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NEWS | Dec. 17, 2013

Coast Guard cutter returns from final patrol

By Senior Airman Dennis Sloan Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

The United States Coast Guard national security cutter Gallatin (WHEC 721), and its 170-member crew, docked at a Charleston, S.C., pier Dec. 11, 2013, after its final patrol.

Gallatin's crew members seized more than 1,000 kilos of cocaine with a street value of $34 million during the ship's final patrol.

"It's an amazing feeling knowing that we are able to take that amount of illegal drugs off the street during any patrol, let alone the final for the Gallatin," said Cmdr. Steve Matadobra, Gallatin executive officer. "Crew members young and old on Gallatin worked through their Thanksgiving holiday away from families to complete the mission."

One member of the crew, Seaman Julian Cubides, received a call from President Barack Obama on Thanksgiving.

"He gave me a big thumbs-up and said I was doing a good job and to let the rest of the crew know they were all doing a good job too," said Cubides. "We talked a little about the Dolphins and the Heat, since I grew up in Miami and am a huge fan of both teams, but it was mostly about him thanking the crew for all their hard work."

Three separate boats in the Caribbean were boarded by three to six-man teams from the Gallatin, where they first performed safety sweeps and then began the inspection process for illegal drugs.

"There are always tell-tale signs of ships possibly carrying drugs," said Petty Officer 1st Class Cliff Lewis, Gallatin law enforcement member. "If you see fresh paint, new construction or updates to a fishing boat or even smaller boats, it definitely raises a red flag in our minds."

The Gallatin law enforcement crews boarded two fishing vessels and one go-fast boat where they found the cocaine.

"The go-fast boats try to elude detection by traveling without navigation lights at night," said Lewis. "Fishing boats simply try and hide the drugs and often do a very poor job at it, which makes my job a lot easier."

After the ship docked at the Charleston Pier, crew members reunited with family members and friends and embraced them for the first time in more than three months.

The Gallatin was commissioned in 1968 and will be decommissioned next year before being transferred to the Nigerian Navy.

The next generation of Coast Guard national security cutters includes the USCGC Hamilton, which will be based in Charleston.

"While the new national security cutters are bigger and faster than the Gallatin, they can be operated by a crew of about 110," said Capt. Douglas Fears, the first commanding officer of the new Hamilton.

The new cutters also have longer range and state-of-the-art surveillance equipment.