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Getting it done with the Junipers

You don’t typically think of a 225-foot Juniper-class Coast Guard buoy tender as a national defense (MARDEZ) and homeland security asset, but Coast Guard Cutter Aspen just returned to her homeport last week after sailing nearly 7,000 nautical miles during a 30-day patrol, which included a cocaine interdiction off Mexico as part of Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) South.

Aspen‘s efforts resulted in the interdiction of a suspected smuggling vessel carrying more than 224 pounds of cocaine worth approximately $3.3 million and the apprehension of six suspected smugglers.

The interdiction occurred Oct. 10, after the Aspen deployed two 23-foot interceptor boats which made a three-hour pursuit to intercept a suspected smuggling vessel approximately 400 miles off the coast of Mexico.

Coast Guard members aboard two interceptor boats from the Coast Guard Cutter Aspen, a 225-foot sea-going buoy tender, maneuver in the Eastern Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico during a counter-smuggling patrol, Oct. 13, 2017.

Also during the deployment, the Aspen conducted exercises with the Mexican and Canadian navies aimed to help strengthen international partnerships while degrading and disrupting transnational criminal organization networks. Not bad for a ship whose primary mission is aids to navigation.

From left to right are Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Nanaimo (MM702), a Kingston-class Maritime Coastal Defence Vessel, Aspen and what looks to be a Holzinger-class patrol vessel of the Armada de México.

“This was a very successful deployment and I could not be more proud of the crew,” said Lt. Cmdr. Justin Vanden Heuvel, Aspen‘s commanding officer. “Utilizing a buoy tender as a platform to execute counter-narcotics missions shows the versatility and adaptability of the Coast Guard and the Aspen crew. Day in and day out the crew expertly conducts a wide variety of missions including search and rescue, aids to navigation, fisheries enforcement and in this case, the interdiction of illegal contraband destined for the United States.”

While built for tending navigational aids, 225’s have also proved useful in everything from salvage to sovereignty and fishery patrols, to ice operations (sistership USCGC Maple covered the Northwest Passage in 47 days this summer) and even carrying special operations detachments on training missions in the littoral.

Send for the pigeon guy, mon ami

A very serious French soldier of the 141st Regiment with homing pigeons in 1915. According to reports, they played a vital part in the Great War on all side as they provided an extremely reliable way of sending messages. “Such was the importance of pigeons that over 100,000 were used in the war with an astonishing success rate of 95 percent.”

And today, 102 years later, the French still keep at least one guy on the payroll versed in carrier (pigeon) operations– just in case.

Aluminum and sheet metal don’t hold up to fire very well

Last week I hit the water to check out how the coastline changed as a result of Hurricane Nate (I’ve since picked up some great pieces of beached cypress driftwood that likely came from the barrier islands and have several projects in mind for them, but anyway).

On the way back into Gulfport Harbor I saw the 87-foot Marine Protector-class patrol boat, USCGC Brant (WPB-87348) tied up at Coast Guard Station Gulfport. As she is different from our regular two WPBs home-ported here (Razorbill and Pompano), I made sure to grab a few shots of the visiting cutter, normally out of Sector Corpus Christie on the other side of the Gulf.

Then I saw this shot just a few days later of her wheelhouse from the port side…

From the USCG 8th District, Coast Guard Sector New Orleans:

NEW ORLEANS – Members from Gulfport Fire Department and a Coast Guard member extinguished a fire aboard Coast Guard Cutter Brant, which was moored in Gulfport, Mississippi, Wednesday.

At approximately 5 a.m., two Coast Guard members who were aboard the cutter became aware of the fire, located on the port-aft area of the vessel, and took initial actions to put out the fire using an on-board fire extinguisher.

Members from Gulfport Fire Department arrived on scene at 5:05 a.m. and extinguished the fire.

The two Coast Guard members on board the vessel were evaluated by emergency medical services and have been released.

