In the News

DoD 101: Drugs, Thugs and the Coast Guard

By Cheryl Pellerin DoD News, Defense Media Activity

On the second day of their immersion into the workings of the U.S. Armed Forces, 23 members of the Secretary of Defense Senior Leader Engagement Program visit U.S. Coast Guard Base Miami Beach. There they meet with Capt. Austin Gould, commanding officer of U.S. Coast Guard Sector Miami, who takes them aboard the 154-foot fast-response cutter U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bernard C. Webber, first of the Coast Guard’s Sentinel-class cutters.

In his job, Gould focuses on Miami as the second-busiest sector in the Coast Guard, with 700 to 800 cases a year, four stations, 11 cutters that work the area, and a foreign country — the Bahamas — right in his back yard.

“Bimini is 50 miles [east], and if you go to West Palm Beach, it’s 80 miles from Freeport. Things happen very quickly down here,” he notes, adding that people from more than 150 countries need no visas to go to the Bahamas.

“That means nobody knows who’s in the Bahamas, why they’re in the Bahamas or how long they’ve been in the Bahamas,” Gould says. Migrants make runs to south Florida from Bimini in the middle of the night and traffickers take drugs in all directions out of Freeport, and good luck catching them, he adds.

On the Webber, Gould and Mike Cortese, commanding officer of Coast Guard Station Miami Beach, show the SLEP group what the Coast Guard does if it catches a target of interest making an illicit run from Bimini to the United States carrying migrants, drugs, money or guns.

The 33-foot-long Coast Guard boats are typically crewed by four to six armed officers and can reach speeds of around 50 knots, Cortese says.

During the demo, the bad guys are in the first boat, the good guys in the second. The good guys, notified that the boat is carrying contraband, turn on lights and sirens to let the bad guys know the Coast Guard means business.

They chase the bad guys, using a bullhorn to warn the vessel to stop. If it doesn’t they call for help, then maneuver alongside the bad guys to simulate firing warning shots across the bow with an LA-51 munition called a flash bang, he adds.

But before they shoot, the good guys ask permission from the higher command, saying, “I’m going to shoot a guy who hasn’t shot at me first.”

“That’s the whole point,” Cortese says. “If [the bad guy] shoots at us first or otherwise tries to harm us, it’s a different game. But now we’re being the aggressor and we’re going to be the ones shooting first. We have to get permission — it’s called a statement of no objection from our boss.”

As soon as the good guys get permission, they pull up right next to the bad guy’s boat “so they can put that flash bang right in front of the boat to let them know, ‘Really, I’m not kidding,’” Cortese said. “And they’re going to do that two times.”

Step three is a maneuver like coming alongside the boat and using it to push the bad guys in a certain direction, he says.

For most of this process, the good guys are on the bullhorn: “This is the U.S. Coast Guard,” they say. “Stop the boat immediately or you will be fired upon.”

“The good guys move up so they’re exactly in line with the (bad guys’) outboard, and the [boat driver] is being talked into position by his gunner,” Cortese says.

Now the gunner simulates taking four shots at the engines, firing copper sabot slugs from a shotgun that pierce a hot engine like butter, Cortese says. The all-copper slug incorporates advanced technology and is more accurate and has less drop, more manageable recoil and consistent penetration and expansion, according to websites.

The initial shots hit only the starboard engine, so the good guys move to the other side of the boat to take out the other engine, Cortese says. And having put four rounds into each engine, the good guys move in for boarding, he adds.

On the Webber, Gould tells the SLEP members, “When I came down [to Miami] I thought I’d be doing this every night. And we probably could be doing it two or three times a week or at least two or three times a month if our detection capability was a little better.”

The captain adds, “The two times we actually did [the maneuvers that Cortese and his team just simulated], it’s 2 o’clock in the morning and this stuff happens — so, unlit boats, going fast, no aircraft cover, no [intelligence]. Even with a sophisticated ship like [the Webber], it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.”