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Happy 100th to the most forgotten service

This week is the 100th birthday of one of the most unsung of the U.S.’s seven uniformed services– the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps.

USS Albatross, or as NOAA thinks of her now, Albatross I

Dating back to the Coast & Geodetic Survey and United States Fish Commission which used seconded Navy ships for its blue water work (see former Warship Wednesday alumni, the USC&GSS Pathfinder and USS Albatross) and Army officers for land surveys (the first commander of the Corps was an Army colonel from the intelligence branch), the force today amounts to some 400 uniformed officers who operate the agency’s dozen ships (some as large as frigates) and half-dozen aircraft including two converted P-3 Orions used as Hurricane Hunters.

NOAA Ship (NOAAS) Albatross IV

They are the smallest of the U.S. uniformed services and, while they have a provision for a single O-9, the branch typically exists with a RADM as a senior officer. They wear Navy dress blues and dress whites and Coast Guard working uniforms, all with NOAA devices. Since 2013, they have conducted their 18-week OCS at the USCGA in New London, Conn.

NOAA 42 “Kermit” (N42RF) is a Lockheed WP-3D Orion used by the service for the past quarter-century.

The corps was born in battle.

From NOAA:

With America’s entry into the World War I, a commissioned service of the C&GS was formed on May 22, 1917 to ensure the rapid assimilation of C&GS technical skills for defense purposes. During World War II, officers and civilians of the C&GS produced nautical and aeronautical charts, provided critical geospatial information to artillery units, and conducted reconnaissance surveys.

Continuing in the tradition of their C&GS predecessors, NOAA Corps officers continue to play a vital role in the acquisition and analysis of environmental data that aid NOAA and other agencies in meeting the national security, economic, and environmental challenges of the 21st century. NOAA Corps officers command ships that scan the seafloor for potential hazards to shipping, monitor oceanographic and atmospheric conditions, and study ocean resources. They also pilot NOAA’s highly specialized aircraft that collect environmental and geographic data necessary for weather and flood prediction, nautical charting, disaster response, and resource management.

As noted by John Hopewell of the Washington Post’s Weather Gang:

There are two clear advantages of having nearly 400 uniformed specialists. Unlike civilians, they can be moved rapidly from project to project and — in the case of war — can be deployed quickly to support the military itself.

In fact, that’s why the NOAA Corps was established as a commissioned officer group 100 years ago. If one of the officers is captured by an enemy, they could not be executed as a spy — something their civilian predecessors risked.

The corps operates and maintains much of NOAA’s hardware, including Hurricane Hunter aircraft fisheries ships (but not satellites). They conduct special missions after disasters, such as the 2016 blizzard or the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, to gather data and provide support. After Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the corps surveyed the seafloors of New York City and Virginia channels and ports for hazards.

That’s some funny looking bugspray

As reported by Defense Web:

The US government is yet to approve the sale of 12 armed Air Tractor aircraft to Kenya as IOMAX and a US congressman continue to dispute the proposed sale.

The contract, submitted to the US Congress for approval in January, seeks to provide the Kenyan air force with weapons to fight al Shabaab in neighbouring Somalia. However, the contracting of L-3 Technologies has been vehemently opposed by US Congressman Ted Budd who said the contract was awarded secretively and without going through open tender processes.

Further, he said at $418 million, the L-3 package for up to 12 Air Tractor AT-802L and two AT-504 trainer aircraft, weapons and technical support was hugely inflated and awarded to a contractor with no manufacture or conversion experience on the type of aircraft.

Budd said IOMAX, which never submitted a bid although it has previously supplied armed AT-802 aircraft to the UAE, could supply the same package at a much lower cost. Budd’s congressional district falls in the same area as IOMAX’s headquarters.

On Wednesday last week, L-3 Technologies apparently reduced the price of the package and added some new components to the bid.

On Friday, IOMAX said it could provide Kenya with ‘superior’ aircraft, weapons, technical support and program management at a cost of $237 million, which is $181 million lower than the contract ceiling of L-3 Technologies.

What is the “superior aircraft” to the Air Tractor AT-802L, a up-armored crop duster? Who is Iomax?

Glad you asked.

Based on the Thrush S2R-660, another crop-duster, Ionmax’s Archangel runs on a P&W PT61 and can stay aloft for 10 hours in an ISR mode– that’s almost drone endurance without having to have a satlink. When used in a strike mode, the former pestiside pusher has 6 underwing hardpoints and a centerline point for COIN ops and, using EO/IR/LRF/LD sensors, can carry either:

-12 AGM-114 Hellfires or UMTAS AGMs
-10 GBU-58 laser-guided Mk-81 bombs (a 250-pound Paveway II)
-6 GBU-12 laser-guided Mk-82 500-pounders
-48 Roketsan CIRIT 2.75in laser-guided missiles

Or a combination of the above.

