An Auxiliarist Underway – Part III – Mission Success!

By Auxiliarist Charles McLeod

The LE team of CGC Legare

The LE team of CGC Legare

After a three day port call we left Panama City, Panama. On my watches, I’d be driving this cutter through the Pacific! Maybe we would cross the Equator or maybe visit the Galápagos Islands? Who knew? At this point it seemed nothing was going to surprise me. Or so I thought. Days stretched into nights, and I really lost track of what day it was, what time it was, or even where we were. Late one night, the crew of LEGARE was in the process of changing out the watch. Most of the crew was sleeping after a lengthy day of training and ships work. All of a sudden the ship’s alarm sounded and suddenly a voice screamed through the darkness!

NOW SET THE LE GO FAST BILL, NOW SET THE LE GO FAST BILL!!!! THIS WILL BE A SMALL BOAT EVOLUTION!!!!

I roll out of my rack onto the deck amid the chuckle of my shipmates puzzled by why BM2 Hernandez is yelling at me while I’m trying to sleep! No wait… no. His voice blares out again, yet this time it sounds farther away.

Oh. Wait. BM2’s voice was on the ship’s 1MC (loud speaker) announcing for all hands report to their stations. The ship is suddenly abuzz with activity. In the madness I encountered BM2 Castro, my go-to guy for explaining all things small boat related who was very excited about the events that could transpire that night. As soon as it was safe to, I headed up to the bridge to get a glimpse of this ultra-fast, super sophisticated vessel only to have my imagination dashed by what I saw faintly through the night vision goggles – a run-down old fishing boat.

“That’s it?” I said.

Suddenly all eyes on the bridge turned toward me. MEC Anderson, LEGARE’s newest chief, quickly ‘recalibrated’ my thoughts on how this game really worked through interesting sea stories about his experiences. Our boarding team headed over on what seemed like the longest traffic stop I have ever been on. Yet all of their hard work paid off as several hours later the team discovered hidden contraband!

It seemed just as we finished celebrating from finding this hidden load, we were notified of yet another suspicious vessel in the area. In no time we were underway again at full speed to investigate!

The Coast Guard has an uncanny ability to prepare for all contingencies and make impossible situations somehow become possible. This was one of those days. The helicopter flight crew and the HITRON team suited up, and the armed helicopter took off from the deck of the LEGARE. Seemingly moments later, the second craft was located and stopped, allowing the cutter to send a team over on our second small boat for a second drug bust!

With the news of the second stop spreading amongst the crew, the next order of business was to scramble the crew (some had been awake for more than 24 hours!) to help offload the contraband from the vessels. Teams of two help carried the heavy bales of contraband to a secure location on the ship where it’s inventoried and processed for case prosecution. It’s easy work, since we all felt great about what we had just accomplished. However, when it was all said in done, it was nearly 44 hours of non-stop work for the crew. The sheer amount of personnel who are needed to process a law enforcement case, let alone two, is amazing! All the time, the crew manages to stand watches, keep the ship running and keep the crew fed.

Coast Guard Auxiliarists aren’t allowed to conduct law enforcement evolutions and rarely get to be on the front lines of such an exciting mission such as this. Experiencing this part of the Coast Guard has given me a new found appreciation for how these service members do their job. Afterward, I made it a point to seek the boarding crew out, shake their hand and say ‘thank you’ to them on behalf of other Americans who depend on their service and training.

To be continued…