanitarian assistance, and support for the next twenty days.

In 2008 PSU 309 deployed once again to the Middle East as part of a joint forces operation with the US Navy and US Army in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. PSU 309 was the first PSU in almost five years to return to this mission. The unit provided crucial waterborne and landside security to US and Coalition forces in areas as diverse as Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and oil platforms off the Iraqi coast.

Completing yet one more successful deployment, after returning from theatre, the unit was selected to and proudly represented the Coast Guard Reserve in the historical Presidential Inauguration festivities of Barack H. Obama as Forty-Fourth President of the United States in Washington, DC in January 2009.

In September 2009, PSU 309 was directed to help in providing waterside security for the G-20 Summit in Pittsburg, PA.

During the summer of 2015, PSU 309 was selected to attend one of the largest international annual Combined Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore Exercise for maintaining security. This continuity assured future security for over 1,200 U.S. military personnel from 43 commands working in conjunction with the Republic of Korea’s military forces. Working side-by-side with Republic of Korea military, Coast Guard crews provided 24-hour force protection security on the water and on shore testing the PSUs ability to deploy within 96 hours of being recalled for duty, to be operational within 24 hours of deployment and to be self-sufficient for 30 days in support of operational commanders worldwide.

During the fall of 2017, PSU 309 was called to active duty in defense of Operation Enduring Freedom and the Global War on Terrorism. Working directly with Joint Task Force and MARSECDET USSOUTHCOM, PSU 309 ensured safety and security force protection was set, along with building continued diplomatic stability in the region.

As the PSU moves into the new century, it has a rich tradition to be proud of, and one it will carry forth into the future. No matter what the mission, the members of PSU 309 and their families will carry on the proud heritage of the United States Coast Guard.

The next Mission waits right around the corner for U.S. Coast Guard, Port Security Unit 309 team.

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