Note the CIRIT 4-packs and targeting pods

Those LGBs and Hellfires…

Pretty neat stuff overall.

Farewell, ‘Morg

Morgenthau off Governors Island in New York Harbor when new, circa 1970. Note the 5″/38 DP forward and the WTC in the background.

The Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau (WHEC-722), a 378-foot high endurance cutter, will be decommissioned at Base Honolulu, Tuesday after nearly a half-century of service, including action in the Vietnam War, numerous major drug interdictions, and law enforcement cases, and a variety of noteworthy rescues.

Cutter Morgenthau, commissioned March 10, 1969, was the eighth of 12 Hamilton-class high endurance cutters built by Avondale Shipyards in New Orleans. She was the only vessel named for Henry Morgenthau Jr, the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury during the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt (all of her sisters were named after T-secs as the USCG belonged to that cabinet position until 1967)

Morgenthau was very active in the Vietnam War, conducting support for coastal patrol craft, naval gunfire support, and patrol duties off the coast of Vietnam until relieved by a 311-foot cutter in 1971. During her period in Market Time, she delivered 19 NGFS fire missions on targets ashore and inspected 627 junks/sampans and cruised 38,000 miles on patrol.

In 1977, Morgenthau became the first cutter to have women permanently assigned, which paved the way for numerous women to serve aboard Coast Guard cutters nationwide.

In the fall of 1996, Morgenthau was the first U.S. Coast Guard cutter to deploy to the Arabian Gulf. Participating in Operation Vigilant Sentinel, Morgenthau enforced Iraq’s compliance with United Nations sanctions. Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Morgenthau participated in Operation Noble Eagle to safeguard America’s prominent port cities through closer scrutiny of maritime traffic.

Just a few months ago, she completed a 90-day 15,000-mile patrol in the Bering Sea in Winter which, besides fisheries patrol work, included the rescue of the Australian sailing vessel Rafiki and the 400-foot cargo ship BBC Colorado, picking up the Capt. Hopley Yeaton Cutter Excellence Award for 2016.

USCGC Morgenthau (WHEC-722) transits in the Gulf of Alaska while on patrol Sept. 27, 2016

The below is from her 105-day/18,000-mile April-Aug 2014 patrol (there is a shootex at ~17:50)

“The U.S. State Department is coordinating the transfer of Morgenthau through the Foreign Assistance Act. This act allows the transfer of excess defense articles as a grant to friendly, foreign governments.”

So far, State has passed on the three of the “378s” to the Philippines (USCGC Hamilton, Boutwell, Dallas), two to the Nigerian Navy (Gallatin and Chase) and two to the Bangladesh Navy (Jarvis and Rush). With Morgenthau decommissioned, only USCGC Mellon (WHEC-717) and Midgett (WHEC-726) based in Seattle, Sherman (WHEC-720) in Honolulu, and Munro (WHEC-724) in Kodiak remain in U.S. service and are expected to be replaced by the National Security Cutter program by 2021.

Emergency prep: I don’t like the dark edition

A regular right of passage in April– being just around the corner from Hurricane Season ( I am a survivor of direct hits by Frederick, Elena, Georges, Katrina, and Issac), is to replenish my supplies of nonperishables, water and the like. One of the things I like to do is make my own emergency candles. I generally make at least a dozen 8-oz soy candles, each with a projected lifespan of about 30-40 hours, meaning a dozen is an easy 300-500 hours worth of light.


If you shop around you can get decent deals on wax and wicks. I got my latest stuff from Candle Science (you can currently get a 10-pounds of 464 soy wax for $15 and 100 pre-tabbed wicks for like $8). Add to that a $8 box of Ball half-pint jelly jars and a box of paper matches and I can make each candle for about $2. Less if I recycle old jars. If you look around this is about half the price of store-bought candles and I know exactly what I am getting.

For a dozen candles, you need 4 pounds of soy wax (it’s non-toxic and totally safe), 12 tabbed wicks, 12 8-oz jelly jars, a double boiler (or two pots, one larger than the other), something to pour hot ass wax with ( I use an old mixing cup) and something to help keep your wicks straight.


First, melt the wax (note- do not put a pot of wax directly on a stove top, double boiler it!). I find that four pounds melts in about 15 minutes.


