The Juniper was the first of its class (the lead ship) of the U.S. Coast Guard’s (USCG) seagoing buoy tenders.
The USCG seagoing buoy tender is a type of USCG cutter that is “used to service aids to navigation (ATON) throughout the waters of the United States and wherever American shipping interests require.” The Coast Guard has had a fleet of seagoing buoy tenders going back to its origins as the U.S. Lighthouse Service (USLHS).
The Juniper-class ships, which were launched beginning in the mid-1990s, are the second group (class) of purpose-built Coast Guard seagoing buoy tenders. The first class was known as the 180s (180-feet-long cutters). During World War II, 39 of these vessels were constructed between 1942 and 1944. All but one of them were built in shipyards in Duluth, Minnesota. Many of these ships served for more than 50 years (with mid-life modifications). All of the 180s are now retired; the last 180-foot cutter, the USCGC Acacia, was decommissioned on June 7, 2006.
The Coast Guard’s Juniper-class cutters are 225-feet in length and weigh some 2,000 tons. They were designed – and are operated – as multi-mission platforms. While the 180s performed other Coast Guard missions as well, they lacked the “speed, communications, navigation and maneuverability” of the Juniper-class cutters.
According to the Coast Guard, “Juniper’s Integrated Ship Control System has an Electronic Charting Display and Information System that enables it to fix her position to within five meters every second. Her Dynamic Positioning System uses this positioning information, the ship’s controllable-pitch propeller, and the stern and bow thrusters to keep the ship on station without any human input.”
The state-of-the-art systems installed on Juniper-class cutters allow the ships and their crews to “work more buoys in less time, more efficiently and safely, and in tougher environmental conditions than her predecessors.” The Juniper-class cutters’ “Machinery Plant Control and Monitoring System includes over 1,000 sensors” throughout each ship. The system allows one person in the engine room control center to monitor the ship’s plant while underway.
At this time, the Juniper-class cutters conduct almost as much law enforcement as aid to navigation work. In addition, they are also “outfitted to handle electronic charting, position-keeping, and remote engineering monitoring and control.” Moreover, the Juniper-class ships use dynamic positioning that allows them to maintain their positions within a 33-foot circle in winds of up to 30 knots (35 mph) and waves of up to 8 feet.
USCGC Juniper was officially commissioned less than two weeks after being launched. When she was commissioned the ship was under the command of Commander Timothy S. Sullivan, a 1975 graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Sullivan retired from the USCG with the rank of rear admiral in 2013.
Since she began her USCG service, Juniper and her crew have been involved in missions that have involved areas such as law enforcement, homeland security, environmental pollution, and search-and-rescue efforts. For example, the Juniper had a primary role in the recovery operations following the crashes of TWA Flight 800 in 1996 and Egypt Air in 1999. In addition, the cutter assisted in protection and anti-terrorist operations in the New York City region after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
On a very different type of mission in 2007, Juniper took part in major reef-building efforts off the coast of New Jersey. As part of the mission, the ship “deployed approximately 160,000 pounds of concrete sinkers recovered from old buoy markers to assist in the recovery of local fish populations.”
Originally based in Newport, Rhode Island, Juniper started her midlife maintenance availability upgrades and overhauls at the Coast Guard Yard in Maryland on September 25, 2019.
Today, the Juniper is home-ported in Honolulu, on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. The 50th state in the United States, Hawaii is separated from the mainland by over 2,300 miles, making it the most isolated population center in the world. However, few ports have the military facilities in and around Honolulu, which is considered the “crossroads of the Pacific.” Juniper moors at Base Honolulu on Sand Island in Honolulu Harbor. Nearby and even closer to Coast Guard housing are Joint Base Hickam and Pearl Harbor. In addition, Hawaii has some of the finest recreational and cultural facilities in the United States.
The Juniper’s primary mission at her current duty station is to maintain ATON using the ship’s Dynamic Positioning System or its team of scuba divers. (The Juniper is one of six USCG cutters with a working dive team.) There are buoys off of all of the major Hawaiian Islands and American Samoa, which the cutter works bi-annually. Other missions that the Juniper is involved in include “maritime law enforcement, patrol of ports and waterways, coastal security, search and rescue operations, and environmental protection.”
Juniper and its crew of eight officers and 40 enlisted members also visit various island nations in the South Pacific.
The first Juniper was commissioned into the USLHS in 1903. The USLHS was a uniformed service completely separate from the Coast Guard, which was formed in 1915 by the merger of the Lifesaving Service and the Revenue Cutter Service. THe USLHS’ Juniper was homeported in Baltimore, and was responsible for resupplying lighthouses and maintaining navigational buoys in the Chesapeake Bay. While only 95 feet long and weighing 125 tons, the Juniper was built well and served with distinction until it was decommissioned in 1932. It then served as a Norfolk-based civilian cargo vessel until 1979.
The USLHS constructed the second Juniper in the late 1930s. However, as part of another government reorganization, the USLHS was absorbed into the U.S. Coast Guard in 1939. The Juniper then was designated as a Coastal Buoy Tender. A twin-propeller, diesel electric vessel, the Juniper became the prototype for the 180-foot class of ocean-going buoy tenders. As a Coast Guard vessel the Juniper operated out of St. Petersburg, Florida. She serviced ATON along Florida’s Gulf Coast until being decommissioned in 1975.
As one of the six branches of the U.S. armed forces, the U.S. Coast Guard has a multi-pronged mission to help keep the United States safe. The men and women who serve on the Juniper-class ships and on other Coast Guard vessels and duty stations are to be commended for their service to our nation.
P.S. – Happy birthday to the USCGC Juniper on her 27th birthday!!!