Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael De Nyse
Fourteen tons of cocaine seized or disrupted with an estimated wholesale value of $423 million and 55 suspects were apprehended during 18 separate interdictions off the coast of Central and South America. These numbers aren’t a total year’s tally, which would still be impressive – this is just one 90-day patrol for the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell.
The Boutwell is a 378-foot high endurance cutter with a crew of about 160 people homeported in Naval Base San Diego. After peeling back the layers of leadership, expertise and crew cohesiveness, one would find three roots of their patrol excellence. Their recent success is contributed to their non-compliant vessel pursuit team, or NCVP, program, interagency cooperation and quality intelligence.
It’s important to know what crews like the Boutwell’s are trying to achieve when on patrol.
One of the Coast Guard’s missions is to reduce the supply of drugs from the source by denying smugglers the use of air and maritime routes in the ‘Transit Zone’, a six million square mile area, including the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and Eastern Pacific.
One tool in their arsenal to complete this mission is the utilization of a NCVP team.
“A NCVP team is a highly trained crew capable of conducting surface to surface use of force tactics to stop non-compliant vessels suspected of narcotics trafficking,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Jacob Gillis, boarding team officer aboard the Boutwell. “When I reported aboard, there wasn’t a single fully qualified team, so we had to identify the short comings and what we needed to do to change.”
A NCVP team is made up of five members: a boarding team officer, a pursuit coxswain, pursuit engineer, pursuit mission commander and a pursuit crewmember. All members must be qualified as boarding team members and all must be proficient in several different weapon types.
In just a few years, the Boutwell crew went from zero qualified NCVP teams to four qualified teams ready to respond at any given time. This simple transformation is one of the reasons the crew is so successful.
“What we have built into our program is resiliency and flexibility,” said Cmdr. Patrick Peschka, executive officer aboard the Boutwell. “By having multiple pursuit teams, we avoid having a single point of failure. We consider both short term and long term impacts when managing our pursuit program. We account for potential impacts arising from PCS transfers, TDY assignments and schools, emergency leave, injuries and crew fatigue.”
The command of the Boutwell recognizes the need to be able to pass the torch and Seaman Ruben Dumeng, one of the most junior members of the NVCP teams, might be in the position to lead one day.
“Being the lowest ranking individual between all the teams, the best thing I can do is learn from my shipmates who have experience already,” said Dumeng. “In doing so, it shows my command and the other members that I am ready for any training or real life scenario.”
The Coast Guard has a vast six million square mile area to patrol, which could seem like a daunting challenge, but they’re not alone in this fight.
Another example of their success is their operations with interagency partners as they coordinate closely with other federal agencies and countries within the region to disrupt and deter the flow of illegal drugs.
“Working closely with our international and interagency partners fosters our integration and interoperability for future joint and combined operations,” said Peschka. “Through unity of effort, we provide enhanced international maritime law enforcement capabilities enabling greater safety, security and economic success.”
It’s one thing to have the tools and the partners to achieve the mission, but without good intelligence, the operation can’t happen. That’s where Joint Interagency Task Force South plays their part. JIATF South conducts interagency and international detection and monitoring operations, and facilitates the interdiction of illicit trafficking and other narco-terrorist threats in support of national and partner nation security.
“JIATF South promotes cooperation and coordination and the sharing of information between different agencies and international partners,” said Peschka. “They allow for the effective use of resources, authorities and capabilities. Without JIATF South, there would be inefficiencies and redundancies in the execution of this mission.”
So when the question is asked how is the crew of the Boutwell so successful, the answer is simple. They require above standard qualified crewmembers, they have strong interagency partnerships, and profit from excellent intelligence that guide them to targets of interest. That’s how the Boutwell’s crew answers the call.