Next, scoop out your wax into your jars, each with a tabbed wick at the bottom (the wick doesn’t have to be centered just yet). Be very careful as hot wax is not your friend.


Then center and arrange your wicks. I use grill skewers (I keep lots of propane for the grill as a bonus for Hurricane season). Other people use other methods such as gluing the tabs to the glass. This in mine and, like I said I already have the skewers, so it’s free.


I find the wax sets in about two hours, though I leave them overnight to be sure. Then cut the wicks flush with the jar lid, add a book of paper matches to the jar, and screw the lid on tight.


I like to keep a few dozen of these on hand going into the season as I give some away, use them camping, etc, plus in a post-Hurricane environment, you would be surprised how easy it is to make friends through the offer of a couple of free candles/matches.

Coasties step up their UAV game

USCGC Stratton (WMSL-752), the Coast Guard’s third 418-foot Legend-Class National Security Cutter, just returned to Alameda following 98-day counter-smuggling patrol.

While underway she intercepted three suspected smuggling vessels carrying more than 3,600 pounds of cocaine, completed 150 drills associated with her biannual Tailored Ship’s Training Availability, made a port call at Golfito, Costa Rica to conduct some humanitarian efforts, and brought an additional five tons of blow back to port seized by other cutters for offload.

But she also made a little history by deploying with a ScanEagle sUAS. Stratton has used Scan Eagle in proof of concept tests previously (see the below image of the UAV being “trapped”) but this is the first actual deployment.

The Unmanned Aerial Surveillance aircraft Scan Eagle is recovered on the Coast Guard Cutter Stratton during a demonstration approximately 150 miles off the Pacific Coast, Aug. 13, 2012. The Scan Eagle is being tested for capabilities that will create a reliable reconnaissance system for all 11 Coast Guard missions. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Luke Clayton.

From the USCG’s presser:

Stratton’s crew made history by being the first Coast Guard cutter to deploy fully equipped with a small unmanned aerial system (sUAS) for an entire patrol. The sUAS had been previously used in drug interdiction as part of field testing but had not deployed aboard to a cutter for an entire patrol. The sUAS flew more than 35 sorties, accumulated over 260 flight hours and provided real-time surveillance and detection imagery during interdiction operations. This real-time imagery and persistent surveillance capability assisted Stratton’s embarked helicopter and law enforcement teams with the interdictions.

You hear that? It’s the sound of the black rifle bubble bursting…

Over the past eight years, there has been a mad rush for gun makers to crank out ARs and AK variants as well as import exotic counterparts in from overseas (Tavor, anyone?). Well, now, with the change in the political wind so to speak, no one is buying as they already have a closet full and the market is flush. This means it is defiantly a bargain shopper’s dream these days when it comes to black rifles.

Take this recent screengrab from my email box yesterday. Now Ruger AR-556s generally MSRP for $799~ meaning you can expect the price at your local FFL to be about 10-15 percent less, or roughly $675-$700.

How about this:

Give it six months and see where the prices are then…and who is still in business or not.

Luz azul de vida: Rescate!

Did you know that in the most remote parts of the U.S.-Mexico border region in Arizona, there are 34 solar-powered beacons with blinking blue lights visible for 10 miles at night. The have a red button on the pole whose only call goes to CBP-Border Patrol.

And they save lives.

From CBP:

Agents at the Ajo Border Patrol Station received notification that a rescue beacon was activated at about 4:00 a.m. Saturday, and they sent an agent to investigate. Approximately 30 minutes later, the agent reported finding one uninjured adult male at the rescue beacon.

The man claimed to have crossed the border illegally as part of a larger group, but was abandoned and got lost when he was unable to keep up with the rest of the group members.

More on the devices, also known as “Panic Poles”

The beacons range from 22 to 30 feet tall (to be seen from a distance), and are powered through externally-mounted solar panels. They are intended to be placed on open, flat terrain. [6] Each pole has a box mounted with a red button which sends out a radio signal to the U.S. Border Patrol. On the top of the pole is a high-visibility light, which blinks every 10 seconds, as well as triangular pieces of polished stainless steel that reflect sunlight during the day. Placards on the beacons contain messages in Spanish, Mandarin and English such as: “You are in danger of dying if you do not summon for help,” and “If you need help, push red button. U.S. Border Patrol will arrive in one hour. Do not leave this location.” The placards also contain a picture symbolizing a person in distress pushing the button.

The beacons also provide benefits to non-immigrants such as lost hikers, local residents, and tourists.

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