“We are thankful no one was hurt in the fire,” said Cmdr. Zachary Ford, the head of the response department at Coast Guard Sector New Orleans. “Without the quick response and actions taken by the Gulfport Fire Department, this incident could have been much worse.”

The cause of the incident is under investigation.

The fire looked like it happened around officer’s country on the 87-footer and it is good to know that neither life nor limb was lost and she is still afloat. Looks like a trip back to Bollinger in Lockport is in her future, though. She’s just 15 years old and likely has another decade or two on her hull so you would imagine she could be rebuilt.

If you follow the pew-pew life, but don’t carry a blowout kit, there is something wrong with your love story

One thing often tragically neglected by people who think they are prepared is the ability to respond to a serious causality incident, where a trauma kit and some knowledge of how to use it can save lives– even your own.

If the terrible events of the past several days have proven anything is that you can expect the unexpected to rear its horrible head when and where you least anticipate. In a world of domestic and international terrorism, if you live, work or play near a large city you can quickly find yourself in the middle of a nightmare where overtaxed first responders may not be available or are stretched too thin to control the situation until additional resources appear. On the opposite side of the coin, in a rural or suburban area where a small-scale accident or incident pops off, you could find yourself isolated with the nearest support vital minutes or even hours away. It’s these moments, where conventional civilian emergency medicine protocols fail, that are the most dangerous.

Thus, the need to be ready for trauma.

More in my column at Tac.44.com.

Natocane

Well, guys, we have Hurricane Nate expected to make a direct hit on my neighborhood, which will make like my 15th named storm hit in my life. Getting too old for this crap!

Anyway, I have a genny and dish modem and if I am able to post next week I will, but if not I have a few historical pieces scheduled if nothing else.

Just letting you know if you are wondering about any potential radio silence next week.

New FRCs are already giving hard service and proving useful

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Joesph Tazanos, a fast response cutter, escorts the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) into San Juan, Puerto Rico, Oct. 3, 2017. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Meredith Manning

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Joesph Tazanos, a fast response cutter, escorts the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) into San Juan, Puerto Rico, Oct. 3, 2017. The ship is providing escort and security for the Comfort’s relief misson post-Hurricane Maria. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Meredith Manning

The big 154-foot Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutters, built to replace the 110-foot Island-class patrol boats of the 1980s and 90s, (which in turn replaced the 1950s era 95-foot Cape-class cutters, et.al) are fast becoming a backbone asset for the Coast Guard. Designed for five-day patrols, these 28-knot vessels have a stern boat ramp like the smaller 87-foot WPBs but carry a stabilized 25mm Mk38 and four M2s as well as much more ISR equipment. The first entered service in 2012, just five years ago.

In a hat tip to the fact they are so much more capable, the USCG uses the WPC hull designation, used last by the old “buck and a quarter” 125-foot cutters of the Prohibition-era with these craft, rather than the WPB patrol boat designation of the ships they are replacing.

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Oliver Berry staging out of San Diego headed to Oahu, 2,600-nm West on a solo trip. Not bad for a yacht-sized patrol boat

You can bet these cutters are being looked at for littoral work such as in the Persian Gulf where the Navy has a whole squadron of 170-foot Cyclone-class (PCs) that are showing their age. However, they are already proving themselves domestically.

With over 24 of the planned-on 58 of these vessels in service and hulls 25-44 in building stages, they have been very useful in the Coast Guard’s recent response to Hurricane Irma and Maria, with the latter in particular.

The smallest service has deployed 13 vessels in what they term a “Surface Asset Group” (like the Navy’s surface action group concept, only with cutters), and many of those 13 are FRCs.

With a draft of just over 9-feet, they can get to a lot of places that small tin-can style vessels cannot (FFG-7s draw over 22 while the LCS, depending on type and load, run 13-15). This has enabled them to appear in places where the larger craft would be off-limits.

