Written by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Dean
This article can also be found on the Coast Guard Alaska blog page.
Following the events of 9/11, we know that there are viable threats that can happen on U.S. soil, but what about those with a maritime nexus? When, and if, the need to eliminate a terrorist threat comes in, the Coast Guard has waterside potential in the Coast Guard’s Maritime Security Response Team West like the one based out of San Diego. MSRT West can deploy at a moment’s notice and be set up and ready to take action on a target of interest.
MSRT West is a component of the Pacific Area command’s deployable forces and can be seen as the “teeth” of the maritime domain. They train in tactical operations throughout the year, maintaining a higher level of marksmanship training, fast-roping and small boat maneuvering skills that can be applied to a variety of situations.
The team can be sent anywhere from San Diego to Alaska, or wherever needed, to accomplish these kinds of tactical missions throughout their area of responsibility. To get to Alaska, there are a number of logistical hurdles to overcome like challenging weather conditions to prepare for.
To be ready this year for Alaska, the team coordinated through a large cross section of agencies, they executed logistical missions and set up command and control rooms to do a real time exercise in a small Alaskan town.
During Operation Pelagic Strike, a training exercise conducted in Cordova in April, residents volunteered to board the ferry Aurora for this highly technical and layered exercise. It was meant to enhance the team members’ skills by simulating a threat of this nature outside their normal working environment in remote portions of Alaska.
“Operating in Alaska is not easy, weather is always a factor and logistics are critical to mission success,” said Capt. Dwight Collins, commanding officer of MSRT West. “The exercise allowed the Coast Guard, District 17, and MSRT West to integrate with a multitude of intra-agency partners at the strategic and tactical level in order to respond to a short-notice maritime response event within the challenging 17th District area of operations.”
This event took months of planning and involved multiple local, state and federal entities, said Collins. The team travels with a lot of gear to train, including their own boats that have to be shipped up to Alaska from the contiguous United States.
To move three 33-foot Special Purpose Craft-Law Enforcement boats from San Diego to Alaska, Collins said Coast Guard personnel had to coordinate with U.S. Air National Guard personnel to fly the boats via the Air National Guard’s C-17 Globemaster IIIs, it took three of these aircraft to complete the transport.
Pacific Area, Coast Guard 17th District, MSRT West, Director of Operational Logistics, U.S. Transportation Command, the Alaska Air National Guard, Alaskan Command, the Civil Air Patrol, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Alaska Marine Highway personnel, Federal Bureau of Investigation – Anchorage field office personnel, Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Valdez, Coast Guard Station Valdez and the City of Cordova Emergency Management office all made this Alaska Shield/Pelagic Strike/Ardent Sentry exercise a success, Collins emphasized.
“In Cordova, emergency response is an all hands evolution,” said Collins. “Unlike many larger cities in the lower 48, the citizens of Cordova are not waiting for the police or fire departments, or someone else to come in and solve the problem for the citizenry. It was very impressive to see.”
This exercise marks the second time this year that team members have been able to train in the unique environment that Alaska offers.
Team members deployed to Kodiak in February to train similar tactics aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley (WMEC 39), with the addition of fast-roping evolutions from an Alaska Air National Guard UH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter to the flight deck of the Alex Haley.
When speaking about MSRT West team members returning to train in Alaska, Collins stated that it is essential in order to provide short notice maritime response capabilities throughout PACAREA’s area of responsibility, which includes California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska’s coasts.
“Maritime Security Response Team West will be back to conduct periodic fast-rope training with the professionals from the 176th Rescue Wing 210th Air Rescue Squadron, who fly the HH-60 Pave Hawk,” said Collins. “We are in discussion with various Department of Defense units in Alaska to participate in cold weather training in the future, and to learn best practices for survival and equipment.”
Regardless of when or where, specialized teams like the MSRT West coordinate to stay relevant in the fight against terrorism to protect the American public. This type of exercise, and the ones to come in the future, are a testament to the Coast Guard’s dedication to secure our ports and waterways.