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11 Things You Might Not Know About the Coast Guard

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The U.S. Coast Guard has a unique job in the military, with a role in law enforcement and a role in war. Its 42,000 active duty members, as well as its 7500 reservists and 30,000 members of the auxiliary, are called guardians. Here are a few things you might not have known about them.

1. THE COAST GUARD HAS A REAL PROBLEM WITH AARON BURR.

Alexander Hamilton is the father of the Coast Guard. In Federalist No. 12, Hamilton posited that a “few armed vessels, judiciously stationed at the entrances of our ports, might at a small expense be made useful sentinels of the laws.” Their purpose would be to enforce maritime laws and to collect tariffs. In 1790, the United States was flat broke, and Hamilton, now Secretary of the Treasury, pushed hard for the creation of his fleet to help get the coffers filled. The result was the Revenue-Marine, later renamed the Revenue Cutter Service, and they eventually merged with the United States Life-Saving Service (which helped shipwrecked sailors) to form the Coast Guard.

2. FOR A WHILE, THE FORERUNNER TO THE COAST GUARD WAS THE ONLY NAVY OF THE UNITED STATES.

In 1790, the Continental Navy was disbanded, and the only navy at the disposal of the United States was Hamilton’s Revenue-Marine. At the time, the Barbary pirates posed a threat to the U.S. at sea, and the job of dealing with them fell to the Revenue-Marine. The first three warships of the U.S. Navy didn’t set sail until 1797.

3. THE COAST GUARD RAN THE DISTRICT OF ALASKA.

As part of an effort to lay telegraph cable from the United States to Russia, the U.S. Lighthouse Service, working subordinate to the Revenue Cutter Service, made first contact with Russia’s Alaskan coast. Later, the Revenue Cutter Service brought U.S. officials to and from the new Alaskan territory. During the 1870s, the service was charged with enforcing hunting and fishing laws in the territory (seals, especially, were valuable for their pelts and hunted to the point of near-extinction). They were also given responsibility for rescuing ships in the Bering Sea and along the Arctic coast. The upshot is that the massive role of the Coast Guard’s predecessor meant that it was the only game in town—it essentially was the government. It even maintained “court cruises,” whereby judicial officials were sailed in to try criminal cases. It also provided care and comfort in the forms of food, medicine, and supplies to villagers in the arctic.

4. ONE MEMBER OF THE COAST GUARD PICKED A HELL OF A WEEK TO QUIT DRINKING.

Lloyd Bridges, Beau Bridges, and Jeff Bridges (The Dude!) all served in the Coast Guard, as did “The King,” Arnold Palmer. The Joker’s shipmates probably got a few laughs in—Cesar Romero was a guardian. Maybe the most famous member of them all, though: Popeye.

5. THE COAST GUARD IS NOT PART OF THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE.

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The United States Coast Guard is the only branch of military service that doesn’t belong to the Defense Department. Rather, it is an arm of the Department of Homeland Security. Before the establishment of the DHS in 2002, it belonged to the Department of Transportation. Before that, it belonged to the Treasury Department. During a declared war, the Department of Defense can take operational control of the Coast Guard.

6. THE EXOSPHERE IS A KIND OF COAST.

Commander Bruce Melnick, the chief test pilot at the Coast Guard Aircraft Program Office, was the first guardian selected by NASA to serve as an astronaut. He flew on the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1990 and on the maiden voyage of the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1992. He has logged over 300 hours of space flight.

7. ADMISSION TO THE COAST GUARD ACADEMY DOES NOT REQUIRE CONGRESSIONAL NOMINATION.

Every year, 300 cadets attend the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. Cadets graduate as ensigns and have the option of attending flight school or graduate school. Unlike the other service schools, admission to the Coast Guard Academy does not require Congressional nomination. This is because the school’s first superintendent objected to the lousy quality of political appointments in general. Both Coast Guard astronauts are graduates of its academy.

8. IF THE DOGS ARE COMING AFTER YOU, IT'S GOING TO BE A BAD DAY.

Pirates seize your oil rig? You’re going to want to talk to the DOG. The Coast Guard command that handles counter-terrorism and high-threat situations is called the Deployable Operations Group. They're a quick reaction force whose teams handle maritime interdiction, force protection, nuclear-biological-chemical threats, counter-piracy, counter-terrorism, and anti-terrorism. Because the U.S. Coast Guard does not belong to the Department of Defense, its units do not belong to Special Operations Command. That said, the Navy has opened up its Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL course to guardians, and have graduated Coast Guard SEALs.

