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NEWS | Aug. 29, 2017

A day in the life of U.S. Coast Guard Cutter James

By Coast Guard Boatswain’s Mate Chief (BMC) Grant Heffner USCGC James

Note:  The JAMES is a 418 ft. National Security Cutter homeported in Charleston, S.C.  It is the fifth NSC and most sophisticated cutter in the fleet. The story below is told from the BMC’s perspective.


SOMEWHERE IN THE EASTERN PACIFIC OCEAN - It is 11 pm and a Maritime Patrol Aircraft reports a possible drug smuggling “go-fast” boat headed north at a high rate of speed.  While relaying pertinent information, two additional targets are located.  Now, three targets are identified and details are relayed to the surface ship.  U. S. Coast Guard Cutter JAMES maneuvers to intercept. The 1MC, the ships loudspeaker system, blasts, "Now there will be a mission planning brief held in the Combat Information Center in five minutes." JAMES' gas turbine engines begin to spool up and the collective heartbeat of the crew quickens.


Teams gather and excitement buzzes in the CIC.  On this night, JAMES will be launching all three of its pursuit boats with support from an armed helicopter from our Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron (HITRON) in an attempt to stop the three suspected go-fast vessels.  Discussing the tactical scenario, the Captain turns to you, the nearest Boatswain's Mate (BM), and asks, "Boats, what do you think?"  As the person responsible for driving the small boat up to 50 miles away from JAMES, the BM knows it is time to operate.  "Captain, request permission to launch as briefed," the BM asks.  The Captain only needs to reply, "Granted” which sets the entire crew into action.  As you approach the ready service locker you see the Gunners Mate standing by with your gear.  On the fantail, the stern of the ship, the boat deck is manned and ready, waiting for you and your team to board the small boat.  The cooks even pack “to-go” meals because the mission may be a long one.


"Boat crew to the boat," you shout to the deck crew.  You prepare to launch from the stern ramp of the cutter. Still vectoring towards the go-fast vessels, the James slows slightly.  The order, "Pull the pin," is given and you're in the water on a 35’ high speed boat underway in the inky blackness of an eastern Pacific Ocean night.  


You own the night!  


It’s midnight and the sky and ocean bleed into one sheet of darkness.  You and your team are receiving vector headings from CIC.  You hear over the radio the HITRON has launched. Continuing through the water, the familiar whine of the HH-65 helicopter is approaching your location. CIC broadcasts the statement of no objection (SNO) has been granted to use warning shots and disabling fire to stop a non-compliant vessel in international waters.  The streak of red tracer rounds pierces the night sky as the HITRON’s precision marksman disables the suspected smuggling go-fast boat's engines.


Maneuvering your small boat, you get the boarding team prepared to go over the rail while coordinating the dangerous dance between helicopter, the go-fast and your boat.  Searchlights, blue lights and verbal commands all begin at once.  Your boarding team goes over the rail.


Hammer time!


"JAMES, this is the Pursuit Team, we have positive control of the go-fast."  Looking across the deck of the go-fast, you see dozens of bales of what appears to be pure cocaine.  The time on deck is 1 am.


We own the night!


So, do you want to get underway? The life aboard a NSC is dynamic, exciting and at times intense. The above story isn't fiction. It was one of our cases during a recent deployment. We DID launch on three smuggling vessels and we DID bust all three that night, in less than two hours (a new record).  


During the same deployment, we launched nearly 150 small boat and helicopter sorties, seized over 6,000 kilograms of cocaine with a street value of $220 million and detained 22 suspects. Every time the crew returned, they were wet and tired.  But, they unanimously shared the satisfaction of having accomplished something amazing and doing it with great pride.


The moral of the story is, if you want to be on the front lines for the Coast Guard, chasing bad guys, creating some truly awesome sea stories, come check out our NSCs.  Welcome aboard shipmate!