After nearly 45 years of service to the nation, Coast Guard Cutter Dallas is being decommissioned. From performing naval gunfire support missions off Vietnam to being the command ship during the 1980 Mariel Boatlift, Dallas has truly seen it all. As Dallas is decommissioned, a new fleet of national security cutters are coming on the line to protect and serve our nation. They stand at the ready to perform homeland security missions at sea, just as Dallas did for decades.
We continue our series honoring Dallas, with a farewell from the ship’s commanding officer.
Written by Capt. Jim Munro, commanding officer of Coast Guard Cutter Dallas.
Endings usually stir a little melancholy. I am not talking about the end of a long deployment – which is normally reason for some celebration – but something a bit more weighty: the last patrol for a Coast Guard ship in a nearly 45-year-long career. Such is the case aboard Dallas as we sail homeward bound for the last time as a Coast Guard cutter.
Through most of this more than 90-day patrol we have focused on simply getting underway and staying underway; a greater feat than one may think. After four decades of service, Dallas’ equipment failures have impacted our ability to perform missions on a daily basis and throughout this patrol the crew has worked through some amazing challenges.
During months of preparation, a hole was cut in Dallas’ hull and a main diesel engine block was replaced. The crew then worked to pull together systems that were dormant during a long in-port period and breathed life back into them. They fought through a flurry of last-minute equipment casualties and the material challenges of an old ship were felt immediately as we experienced problems with the reduction gear lubrication systems.
After diverting to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for repairs, we were back underway. A long stint of operations followed, 30 days worth, and it felt good to get that under our belt, especially as two go-fast interdictions occurred in that intense period.
In the first half of Dallas’ final patrol there was not too much talk of “endings.” We were simply too busy. But as we neared the end of our patrol, endings began coming back up as a topic of conversation. “Lasts” were first on folks’ minds again: the last time in “GTMO,” the last time Dallas will be seen in a foreign port call, the last time a Coast Guard helicopter would land on our flight deck.
For me, it started with our fourth stop in Cuba, which brought back memories of when I first saw Coast Guard Cutter Dallas. Prior to taking over as Dallas’ last commanding officer I had last seen her moored in Guantanamo Bay around Thanksgiving of 1991. I was aboard one of three 110-foot patrol boats dispatched from Puerto Rico to assist in the latest round of Haitian mass-migration. As we rounded Corinaso Point, I will never forget the sight. A Navy “gator” boat appeared overrun by migrants. It looked like a large Haitian village with a grey background, people everywhere and laundry hanging all over. Certainly the most colorful Navy ship I had ever seen.
There were other vessels there – Navy and Coast Guard – all covered with Haitian migrants. Dallas was moored there, too. At that time Capt. Robert C. Olsen, a former commanding officer of mine, was skipper of Dallas and serving as commander of the task unit, coordinating rescue operations during this crisis – something the ship was called upon to do repeatedly in its history. That scene of managed chaos in Guantanamo Bay, migrants everywhere, uniformed folks mixed in randomly and news crews scattered over the docks, comes to mind nearly every time I have pulled into GTMO since.
However, I can never dwell too long on “lasts” without considering what is coming next. Dallas’ commissioning pennant will be lowered and retired. But it is when the crews go – without that previous stream of earnest replacements – that is when the ship truly fades away.
Endings also mark beginnings of course. Dallas’ current crew moves on to its next place of duty as does the ship. I wonder as I sit writing this on the starboard bridge wing chair – my favorite place on the cutter – who will be sitting here next. Where will they be? I am watching the horizon as Dallas sails through the Caribbean the last time as a Coast Guard cutter, wondering if she will be fighting pirates in the Malaccan Strait – the boy in me hopes so – with other regional nations, or establishing a sovereign strategic presence in foreign waters. Wherever she is, Dallas, under another flag, will still have a purposeful duty at sea.
Despite Dallas’ last patrol with the U.S. Coast Guard, our service’s missions will still be carried out. Dallas, and the 11 other original high endurance cutters, are being replaced by national security cutters. Faster, better equipped and more efficient than their predecessors, the crews aboard the new national security cutters will honor Dallas’ tradition of protecting American interests, today and for decades to come.