Written by Christopher McBriarty
“Eight separate boardings in seven days – that’s unbelievable,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Walker Stippel, who accepted the Coast Guard Foundation’s National Award for Heroism on behalf of the crew of Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf. “I was there and involved in every one and when I think about it I almost can’t believe it.”
Stippel was one of 12 crewmembers representing Bertholf, including its commanding officer Capt. Laura Collins, who were all honored at the Coast Guard Foundation’s 36th Annual Salute to the U.S. Coast Guard on Oct. 6 in New York City. The crew of Bertholf received the Foundation’s national award for not just this extraordinary week, but extraordinary year. From May 2015 to April 2016, the Bertholf crew, its Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron and Cryptological Group detachments completed two deployments to the Eastern Pacific totaling 213 days away from homeport.
Repeatedly placed in harms way, the Bertholf teams adeptly defeated the attempts of 19 drug-smuggling vessels in some of the most prolific and inherently dangerous counter-drug pursuits in Coast Guard history. Most notable were the interdictions of two self-propelled semi-submersible smuggling vessels, with the Bertholf living up to its motto ‘Legends Begin Here’ with one of those two interdictions being the first-ever nighttime semi-submersible interdiction.
“This was a collaborative effort of all the teams embarked working together as one powerful force – we were astonishing,” said Stippel, who has been part of 25 drug interdictions during his time aboard Bertholf. “We were an extraordinary team, from captain to seaman apprentice, we could not have achieved the level of success without the immense amount of hard work required by each and every individual onboard.”
In all, the Bertholf crew detained 58 suspected narco-traffickers and prevented over 50,700 pounds of narcotics – with a street value of over $806 million – from reaching the United States. These efforts were responsible for over 10 percent of the Coast Guard’s total cocaine seizures in 2015.
“We are humbled to be able to honor the excellence of the Bertholf and [its] detachments for their outstanding achievements in service to our nation,” said Coast Guard Foundation President Anne B. Brengle. “The tireless dedication of these individuals consistently coming together as one to complete difficult and dangerous Coast Guard missions is truly deserving of our National Award for Heroism.”