The U.S. Coast Guard’s Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron, or HITRON, is celebrating its 20th anniversary and shows no signs of slowing down. In 1999, six pilots and four newly USMC-trained aviation gunners were brought together to prove the concept of armed helicopters — a mission the USCG had steered away from in the past.
Armed with stun grenades as well as M16A2 rifles and an FN M240 general-purpose machine gun for warning shots, they carried a Robar RC50 long-range heavy rifle for disabling fire. During this early phase, the group encountered five go-fasts and stopped all five with disabling fire. They arrested 17 smugglers — none of whom were injured thanks to the accurate fire of the Coasties.
After this test, the Coast Guard gave the go-ahead to move forward with a full-scale squadron sized unit and HITRON was born.
Starting with a leased helicopter (an MD Explorer dubbed the MH 90 Enforcer), they eventually moved to field eight sweet Augusta AW109s (also leases) designated as MH-68A Stingrays from 2000 to 2008.
Today, more than 200 USCG personnel are currently assigned to the squadron, based at Cecil Field’s Hangar 13 in Jacksonville, Florida. From there, helicopters and crews are deployed to wherever they are needed most, now using the standard Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin.
The precision heavy hitter of the aviation gunner today is the Barrett M107A1 .50-caliber heavy rifle. Braced against the doorframe and the strap of the rescue hoist, the 28-pound Barrett can be balanced in a way that’s familiar to any rifleman using a standard sling just on a much larger scale, providing a surprisingly stable platform from which to shoot.
The gunners train with M33 ball ammo to hit a 16×16-inch target — roughly the engine housing of an outboard motor.
HITRON is the only unit of its kind in the U.S. military and officials say they have stopped more than $21 billion worth of illegal drugs in the last 20 years.
It seems like the Coasties aren’t even having to try these days.
While cruising from the builder’s yard at Pascagoula to her future homeport in Honolulu, where she is set to be commissioned 24 August, the country’s newest National Security Cutter, PCU USCGC Midgett (WMSL 757), bagged a top-level narco boat.
Midgett seized over a ton of coke worth $64 million “from a low-profile go-fast vessel (LPV) interdicted in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean.”
The inside of the boat showed that, A) potential smugglers can’t be claustrophobic, but B) are likely fans of Narcos on Netflix.
Notably, the move was a lay-up as a Burke in the area had bird dogged the smuggler and handed the bust over to the Midgett to handle.
From the Coast Guard:
On July 25 a U.S. Navy MH-60R Sea Hawk aircrew embarked aboard the USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112) sighted a low-profile go-fast vessel. As the helicopter approached, a hatch opened on the top of the vessel and three passengers were seen jettisoning objects.
The Michael Murphy remained with the suspected smuggling vessel until the Midgett arrived on scene to conduct a law enforcement boarding. Midgett’s boarding team seized approximately 2,100 pounds of cocaine from the interdiction and apprehended three suspected smugglers.
“Even though the cutter is still in a pre-commission status, this interdiction showcases how ready our crew is and how capable the national security cutters are,” said Capt. Alan McCabe, Midgett’s commanding officer. “It also demonstrates the importance of our partnership with the U.S. Navy, whose contributions are vital in stemming the flow of drugs into the United States.”
Just released by the U.S. Mint, the 48th America the Beautiful Quarter depicts U.S. forces coming ashore at Asan Bay, Guam during the liberation of that territory from Japanese occupation in 1944 complete with iconic M1 Garand rifles and LVTs.
Sculpted by Michael Gaudioso, the design is for the Pacific National Historical Park in Guam and “honors the bravery, courage, and sacrifice of those participating in the campaigns of the Pacific Theater during World War II.”
In the scene on the coin’s reverse side, in the arms of the troops coming ashore from landing vehicles are a number of distinctive M1s.
I grabbed a couple rolls at my local bank, and, besides the Bicentennial Quarters that remind me of my childhood, are my new favorite U.S. coin in common circulation.
I just love PHOTOEX shots!