9. IT HAS A FRATERNAL ORDER KNOWN AS THE ANCIENT ORDER OF THE PTERODACTYL.

The Coast Guard Aviation Association is a fraternal organization of Coast Guard aviators. Its membership includes guardians and members of other military branches (of the United States and other countries) who have flown Coast Guard aircraft. Until 2007, it was known as the Ancient Order of the Pterodactyl.

10. THE LONGEST-SERVING COAST GUARD AVIATOR HOLDS A SPECIAL HONOR.

The longest-serving active Coast Guard aviator is designated as the Ancient Albatross. This pilot is bestowed traditional aviation gear of a leather coat, leather helmet, goggles, and white scarf, as well as the Royal Pterodactyl Egg. According to regulation, “Eligibility for the title of Ancient Albatross and entitlement to the award will be determined by ascertaining that aviator or aviation pilot on active duty whose date of designation as such precedes in point of time that of any other Coast Guard aviator or aviation pilot.”

11. THEIR AVERAGE DAY ISN'T SO AVERAGE.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard Boating Resource Center, on an average day, the Coast Guard conducts 109 searches and rescues, saves ten lives, seizes 169 pounds of marijuana and 306 pounds of cocaine worth $9,589,000.00, and investigates six vessel casualties.

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20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Firefly
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As any diehard fan will be quick to tell you, Firefly's run was far, far too short. Despite its truncated run, the show still offers a wealth of fun facts and hidden Easter eggs. On the 15th anniversary of the series' premiere, we're looking back at the sci-fi series that kickstarted a Browncoat revolution.

1. A CIVIL WAR NOVEL INSPIRED THE FIREFLY UNIVERSE.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels from author Michael Shaara was Joss Whedon’s inspiration for creating Firefly. It follows Union and Confederate soldiers during four days at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Whedon modeled the series and world on the Reconstruction Era, but set in the future.

2. ORIGINALLY, THE SERENITY CREW INCLUDED JUST FIVE MEMBERS.

When Whedon first developed Firefly, he wanted Serenity to only have five crew members. However, throughout development and casting, Whedon increased the cast from five to nine.

3. REBECCA GAYHEART WAS ORIGINALLY CAST TO PLAY INARA.

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Before Morena Baccarin was cast as Inara Serra, Rebecca Gayheart landed the role—but she was fired after one day of shooting because she lacked chemistry with the rest of the cast. Baccarin was cast two days later and started shooting that day.

4. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS WAS ALMOST DR. SIMON TAM.

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Before it went to Sean Maher, Neil Patrick Harris auditioned for the role of Dr. Simon Tam.

5. JOSS WHEDON WROTE THE THEME SONG.

Whedon wrote the lyrics and music for Firefly’s opening theme song, “The Ballad of Serenity.”

6. STAR WARS SPACECRAFT APPEAR IN FIREFLY.

Star Wars was a big influence on Whedon. Captain Malcolm Reynolds somewhat resembles Han Solo, while Whedon used the Millennium Falcon as inspiration to create Serenity. In fact, you can spot a few spacecraft from George Lucas's magnum opus on the show.

When Inara’s shuttle docks with Serenity in the pilot episode, an Imperial Shuttle can be found flying in the background. In the episode “Shindig,” you can see a Starlight Intruder as the crew lands on the planet Persephone.

7. HAN SOLO FROZEN IN CARBONITE POPS UP THROUGHOUT FIREFLY.

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Nathan Fillion is a big Han Solo fan, so the Firefly prop department made a 12-inch replica of Han Solo encased in Carbonite for the Canadian-born actor. You can see the prop in the background in a number of scenes.

8. ALIEN'S WEYLAND-YUTANI CORPORATION MADE AN APPEARANCE.

In Firefly’s pilot episode, the opening scene features the legendary Battle of Serenity Valley between the Browncoats and The Union of Allied Planets. Captain Malcolm Reynolds takes control of a cannon with a Weyland-Yutani logo inside of its display. Weyland-Yutani is the large conglomerate corporation in the Alien film franchise. (Whedon wrote Alien: Resurrection in 1997.)

9. ZAC EFRON'S ACTING DEBUT WAS ON FIREFLY.

A 13-year-old Zac Efron made his acting debut in the episode “Safe” in 2002. He played Young Simon in a flashback.

10. CAPTAIN MALCOLM REYNOLDS'S HORSE IS A WESTERN TROPE.

At its core, Firefly is a sci-fi western—and Malcolm Reynolds rides the same horse on every planet (it's named Fred).

