June 1 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump praised "America's first line of defense" as "the best of the best" during a Coast Guard change-of-command ceremony in Washington, D.C., Friday.
"America is safe because our Coast Guard is strong," he said. "You are the elite force that defends our borders, patrols our waters, protects our cities, and keeps our enemies at bay."
Trump applauded the Coast Guard for its work during last year's hurricane season that devastated Puerto Rico and parts of Texas and Florida. The 2018 Atlantic hurricane season began Friday.
"Our Coast Guard -- heroes they are -- saved almost 12,000 American lives in that short period. It's an unbelievable number when you think of it. It's an unbelievable number," Trump said.
The 25th Commandant, Adm. Paul Zukunft, was relieved by Adm. Karl Schultz in Friday's ceremony.
Trump said Zukunft sharpened the Coast Guard's focus on the Western Hemisphere, a legacy that will long outlive his tenure.
"This includes greater emphasis on drug interdiction, and the formation of historic partnerships to stop this deadly poison -- and that's what it is, it's poison -- from reaching our shores and destroying our youth and others," Trump said.
The president applauded Zukunft's efforts to protect America's interests in the Arctic to ensure the U.S. military projects "American might all the way to the poles."
Trump also announced an investment to give the military more tools to fight criminals and terrorists.
"You chase down our enemies, track down our adversaries, and face down our greatest threats," he told USCG members at the ceremony. "You secure our borders against traffickers, smugglers, criminals -- some of the worst people anywhere on Earth -- and we feel secure."