The U.S. Coast Guard lived up to its motto of being “Always Ready” in 2011 – from interdicting the first drug sub in Caribbean waters to providing humanitarian relief to a drought-stricken island nation, Coast Guard crews had a remarkable year. As 2011 winds down, Compass brings to you “Your Coast Guard in 2011” – a series highlighting the top stories, missions and cases from around the nation.
We’ve taken you through each Coast Guard district, and today we will take a look at Atlantic Area, consisting of Coast Guard districts east of the Mississippi.
Written by Lt. Cmdr. Jamie C. Frederick.
From the Rocky Mountains to the Arabian Gulf; Canada to the Caribbean Sea, the men and women of the Coast Guard’s Atlantic Area have served our nation well in 2011. The past year has been a challenging one with several crisis events, a new threat emerging in the Caribbean Sea and continued demands to serve the maritime community.
“The men and women of Atlantic Area performed brilliantly during several extraordinary events including response to a new threat in our area of responsibility, historic flooding in the Midwest and Hurricane Irene,” said Vice Adm. Rob Parker, commander Atlantic Area. “They are America’s first responders, and their tremendous service is invaluable to the American people.”
An offshore presence
Coast Guard crews in Atlantic Area saw a new threat emerge in the trafficking of narcotics through the Caribbean – drug subs. Coast Guard Cutter Seneca interdicted the first self-propelled, semi-submersible in July, marking the first of three drug-sub interdictions over a six-week period. Adding to the challenge presented by new smuggling tactics was the difficulty of operating legacy cutters.
“The cutter fleet is essential as part of our layered security for the offshore presence America requires to protect its interests at sea,” said Parker. “Atlantic Area crews continued to perform remarkably in spite of operating numerous assets that are past their intended lifespan.”
East Coast high endurance cutters Dallas and Gallatin were commissioned in the late 1960s and underwent major overhauls in 2009 to correct deficiencies in an effort to extend their operational lives. Gallatin lost more than two years of patrol time as a result, yet immediately proved its worth to American security by extending the rule of law to the sea. In just two patrols, the Gallatin crew seized more than 11,000 pounds of cocaine and marijuana. The removal of these narcotics, with a street value of more than $100 million from the hands of criminals, ensured they would never make it into the hands of our nation’s youth.
Search and rescue
An Air Station Cape Cod Falcon aircrew coordinated the successful rescue of a Canadian couple when their sailboat became damaged and lost at sea. This happened just four months after retiring the first of their HU-25 Falcon jets in anticipation of getting HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircraft, and on the 20th anniversary of The Perfect Storm.
The Falcon crew was performing a storm track mission, acting as a flying radio station to give mariners advanced notice of the approaching storm, when they received a call from a distressed sailboat. The aircrew remained on scene until a boatcrew from Station Provincetown, Mass., arrived and towed the vessel to port in 20-foot seas.
Atlantic Area is already benefiting from recapitalized aviation assets. In November, an HC-144 crew from Miami was instrumental in the rescue of four overdue fishermen near Marco Island, Fla. Using advanced sensors on board the Ocean Sentry, the aircrew located the sailors who were clinging to the hull of their overturned boat for almost 24 hours. The new HC-144, with state-of-the-art sensors and highly-trained aircrew is an invaluable asset that extends the Coast Guard’s operational capabilities.
Spring flooding in the Midwest was significant and the Coast Guard provided resources and skills by staging Disaster Assistance Recovery Teams to support the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and assist people in distress. During this operation, the Coast Guard rescued 22 people and assisted in the cleanup of numerous environmental hazards.
On August 20, the National Hurricane Center issued the first of its tropical storm warnings to what would later become Hurricane Irene. After tracking its way over Puerto Rico and up the Atlantic Coast, Irene made landfall near Wilmington, N.C., and punished the Outer Banks with 90 mph winds.
Atlantic Area, along with the 5th Coast Guard District, relocated to St. Louis, Mo., and captains of the port closed ports as a precaution. The Maritime Transportation System Recovery Unit was responsible for working with the Navy and other maritime stakeholders to prioritize the needs, cargos and delivery schedules to minimize conflicts. Additionally, Coast Guard crews conducted waterway assessments to ensure safe navigation of all vessels. This collaboration enabled quick reconstitution of ports with little impact to the flow of commerce.
Combatant commander support
The Coast Guard continued to maintain a presence in the Arabian Gulf with Patrol Forces Southwest Asia. PATFORSWA provides U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet with combat ready assets, access to foreign territorial seas and ports and unique expertise and flexibility. Six 110-foot patrol boats in the Arabian Gulf are still actively involved in oil platform protection; although, much of the mission has shifted to train other countries naval forces and build lasting relationships. Throughout the year, Coast Guard forces conducted professional exchanges, exercises and combined operations with numerous partner countries in the region. Each of these elements supports the combatant commander by providing unique capabilities to supplement the Fifth Fleet’s operations.
The above highlights offer only a snapshot of all of the remarkable work performed in 2011 by the men and women of Coast Guard Atlantic Area.
“Everyone within Atlantic Area is committed to operational excellence, and the events of 2011 tested our skills and endurance,” said Parker. “The Atlantic Area team met those challenges with great enthusiasm and professional competence – the American people would expect nothing less from its Coast Guard.”