11. FOX AIRED FIREFLY'S EPISODES OUT OF ORDER.

Fox didn’t feel Firefly’s two-hour pilot episode was strong enough to air as its first episode. Instead, “The Train Job” was broadcast first because it featured more action and excitement. The network continued to cherry-pick episodes based on broad appeal rather than story consistency, and eventually aired the pilot as the show’s final episode.

12. THE ALLIANCE'S ORIGINS ARE AMERICAN AND CHINESE.

The full name of The Alliance is The Anglo-Sino Alliance. Whedon envisioned The Alliance as a merger of American and Chinese government and corporate superpowers. The Union of Allied Planets’ flag is a blending of the American and Chinese national flags.

13. THE SERENITY LOUNGE SERVED AS AN ACTUAL LOUNGE.

Between set-ups and shots, the cast would hang out in the lounge on the Serenity set rather than trailers or green rooms.

14. INARA SERRA'S NAME IS MESOPOTAMIAN.

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Inara Serra is named after the Mesopotamian Hittite goddess, the protector of all wild animals.

15. THE CHARACTERS SWORE (JUST NOT IN ENGLISH).

The Firefly universe is a mixture of American and Chinese culture, which made it easy for writers to get around censors by having characters swear in Chinese.

16. THE UNIFORMS ARE RECYCLED FROM STARSHIP TROOPERS.

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The uniforms for Alliance officers and soldiers were the costumes from the 1997 science fiction film Starship Troopers. The same costumes were repurposed again for the Starship Troopers sequel.

17. "SUMMER!" MEANS SOMEONE MESSED UP.

Every time a cast member flubbed one of his or her lines, they would yell Summer Glau’s name. This was a running gag among the cast after Glau forgot her lines in the episode “Objects In Space.”

18. THE SERENITY SPACESHIP WAS BUILT TO SCALE.

The interior of Serenity was built entirely to scale; rooms and sections were completely contiguous. The ship’s interior was split into two stages, one for the upper deck and one for the lower. Whedon showed off the Firefly set in one long take to open the Serenity movie.

19. "THE MESSAGE" SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE SHOW'S FAREWELL.

Although “The Message” was the twelfth episode, it was the last episode filmed during Firefly’s short run. Composer Greg Edmonson wrote a piece of music for a funeral scene in the episode, which served as a final farewell to the show. Sadly, it was one of three episodes (the other two were “Trash” and “Heart of Gold”) that didn’t air during Firefly’s original broadcast run on Fox.

20. FIREFLY AND SERENITY WERE SENT TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

American Astronaut Steven Ray Swanson is a big fan of Firefly, so when he was sent to the International Space Station for his first mission (STS-117) in 2007, he brought DVD copies of Firefly and its feature film Serenity aboard with him. The DVDs are now a permanent part of the space station’s library.

This post originally appeared in 2014.

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10 Hush-Hush Facts About L.A. Confidential
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On this day 20 years ago, a rising star director, a writer who thought he’d never get the gig, and a remarkable cast got together to make a film about the corrupt underbelly of 1950s Los Angeles, and the men and women who littered its landscape. This was L.A. Confidential, a film so complex that its creator (legendary crime writer James Ellroy) thought it was “unadaptable.” In the end, it was one of the most acclaimed movies of the 1990s, a film noir classic that made its leading actors into even bigger stars, and which remains an instantly watchable masterpiece to this day. Here are 10 facts about how it got made.

1. THE SCRIPTING PROCESS WAS TOUGH.

Writer-director Curtis Hanson had been a longtime James Ellroy fan when he finally read L.A. Confidential, and the characters in that particular Ellroy novel really spoke to him, so he began working on a script. Meanwhile, Brian Helgeland—originally contracted to write an unproduced Viking film for Warner Bros.—was also a huge Ellroy fan, and lobbied hard for the studio to give him the scripting job. When he learned that Hanson already had it, the two met, and bonded over their mutual admiration of Ellroy’s prose. Their passion for the material was clear, but it took two years to get the script done, with a number of obstacles.

"He would turn down other jobs; I would be doing drafts for free,” Helgeland said. “Whenever there was a day when I didn't want to get up anymore, Curtis tipped the bed and rolled me out on the floor."

2. IT WAS ORIGINALLY INTENDED AS A MINISERIES.

When executive producer David Wolper first read Ellroy’s novel, he saw the dense, complex story as the perfect fodder for a television miniseries, and was promptly turned down by all the major networks at the time.

3. JAMES ELLROY DIDN’T THINK THE BOOK COULD BE ADAPTED.

Though Wolper was intrigued by the idea of telling the story onscreen, Ellroy and his agent laughed at the thought. The author felt his massive book would never fit on any screen.

“It was big, it was bad, it was bereft of sympathetic characters,” Ellroy said. “It was unconstrainable, uncontainable, and unadaptable.”