TASMAN SEA (July 11, 2019) The U.S. Navy Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), top left, the U.S. Navy Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG 62), left, the Royal Canadian Navy Halifax-class frigate HMCS Regina (FFH 334), center, the Royal Australian Navy Canberra-class landing helicopter dock ship HMAS Canberra (L02), top right, and the Legend-class cutter USCGC Stratton (WMSL 752), right, transit by the amphibious transport dock ship USS Green Bay (LPD 20) in a photo exercise (PHOTOEX) during Talisman Sabre 2019. Green Bay, part of the Wasp Expeditionary Strike Group, with embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, is currently participating in Talisman Sabre 2019 off the coast of Northern Australia. A bilateral, biennial event, Talisman Sabre is designed to improve U.S. and Australian combat training, readiness and interoperability through realistic, relevant training necessary to maintain regional security, peace, and stability.
In the bonkers short video below, you see a U.S. Coast Guard Deployable Specialized Forces TACLET guy deployed on the U.S. Coast Guard Legends-class National Security Cutter Munro (WMSL 755) going for a ride on a 31-foot Long Range Interceptor “somewhere in the Eastern Pacific.”
Said Coastie makes a perfect landing on what JIATF-South calls “a self-propelled semi-submersible suspected drug smuggling vessel (SPSS)” but best just known as a Narco-Sub. The below happened June 18, 2019.
This is the SPSS when surfaced, to give a scale at just how much of the hull was below the sea:
Just two weeks after the above video was shot, crewmembers of the USCGC Mohawk (WMEC 913) and Tactical Law Enforcement Team South interdicted a second SPSS while conducting counter-trafficking operations in the Eastern Pacific.
The Coast Guard hasn’t been this busy fighting submarines since the Germans!
With the news earlier this month that SECNAV will be naming one of the Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class destroyers after the late (great) Capt. Quentin Walsh, USCG, I’ve seen several news sources– both mainstream and in the military blogosphere— say this is the first occasion that the U.S. Navy has named a warship after a member of the U.S. Coast Guard.
Simply not true.
To the best of my knowledge, there are at least three other occasions (and likely more that I can’t think of) that have predated them.
1. USS Newcomb (DD-586), a Fletcher-class destroyer is named for Commodore Frank H. Newcomb of the Revenue Cutter Service, the Coast Guard’s predecessor. After Civil War service in the Navy, Newcomb was commissioned as an officer in the USRCS and in 1898 while in command of the plucky little USRC Hudson, came to the assistance of the crippled torpedo boat USS Winslow during the Battle of Cárdenas in the war with Spain.
He was given a special Congressional Gold Medal for his part in the Spanish–American War– the only one issued by Congress for the conflict. USS Newcomb only made it to the Pacific in 1944, but received 8 battle stars for World War II service, having been present from Saipan to Okinawa. At the former, she sank Japanese submarine I-185, and on 4 July 1944 “her well-directed fire broke up a Japanese banzai attack north of Garapan.”
2. Canadian-born S1C Douglas Albert Munro, USCGR, was 22 when he gave his last full measure at the Second Battle of the Matanikau on Guadalcanal in September 1942 when he was placed in charge of the extrication of a force of the 7th Marines that had been overrun by the Japanese. He was killed while using the boat he was piloting to shield a landing craft filled with Marines from Japanese fire and received the MOH for his “extraordinary heroism,” endorsed by Halsey himself. His dying words before he slumped into the great beyond were, “Did they get off?”
The Butler-class destroyer escort USS Douglas A. Munro (DE-422) was named in his honor in 1944, serving in both WWII and the Korean War. Further, the Coast Guard has named two large sea-going cutters after Munro, who is the service’s only MOH recipient.
3. DDG-133 was named earlier this year for former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn. Of course, the fact that he served as the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee from 1987 to 1995 likely had more to do with that than his time in the Coast Guard (1959-60) and USCGR (1960-68), but nonetheless, it was mentioned in the calculus of the decision by SECNAV for bestowing his name to a $1 Billion+ cruiser-sized destroyer.
