Often the Coast Guard is defined by its actions and reputation as one of the world’s premiere maritime lifesaving and law enforcement agencies, and the Coast Guard’s 5th District has a new leader for the rescuers and guardians in the Mid-Atlantic.
Rear Adm. Keith Smith has taken on the job of district commander for the Coast Guard’s 5th District, which spans from New Jersey to North Carolina. This position puts him at the helm of overseeing Coast Guard operations spanning 1.7 million square miles of ocean and 156,000 miles of coastline, including the nation’s capital.
The District Commander job is a complex one, Smith says. It brings together a large number of personnel to help ensure the execution of Coast Guard missions in complex environments and situations.
“The District Commander is the conductor, in musical terms, of multiple units in a large geographical area – I ensure the Coast Guard’s 11 statutory missions are carried out safely and efficiently. I do this through my commanding officers, officers in charge, and staff,” said Smith.
Just as a conductor oversees an orchestra and ensures sections are in time and harmony, Smith will direct six major field units consisting of Sectors, located in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Philadelphia, which oversee field units along the Mid-Atlantic coast, and two air stations, located in North Carolina and New Jersey. As commander, he will oversee over 2,450 active duty members, 1,010 reserve members, and 6,800 volunteer Auxiliary members distributed at field units through the 5th District.
The job includes overseeing the security and safety of the waterways, and is home to the largest naval base in the world, Naval Station Norfolk, as well as the nation’s capital, where 5th District aircrews conduct Rotary Wing Intercept missions to protect secure airspaces around Washington D.C.
During natural disasters or large-scale catastrophes, the District Commander fills an important role to the public and to Coast Guard first responders by being a part of or leading a unified command consisting of, at a minimum, federal, state and local partners.
“Our goal will be to ensure civilians are rescued or evacuated as appropriate, our ports and waterways remain resilient, and pollution and hazardous material risks are mitigated. If weather or other natural or manmade events occur, the unified command will ensure we get our ports and waterways up and running as quickly as possible,” he said.
Smith, who enlisted in the Coast Guard career in 1980, served as an air crewman on helicopters and fixed-wing planes. He went on to become a commissioned officer and spent years leading the Coast Guard in law enforcement and homeland security missions in roles like the Joint Interagency Task Force West director and the Law Enforcement Detachment Officer-in-Charge, and most recently as Commander, Force Readiness Command.
Smith said he is looking forward to leading the Coast Guard in the Mid-Atlantic and returning to the Virginia area, where he has previously served, and reconnecting with the maritime and port partners throughout the district.
“I entered the CG as an enlisted member. I was an E-1 at basic training and worked my through the organization for 37 years,” Smith said. “Throughout this incredible journey, I’ve been blessed to work for phenomenal leaders and dealt with unique challenges at nearly every paygrade. I hope to use these experiences to inspire the folks that work across D5. I want them to understand they can achieve anything if they work hard enough, while inspiring them to own, love, and successfully complete all aspects of their world of work.”