top of page

The Often Forgotten Fifth Branch of the American Armed Forces

Updated: Mar 22, 2021

We all remember that the United States armed forces began in 1775 with the creation of the Army (for land defense) and the Marines (for sea defense). The rebellious colonies had no Navy and had to rely on privateers with Marines in support for any battles on the seas.

The first official branch of armed services created to keep our waters safe was the US Coast Guard founded in 1790. The US Navy was not established for another eight years in 1798. The true fifth brand of the armed services, the Air Force, was not formed until 1947.

The US Coast Guard also played a key role in defending our country during WWII. Not only were they patrolling, and spotting German submarines, many were called upon to pilot the landing crafts for battles like D-Day. It has been noted in history books that since many of the US landing craft were manned by the Coast Guard, who is used to dealing with coastal waters, those pilots knew how and when to “gun the engines” to rise over the sand bars and get their passengers in close. Other units were not as lucky having to disembark farther out and forced to swim in; while being dragged down by eighty pounds of extra gear.

Today, the US Coast Guard not only rescues mariners and recreational boaters in distress. They are an important front line defense in our nation’s war on drugs. Therefore, the GI Joe team wanted to be sure the Coast Guard would be duly recognized.

US Coast Guard

This figure was the first USCG figure to ship. It was also one of the last to come with a sewn t-shirt. Most of his uniform is sewn: pants, life vest, and belt with holster. He wears the molded ball cap with appropriate USCG designation. The other gear issued is all molded, including boots, aviator glasses, camera, radio, binoculars, and clipboard. Ironically, this was one of the most well-armed figures which came issued with a pistol, shotgun, and an assault rifle.

The package art was expertly painted by Larry Selman.

US Coast Guard Cold Water Immersion Suit

Internally, the figure was known as “Hands-up Coast Guard.” As many of you have noticed, and properly corrected me, I sometimes use the wrong name when presenting a figure in a presentation. The reason is that I am still using the original working name. When you have been working on a figure for six to nine months, then it disappears from your world during the final production run and its months on the water, you do not always remember to go back and see what the final name was. About half the time, the copy department would clean up the names; either to be more precise or to be more politically acceptable/less-violent sounding.

Usually, the theme of the figure is established first. However, in this particular case, the feature came before the theme. I remember being assigned to finish the research and design on this figure with the feature already planned. It was known as the “Hands-up” figure. If memory serves, it was decided not to use a police officer as one was already in the system, and we were unsure how it would sell. In hindsight, it probably would have sold better as a police officer, but it is still a very cool figure.

There is a trigger on the back that makes both arms raise and together into a 2- handed pistol hold. Note that the arms are still completely articulated. There is a subtly on the hands. See the right hand is open and uses the Army/Navy Football hand created large enough to hold a football. When I was working on this, I did not want just one arm drawing up (which works well on Quick Draw Johnny West for a shoot-out with Sam Cobra), but I wanted something more modern here. If we moved both hands, then other normal “gripping” hand looked dorky. By working closely with the engineers, we made it so that if you position both hands just right, the left arm goes up then the right arm goes just a touch behind it to position the wrist like a training firing position.

The shoulder joints are ratcheted so you can click Joe’s shoulders in a position with the arms straight out holding a gun, then push the button up just a touch to simulate recoil when shooting (that is how I usually play with this figure.)

The uniform is a copy of the Cold Water Immersion Suit; also known as a mustang suit that will keep the wearer warmer if they fall into the water. On the real ones, the collar expands to also function as a life preserver. Some people have complained that it was not accurate, but the only point of inaccuracy (given it is 1/6th scale) is the hole on the back for the button (so, just keep Joe facing forward on add patch of orange fabric to cover the hole.)

One other odd note was having to shrink-wrap the pistol to the hand to avoid pilferage or to be sure Joe was always prepared and not drawing without a gun. It was expected that the consumers would cut off the shrink-wrap after purchase. The box was one on a very few that has the figure open. In this case, it was so the figure could be activated on the shelf by the consumers.

The package is also another fine example of Larry Selman artwork. This is one of the packages he discussed during his talk at the 2019 Toylanta where he shot reference photos from the deck of a Russian Trawler.

Coast Guard Tactical Law Enforcement

Internally, the figure was known as “Coastal Defense.” It is an Alpha Price point, so the figure itself takes up most of the cost to maintain that price point. Originally, that price point was nick-named “Cannon Fodder.” It was made for collectors who were asking for less expensive figures for their dioramas. The problem became… they sold very well.

Therefore, this figure is the most basic of all the GI Joe USCG figures. It has a molded T-shirt torso, sewn pants, molded vest, ball cap, boots, shotgun, molded belt and one if the better pistols with a removable clip. The vest was made specifically for this figure. If you look at the concepts model images, you can see the vest is a little thick as I made it using Super Sculpy.

Coast Guard Harbor Security

This is my favorite USCG figure: internally known as “Coast Guard Gunner.” While I was adept at making a figure look good at the Alpha price point, it was always fun to have the margin to create a figure with all the detail. Since this was at a collector price point, for his uniform, I was allowed to make a sewn cold water coat, pants, and removable vest with mesh. Check out the details on the soft goods. He also came equipped with the molded ball cap, boots, and binoculars.

To approve a new figure, management usually would want to see a concept model. This procedure helps them understand the perceived value as compared to the price. Therefore, I was able to make the hand model of 50 caliber deck gun that would be on a USCG ship for defensive support. The model was a bit rough, but it matched the scale needed to show the proper proportions. The deck gun’s major parts consisted of a 50 caliber machine gun, bullet strip, ammo box, gun post, gun shield, and deck plate to mount it on. At this time, the engineering was finally being created in the computer, so the engineering team was able to add all the fine details of rivets and even the diamond tread pattern on the deck plating. Note that detail on the final paint master model.

One of the goals I always sought for Joe was to make sure he carried a big gun. This figure carries one of the biggest guns in a figure set.

What is your favorite 1/6th scale USCG or Navy figure?

32 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page