Then, of course, there is the case of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, who as Secretary of the Treasury founded the Revenue Marine (the Coast Guard’s ancestor) in 1790. While the Revenue Cutter Service/USCG has named at least four ocean-going cutters after the storied Revolutionary War hero and service founder– one of which was lost to a U-boat in WWII– the Navy has also counted a warship with the same name on the Navy List: the ballistic missile submarine USS Alexander Hamilton (SSBN-617), from 1963 to 1993.
Any others that you know of? Please share with me so we all do!
A lot of people forget that the U.S. Coast Guard often carries a serious load in American military history, punching way out of their weight class. This had held true from the War of 1812 to the current standoffs in the East China Sea and the Persian Gulf, with stops at every conflict in between.
During WWII, besides putting some 250,000 men and women in uniform, put the equivalent of four infantry divisions on stateside Beach Patrol, manned squadrons of surface escorts (not only cutters but DDs, DEs, PFs, PCMs, and armed icebreakers), stood up the “Hooligan Navy” to protect the homeland from German and Japanese subs, conned flotillas of other landing craft and support craft, fielded patrol squadrons that included 120 PBY Catalinas, and put a fleet of small craft off the beaches of Normandy that pulled 1,500 men out of the water in June 1944. In all, the Coast Guard manned 802 of their own commissioned ships as well as 351 Navy, and 288 Army vessels during the conflict.
One of these unsung Coasties is Capt. Quentin Walsh.
Born in 1910, he graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in 1933 and was soon working Rum Row during the final days of Prohibition. He clocked in for peacetime service on the Clemson-class destroyer USS Herndon (DD-198)— which had been chopped to the USCG for the war on booze– as well as the famed cutters Yamacraw and Campbell. When the war began, he shipped out on the Coast Guard-manned troop transport Joseph T. Dickman which served across the globe, ferrying Allied troops across five continents.
Then-CDR Walsh in 1944 found himself on the staff of Commander U.S. Naval Forces in Europe, located in London, and was given command of a special scratch force (Task Unit 127.2.8) of about 50~ Navy Sea Bees that landed on Utah Beach on D-Day, armed with bazookas, hand grenades, rifles and submachine guns. Heading right for Cherbourg to the West, you could say he soon gained the keys to the city in a huge win.
As noted by the Coast Guard:
“Despite heavy casualties, his small force seized the port facilities and took control of the harbor the day after they entered the city.
After he discovered that the remaining German garrison at Fort du Homet held 52 U.S. Army paratroopers as prisoners, Walsh, under a flag of truce, exaggerated the strength of the forces under his command and persuaded the commanding officer of the remnants of the German garrison to surrender. These actions earned him the Navy Cross and, all told, he accepted the surrender of over 700 German soldiers.”
“Heroism as Commanding Officer of a U.S. Naval party reconnoitering the naval facilities and naval arsenal at Cherbourg June 26 and 27, 1944. While in command of a reconnaissance party, Commander Walsh entered the port of Cherbourg and penetrated the eastern half of the city, engaging in street fighting with the enemy. He accepted the surrender and disarmed 400 of the enemy force at the naval arsenal and later received the unconditional surrender of 350 enemy troops and, at the same time, released 52 captured U.S. Army paratroopers. His determination and devotion to duty were instrumental in the surrender of the last inner fortress of the Arsenal.”
Walsh later helped open up the ports of Brest and La Harve, enabling Patton and Monty to get the gas and gear they needed to liberate Northwestern Europe. Leaving the service in poor health in 1946, he returned to active duty for Korea and retired as a captain in 1960.
Last week, on the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, SECNAV Richard V. Spencer named a future Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, DDG 132, in honor of Walsh, in a ceremony at Cherbourg aboard the Coast Guard Training Ship Eagle (herself a captured German WWII-era vessel).
“For over two centuries, the Navy and Marine Corps team and the Coast Guard have sailed side by side, in peacetime and war, fair weather or foul,” said Spencer. “I am honored the future USS Quentin Walsh will carry Capt. Walsh’s legacy of strength and service throughout the world, and I am proud that for decades to come, this ship will remind friends and adversaries alike of the proud history of our services and the skill and professionalism of all those who stand the watch today.”