[from the stabenow.com vaults, 2007]
It’s no secret why we’re out here. We’re interdicting illegal drugs (cocaine, marijuana, recently there has been a big increase in heroin) before they hit American streets. Our HITRON program has been especially effective. Just before we arrived on station our sister cutter, the Sherman, intercepted a shipment of 19 tons of cocaine, the biggest bust in Coast Guard history.
I’ve already told you that this is a highly-motivated, well-trained crew. They want a go fast so bad they can taste it. And I want it for them, they have been working so hard to that end. It doesn’t always happen, though. We could go a whole patrol without a single bust. Sometimes it’s just a matter of establishing a picket line the drug runners can’t get across.
What is secret is what specifically we’re doing when and where. The drug lords have all the money in the world and they can hire all the expert advice they need. As soon as we develop a tactic and use it against them, they develop a tactic to counter it. So we don’t tell. I’m not going to tell you what little I have learned, either, or not until somebody says I can.
And today, the Captain says, I can tell you what it’s like on board ship when we set the go fast bill. Remember swim call the other day? That evening, almost time for Taps, the pipe came across the 1MC and “Now, set go fast red!” echoed over the ship. Immediately following we could hear that unmistakable whine as both turbines began winding up, followed by an equally distinctive roll of the hull. I teleported myself to the bridge.
Weps LTJG Kevin Beaudoin explains setting the go fast bill, which varies from ship to ship. Aboard Munro, at go fast green, the ship moves into a heightened state of readiness. The LE (law enforcement) team dresses out, the boat deck crew and the boat crew and the flight crew are all put on alert. At go fast amber we may have a report of a hard target, either from a contact made by our helo on routine patrol, a lookout, by radar, or by another asset in the area. At go fast red, it means we got a solid contact, identified and possibly engaged a target, a go fast or a mother ship, and we launch a small boat, the helo, or both.
This time we blew straight through green and amber to red. Shift to Ops LT James Terrell. “We detected what appeared to be multiple contacts on radar going thirty knots, a typical speed for go fasts.” They were northbound, which naturally was of particular interest. “It came within a mile of the ship,” Jimmy says. “The radar was very good, from five miles south of the ship to five miles north.”
It was a particularly dark night, heavy cloud cover, no moon or stars showing through. We went immediately to flight quarters and briefed the aviators on the bridge wing.
The Mark 92 radar in CIC first saw the contact. Peering over BMC Wes Guilmartin’s shoulder at the SPS 73 radar on the bridge, I could see them myself, winking in and out of existence in little green flashes. ENS Chris McGhee had the deck (he’s like the deck watch lightning rod, there is always something going down on his watch), EMO Jimmy Olson was HCO, the rest of the watch and the flight ops bridge crew and of course the Captain and the XO were there. There were a whole lot of other people there, too, because everyone is pumped to be seeing action and everyone wants a piece of it. It’s already been a long day what with normal routine, the SCAT drill and the swim call but you’d never have known it at the light speed our crew was moving.
We launched the helo a very short time later going (classified) fast on both turbines, which surprised me. “Nah,” the Captain said, “they like wind.” The ship leapt ahead. On the darkened bridge BM2 Tony Molina grins and says, “We might get our wish tonight.” I cross my fingers at him. He’s the coxswain on the ready boat and he departs to stand by with his crew on the main deck. The LE team has dressed out and is on five minute standby.
The helo flew for an hour and a half. There was conflict between what Combat saw on their radar and what the bridge saw on theirs, but eventually the helo, flying two hundred feet above the surface, reported only a flock of birds – what they call biologics which can appear on radar as contacts on still, calm nights. “There is no doubt that the helo would have seen it had there been anything else there,” Jimmy says. The helo returned and we secured from flight ops close to the new day.
We call them ghost fasts. Sometimes birds and even dolphins will fool our radar. Just a couple of days ago “we chased after a contact reported by another asset,” Jimmy says. “I had eyes on that radar contact myself.” We have to respond every time, because next time it may not be biologic. That night the LE team slept in their gear, ready for a five-minute response. See photo, courtesy of LTJG Morgan Barbieri.
In this case “the crew responded very quickly,” Jimmy says.
“Good drill,” says the Captain.
I don’t have any other photos specific to this blog. In other posts I’ve put up pictures of the helo and of flight operations. Follow the links. In the meantime, here are a few extras I’ve been hoarding against this day, more engineers, and, thanks to BM2 Tim Myers, who now has the everlasting gratitude of my entire extended family, a photo of me being hauled into the shark boat by those two stalwart young men, BM3 Dario Garza and FN Sean Clark.
Captain Lloyd has invited me to continue with the ship until the next port call. Ops LT James Terrell has assured me that he’s positive, well, reasonably sure, uh, it’s fairly likely I’ll make my play date at Books in Bloom in Fayetteville, Arkansas on May 6, so I have accepted with becoming humility. Especially since I haven’t yet heard anyone growl, “Isn’t she ever leaving?”
All joking aside, I am honored. This is a terrific crew, and they have been embarrassingly grateful for the small service the blog provides them and their families. Yesterday BM2 Matt Hendricks told me, “I never really thought about what the cooks and the engineers do before.” Kinda fun, introducing them to themselves.
And to you.