One of the great things about the Internet is that anyone with anything on his or her mind can say anything, regardless of how informed and insightful he or she might be. To illustrate this point I present Exhibit A – David Axe of Wired Magazine’s latest posting, “It’s a Major Prize.”

In this posting, Mr. Axe takes the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) to task for honoring US Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen with its highest honor, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Award.

To quote Mr. Axe, “Allen managed to get through the Katrina debacle looking like a hero, but since then he’s done nothing to halt the Coast Guard’s steady unraveling. When will we ever start holding our senior leaders accountable for their organizations’ performances?

As an NDIA member and as someone who attended the dinner honoring Adm. Allen, I take great exception to Mr. Axe’s commentary about the worthiness of his recognition and his flippant trivializing of the honor given to him. The award given to Adm. Allen by NDIA was bestowed upon him to recognize his “outstanding contribution toward increasing public awareness of our national defense needs” (Source: 2008 NDIA Eisenhower Award Program). It can also be said that the award was given to him to recognize his exceptional thirty-eight year career of service to the nation.

In accepting the award, Adm. Allen openly and candidly admitted that the reason he was standing on the stage receiving the evening’s honor was because of the exemplary service of the men and women of the US Coast Guard. He accepted the award in their name and in the name of his father, retired USCG Chief Control Damage Controlman, Clyde Allen. Unlike many of the awardees at Washington, or for that matter Hollywood, functions where the honoree proclaims they are “king of the world” (see James Cameron’s Titanic Oscar acceptance speech) and their egos are elevated to new extraordinary heights, Allen’s acceptance was as humble and self-effacing as the service he proudly leads today.

For far too long we as a nation have overlooked the critical service of the US Coast Guard. When compared to the funding, honors and public recognition of its other military peers, the Coast Guard got little more than scraps but in one of our worst hours as a nation, this underappreciated service showed the world the strength, honor and character of its people and the missions they serve every day without parade or media fanfare.

Rather than talk about ‘what’s right’ about honoring Adm. Allen and by default, his service branch, the often overlooked Coast Guard, Mr. Axe took the easy path and offered a cheap shot where it was absolutely unnecessary. Decrying the lack of his accountability (Axe’s word choice – not mine) since becoming Commandant is even more ridiculous.

Blaming Allen for the Deepwater debacle, something he inherited, is beyond me. Rather than position someone to ‘throw under’ the bus (a traditional Washington tactic for Congressional Oversight hearings) and answer tough questions about what went wrong, he took the center seat at the hearings and answered every question. Additionally, he could have just as easily kept the existing Deepwater structure in place and provided the customary ‘window-dressing’ of change to show that things will get better and ‘this won’t happen again.’ Instead, he brought the complete management and systems integration for Deepwater back ‘in-house’ to the US Coast Guard where closer scrutiny, management and oversight could be provided. Is that lack of accountability?

As to doing anything innovative to prevent the further unraveling of the Coast Guard, one need only review Adm. Allen’s establishment of the Deployable Operations Group (DOG). This newly established part of the Coast Guard provides Deployable Specialized Force (DSF) units to rapidly position themselves to meet specific threats either in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world. Having this in-house capacity allows the Coast Guard the ability to perform high-risk, high-profile missions such as anti-terrorism operations, enhanced emergency response and threat assessments involving nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons. That sounds fairly innovative and proactive to me in a post 9/11 world but I may have different performance metrics from Mr. Axe.

There are many other things that could be listed that detail Adm. Allen’s actions as Commandant to ensure and invest in the future of the Coast Guard. Taken altogether, most would simply call what Adm. Allen has been doing as Commandant (as well as his entire career) one thing – leadership. But it’s just easier to take a shot via keyboard at the integrity of someone or some organization that stands up to be recognized.

But then again, that’s the great thing about the Internet – anyone with anything on their mind can say anything they want regardless of how informed and insightful they might be. Interestingly enough, that’s a freedom that Adm. Allen, the US Coast Guard and countless others have defended, protected and enabled all of us to have and by every measure, they have been more than accountable.

Rich Cooper blogs primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More