Post Written by Ensign Lindsay Cook
Just to re-cap, during this visit I’m learning about the Coast Guard’s ports, waterways and coastal security (PWCS) mission. In my first post I talked about getting underway with the Seattle/Bainbridge ferry and interacting with the crew and passengers to learn more about the importance of the ferry to locals.
But now I’d like to share what it was like learning about PWCS at Coast Guard Station Seattle, which is where I went Monday afternoon to meet the crew, go on a ferry escort and see the PWCS mission up close.
Upon arriving at Station Seattle, I was greeted by the commanding officer, Lt. Melanie Burnham. She explained that one of the unit’s primary missions is homeland security and they do lots of PWCS missions. Conducting PWCS deters terrorists from using the Maritime Transportation System (MTS) as a way to attack the U.S., our population centers, vessels, critical infrastructure or other key resources. When I asked her about PWCS missions, she shared that the station conducts random ferry escorts and inspects critical infrastructure. I was then given a tour of the station and got a better understanding of what qualifications the crew members had to have to execute PWCS.
Lt. Burnham explained that before any crewmember can qualify as a crewmember, they had to memorize Station Seattle’s area of responsibility (AOR), the area that a unit is responsible for monitoring and responding within. She also shared that crewmembers undergo law enforcement (LE) training, usually have boarding officer (BO) or boarding team member (BTM) qualifications, and each member has to be qualified in knowing the specifications on each boat, like its speeds, range and safe operating parameters.
Before getting underway for my first ferry escort, I had to get suited up in the right safety gear. During the winter months, when air and water temperatures are low, crewmembers are required to wear a dry suit and a helmet. The dry suit helps keep crewmembers warm and dry, and in the event they fall in the water it provides thermal insulation. The helmet is also necessary because the water can get choppy which makes for a rough ride.
We headed out on one of the two 25-foot small boats with four crewmembers; three qualified tactical crewmembers and a qualified coxswain. One of the three qualified tactical crewmembers manned the M240 machine gun on the bow, while the rest of the crew remained inside the boat.
For every escort, which is actually an enforcement of a security zone around the ferry, there are always at least two 25-foot boats, each manned with a M240 machine gun. During the escort one the crewmembers notifies the ferry that they’re from Station Seattle and providing an escort. The CG boats then ride alongside the ferry keeping communication with the each other and keeping an eye out for any other vessels that could potentially get near the ferry or otherwise violate the security zone around the boat. If someone started getting too close the Coast Guard’s job is to position a boat in such a way as to prevent whatever the potential threat might be from getting to the ferry. On today’s escort everything went smoothly, and nobody had to be intercepted.
After the escort we headed back to Station Seattle to stow our gear. The crew moored the boats, made sure the weapons didn’t have any ammunition and everyone changed out of the dry suits. After changing back into my uniform I spent some more time talking with the crew about their missions, and about life at Station Seattle.
Thank you to Station Seattle, D13 public affairs and D13 Auxiliary for coordinating this visit and giving me a much greater understanding of one of the Coast Guard’s five primary missions, maritime security.
Until next time,
ENS Lindsay Cook