Tracklines: The course of the U.S. Coast Guard in maritime warfare – A Junior Officer’s Perspective

In her short time aboard Coast Guard Cutter Stratton, Lt. j.g. Angela-Ruth Johnson, an Oak Harbor, Washington native, has had once in a lifetime experiences in the Indo-Pacific.

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by Chief Petty Officer Sara Muir

“Conn, Nav Eval, recommend you come to course 120°.”

“Roger. Nav Eval, helm come to course 120°.”

“Aye. Coming to course 120°.”

With that, 418-feet of white steel swing direction and adjust course through the Western Pacific as the crew of the USCGC Stratton (WMSL 752) continues their patrol eastward toward the U.S. and eventually to homeport in Alameda, California.

Lt. j.g. Angela-Ruth Johnson, an Oak Harbor, Washington native, is assisting and training a new navigation evaluator during this particular evolution on the bridge. She is also charting her course. Her primary role is serving as the assistant operations officer aboard Stratton. This is her third year in the fleet, and she is responsible for assisting the operations officer with all major evolutions conducted by the crew. She is not the first sailor in her family. Her father Robert was an enlisted aviation electrician in the U.S. Navy and retired to Pensacola, Florida, at the rank of Chief Petty Officer.

Her father’s last day in the Navy was her first day in the U.S. Coast Guard, as she reported to the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. A 2017 graduate of the academy, she holds a degree in operations research and computer analysis. Her first assignment was aboard USCGC Diligence (WMEC 616) on the East Coast.

Lt. j.g. Angela-Ruth Johnson stands with her parents after her promotion ceremony in 2018. Johnson is the current assistant operations officer on USCGC Stratton (WMSL 752). (Photo courtesy Johnson family/Released)

The Stratton’s current patrol through the Indo-Pacific draws certain parallels to one of her father’s deployments aboard the USS Midway, homeported in Yokosuka, Japan, in the early 90s. Over the past four and half months, Stratton traveled throughout the South Pacific and the Far East on missions for both the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet and the U.S. Coast Guard places her father sailed decades earlier.

Then as now, with port calls, engagements, and exercises in the region, the U.S. Coast Guard is operating with our Pacific partners to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific where individual sovereignty is paramount and should always be protected.

Fresh off the third round of Maritime Training Activity Sama Sama, alongside the U.S. and Philippine Navies and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, Stratton demonstrated the Coast Guard’s ability to promote regional security cooperation, maintain and strengthen maritime partnerships, and enhance interoperability by conducting shared training. Joint teams including operations specialists and intelligence specialists focused on maritime domain awareness while engineers from Stratton worked with Philippine sailors on propulsion systems and firefighting training aboard the former USCGC Boutwell (WHEC 719), now the BRP Andres Bonafacio (PS 17).

Johnson participated directly in cross deck landings as a break-in helicopter control officer. Her team successfully embarked a Philippine helicopter and crew aboard the cutter’s flight deck while the Stratton’s MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew practiced landings to foreign ships in the area.

The crew of USCGC Stratton (WMSL 752) conduct helicopter operations in the Pacific, Nov. 1, 2019. Lt. j.g. Angela-Ruth Johnson is the assistant operations officer and serves as the break-in helicopter operations officer overseeing the evolution. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Sara Muir/Released)

“People are our most important resource,” said Cmdr. Jeff Ferlauto, executive officer, USCGC Stratton. “More than 25 years later Chief Johnson’s daughter is continuing to be part of the maritime bridge between our Department of Defense’s lethality and our State Department’s diplomacy that our Commandant, Adm. Karl Shultz, speaks of so highly. The relationships built by our people through exercises such as Sama Sama and Talisman Saber also build partner-nation capacity and model the rules-based values and behaviors we want to see in this region.”

What does Johnson think? “This deployment has been challenging. Working alongside the Navy has its own set of rules and parameters to which we’ve adapted. The first half of the patrol focused on non-Coast Guard missions such as surface warfare combat and defense of the ships. It was a new experience for me as a tactical control officer (TAO). Our earlier exercise, Talisman Saber, was one big war-game with our partners and stood in sharp contrast to search and rescue, counterdrug, and fisheries missions. However, they all protect our nation and citizens in one way or another.”

In Talisman Saber just off the Australian coast, Johnson was TAO and managed secure traffic as the Stratton’s crew stepped in to provide fire support for the landing of U.S. Marines to Australian shores. These warfighters were simulating an insertion to retake occupied land. Formerly the Australian Navy was to provide this support but were called away during the exercise to intercept a real-world Chinese intelligence-gathering vessel. Johnson will take her current skills and continue to hone them. Her next goal is to serve as a commanding officer of a 154-foot Fast-Response Cutter.

The crew of USCGC Stratton (WMSL 752) conduct helicopter operations in the Pacific, Nov. 1, 2019. Lt. j.g. Angela-Ruth Johnson is the assistant operations officer and serves as the break-in helicopter operations officer overseeing the evolution. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Sara Muir/Released)

“My father was the first in our family to join the military voluntarily, and I’m the second,” said Johnson. The mariner streak continues in the Johnson family as her brother, currently in his final year, completes the Coast Guard Academy and enters the fleet in 2020.

“The U.S. Coast Guard is a unique instrument of national security with broad authorities, deep maritime expertise, and capable assets that provide consistent operational presence within the Indo-Pacific, including Oceania, also known as the Blue Pacific. I am proud to be among these integral Pacific partners and part of a family with a legacy of sea service.”

The 150 crew members of Stratton have been on deployment under the operational control of the Navy’s Seventh Fleet in the Indo-Pacific region since June conducting joint missions. Their patrol will continue as the head east through November. The U.S. Coast Guard has an enduring role in the Indo-Pacific, going back over 150 years, and the ongoing deployment of resources to the region directly supports U.S. foreign policy and national security objectives.

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