4. CURTIS HANSON SOLD THE FILM WITH CLASSIC LOS ANGELES IMAGES.

To get the film made, Hanson had to convince New Regency Pictures head Arnon Milchan that it was worth producing. To do this, he essentially put together a collage of classic Los Angeles imagery, from memorable locations to movie stars, including the famous image of Robert Mitchum leaving jail after his arrest for using marijuana.

"Now you've seen the image of L.A. that was sold to get everybody to come here. Let's peel back the image and see where our characters live,” Hanson said.

Milchan was sold.

5. KEVIN SPACEY WAS ON HANSON’S WISH LIST FOR YEARS.

Though the other stars of the film were largely discoveries of the moment, Kevin Spacey was apparently someone Hanson wanted to work with for years. Spacey described Hanson as a director “who’d been trying for years and years and years to get me cast in films he made, and the studio always rejected me.” After Spacey won an Oscar for The Usual Suspects, Hanson called the actor and said “I think I’ve got the role, and I think they’re not gonna say no this time.”

6. SPACEY’S CHARACTER IS BASED ON DEAN MARTIN.

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Though he cast relative unknowns in Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce, Hanson wanted an American movie star for the role of Jack Vincennes, and decided on Kevin Spacey. In an effort to convince Spacey to take the role, Hanson invited him to dine at L.A.’s famous Formosa Cafe (where scenes in the film are actually set). While at the cafe, Spacey asked a vital question:

“If it was really 1952, and you were really making this movie, who would you cast as Jack Vincennes? And [Hanson] said ‘Dean Martin.’”

At that point, Spacey looked up at the gallery of movie star photos which line the cafe, and realized Martin’s photo was right above him.

“To this day, I don’t know whether he sat us in that booth on purpose, but there was Dino looking down at me,” Spacey said.

After his meeting with Hanson, Spacey watched Martin’s performances in Some Came Running (1958) and Rio Bravo (1959), and realized that both films featured characters who mask vulnerability with a layer of cool. That was the genesis of Jack Vincennes.

7. HANSON CHOSE MUCH OF THE MUSIC BEFORE FILMING.

To help set the tone for his period drama, Hanson began selecting music of the early 1950s even before filming began, so he could play it on set as the actors went to work. Among his most interesting choices: When Jack Vincennes sits in a bar, staring at the money he’s just been bribed with, Dean Martin’s “Powder Your Face With Sunshine (Smile! Smile! Smile!)” plays, a reference to both the character’s melancholy, and to Spacey and Hanson’s decision to base the character on Martin.

8. THE CINEMATOGRAPHY WAS INSPIRED BY ROBERT FRANK PHOTOGRAPHS.

To emphasize realism and period accuracy, cinematographer Dante Spinotti thought less about the moving image, and more about still photographs. In particular, he used photographer Robert Frank’s 1958 collection "The Americans" as a tool, and relied less on artificial light and more on environmental light sources like desk lamps.

"I tried to compose shots as if I were using a still camera,” Spinotti said. “I was constantly asking myself, 'Where would I be if I were holding a Leica?' This is one reason I suggested shooting in the Super 35 widescreen format; I wanted to use spherical lenses, which for me have a look and feel similar to still-photo work.”

9. THE FINAL STORY TWIST IS NOT IN THE BOOK.

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[SPOILER ALERT] In the film, Jack Vincennes, Ed Exley, and Bud White are all chasing a mysterious crime lord known as “Rollo Tomasi,” who turns out to be their own LAPD colleague, Dudley Smith (James Cromwell). Though Vincennes, Exley, and White are all native to Ellroy’s novel, the Tomasi name is entirely an invention of the film.

10. ELLROY APPROVED OF THE MOVIE.

To adapt L.A. Confidential for the screen, Hanson and Helgeland condensed Ellroy’s original novel, boiling the story down to a three-person narrative and ditching other subplots so they could get to the heart of the three cops at the center of the movie. Ellroy, in the end, was pleased with their choices.

“They preserved the basic integrity of the book and its main theme, which is that everything in Los Angeles during this era of boosterism and yahooism was two-sided and two-faced and put out for cosmetic purposes,” Ellroy said. “The script is very much about the [characters'] evolution as men and their lives of duress. Brian and Curtis took a work of fiction that had eight plotlines, reduced those to three, and retained the dramatic force of three men working out their destiny. I've long held that hard-boiled crime fiction is the history of bad white men doing bad things in the name of authority. They stated that case plain.”

Additional Sources:
Inside the Actors Studio: Kevin Spacey (2000)

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