USCGC Joseph Napier (WPC-1115), homeported in San Juan and commissioned last year, has been poking around small harbors in the USVI dropping off water and diesel fuel. Another FRC of 2016-vintage based in San Juan, USCGC Donald Horsley (WPC-1117), brought 750 liters of bottled water and 1,440 meals to Vieques. Yet another year-old San Juan-based 154-footer, USCGC Winslow W. Griesser (WPC-1116), brought Department of Homeland Security special agents and disaster relief supplies to St. Croix as well as critical prescription medication. Meanwhile, USCGC Joseph Tezanos (WPC-1118), as shown in the first image in this post, is providing escort and security for the 70,000-ton Mercy-class hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH-20), operating out of San Juan.

In another sign of the type’s flexibility, USCCGC Oliver Berry (WPC-1124) last week completed a 7,300-mile self-deployment from her builder’s in New Orleans to Key West where she did shake up work, to Pearl Harbor where she is the first WPC stationed there. Her last leg, from San Diego to Oahu was over 2,600 miles with no pit stops, a trip that showed the craft is capable of extended missions. Further, the class has deployed to the coast of South America in joint Operations Tradewinds exercises for the past two years.

It should be pointed out that typically patrol craft of that size are transported as deck cargo or on a heavy lift vessel for forward deployments.  This could prove useful in transfers to the Persian Gulf.

Current contracts for FRCs are running at about $48 million per completed vessel, plus Navy-supplied ordnance, and it looks like a good investment.

Farewell, Ponce, laserslinger of the Gulf

Nicknamed “Proud Lion,” Ponce was reclassified from an amphibious transport dock ship to an interim afloat forward staging base with a hybrid crew of Navy and Military Sealift Command personnel. They deployed to the Navy’s U.S. 5th Fleet and had been forward-deployed there since July 2012. She is to end her service this month.

The USS Ponce, now over 40 years old and officially Afloat Force Service Base (Interim) AFSB(I), up until a few weeks ago served as a floating base for NSW, MCM, and other activities in the very warm standoff between the West and Iran in the Persian Gulf.

Ponce is among the Navy’s oldest ships. Construction began in 1966, and it was commissioned during the Nixon administration in 1971. Once an Austin-class amphibious transport dock, after 2012 she was hybrid civilian (MSC) and Navy crewed after she had been selected for decommissioning and began deactivation. This kept her in the Gulf with a fleet of Sea Dragon mine-sweeping choppers, random patrol boat crews (most of the Navy’s operational 170-foot Cyclone-class PCs are in the Gulf as well as a few Coast Guard 110’s), and unnamed special ops characters aboard.

She also packed a 30kW Laser Weapon System (LaWS) which drew a lot of attention.

Now, with her post assumed by the new and purpose-built USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB-3), Ponce has returned to the states and is preparing to decommission for good, slated for dismantling.

From the ship’s social media:

AFSB(I)-15 was the first ship to be fully realized and dedicated as an afloat forward staging base. The lessons learned from Ponce’s employment will be incorporated in future expeditionary sea bases to be built over the next 15 years. Its performance in this role will be used as a model for concepts and developments across the 30-year shipbuilding plan. Additionally, the ship and its crew provided unmatched UAV, minesweeping, multinational aircraft and amphibious support during TF 51/5-led missions.

Ponce was relieved in U.S 5th Fleet by the expeditionary sea base USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB-3), the first U.S. ship commissioned outside the United States and the first ship built specifically for the purpose of serving as an afloat, forward-staging base.

After over 46 years of honorable active service, the current crew comprised of Sailors and Civilian Mariners will complete the decommissioning process with the ceremony scheduled for Saturday, October 14th.

However, with her livewell, large helicopter deck, accomidations, fuel and provisions storage and Joint Operations Center with the best commo afloat, some argue she could get one last and very timely hurrah in Puerto Rico helping with the Hurricane Maria recovery effort.

Food for thought.

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