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The Guardians of Alabama

Often times, the US Coast Guard is overlooked when mentioning the US Armed Services. However, since September 11th, the US Coast Guard has been in the thick of the fight and the Global War On Terrorism (GWOT). In 2006, riverine operations on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers were handed off to the Coast Guard, from the US Marines, who'd tasked such operations since the Vietnam War. From the beginning of the GWOT, the Coast Guard was in the fight.

On April 24, 2004, Iraqi terrorists navigated three small vessels armed with explosives toward Iraq’s oil terminals. A US Navy patrol craft, Firebolt which included both US Navy and Coast Guard personnel intercepted one of the watercrafts.

Terrorists aboard the small vessel detonated its explosive cargo as the Americans approached, overturning the boat and killing Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Bruckenthal and two Navy crew members. He was serving in his second tour of duty in Iraq. Bruckenthal had already received the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal and Combat Action Ribbon. He posthumously received the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart Medal and Global War On Terrorism Expeditionary Medal. He was the first Coast Guardsman killed in combat since the Vietnam War and was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

In September of 2019, The Coast Guard Cutter Valiant seized a 'narco sub' carrying 12,000 pounds of cocaine worth over $165 million. Two months previously in July, the Coast Guard seized 26,000 pounds of cocaine worth $350 million in several operations in the same eastern Pacific Ocean area. In that same month, authorities in Southern California seized more than 16 tons of marijuana worth an estimated $1.19 billion. More than $1 billion worth of cocaine was seized at the Philadelphia Port, the time the largest cocaine bust in history in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

During the 2020 Pandemic, the illegal drug industry was one of very few industries that did not undergo a significant hit. Simply put, addicts still wanted their drugs. This past July, U.S. Coast Guard cutter The Harriet Lane seized 882 pounds of suspected cocaine in the Caribbean Sea with an estimated street value of $16 million. A month later, through a combined effort of inter-agency partners and international coalition, The U.S. Coast Guard off loaded a record amount of cocaine and marijuana at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Approximately 59,700 pounds of cocaine and approximately 1,430 pounds of marijuana. The off load which was worth more than $1.4 billion was the largest offload in Coast Guard history.

In early October of this year, Mobile County Sheriff's deputies confiscated more than $120,000 in cash during a traffic stop in Grand Bay, Alabama on I-10. The two motorists, both of which were illegals admitted to intending to use the money to purchase drugs in Miami and transport back to Houston, Texas through Alabama. Two and a half weeks later, Mobile Police executed "Operation Safe Streets" and yielded overwhelming results. Operation Safe Streets seized 400 grams (14.1 oz.) of marijuana, 1 gram of heroin, 1.5 grams of fentanyl and 71 grams (2.5 oz.) of crack cocaine.

On October 26th, authorities had yet another successful sting. Forty-two members and associates of a Mobile County-based, multi-state drug trafficking operation called, "The Crossley Hills Organization" were charged in Federal Court. The indictment states that the drugs came from California, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi. According to Richard Moore, the US Attorney for Southern Alabama, the drugs were distributed mostly in Mobile. The grand jury has charged that opioids, mostly heroin and fentanyl resulted in the overdose deaths of four individuals, can be traced back to this organization. Recently in November, Darrin Southall, the leader of a $24 million drug operation in Mobile plead guilty to lesser charges and has been sent to prison potentially for several decades.

Given its geographic location, Mobile and the Gulf Coast Region is ground zero for illegal drug smuggling and other drug related criminality. The US Coast Guard is on the front lines in the war against drugs in the region. The Coast Guard says it accounts for more than half of all U.S. government drug seizures of cocaine each year.

According to its annual performance report, the Coast Guard recovered almost 224 metric tons of cocaine in 2017. The US Coast Guard is Alabama's first line of defense. The Coast Guard Aviation Training Center (ATC) in Mobile, Alabama is a multi-mission unit, acting as the Coast Guard's aviation and capabilities development center, as well as an operational air station. Training is conducted to qualify Coast Guard pilots in the MH-60 "Jayhawk", the MH-65 "Dolphin", the HC-130 Hercules, the HC-130J Hercules, and the HC-144 "Ocean Sentry." All pilots initially trained at ATC return once a year for a one-week proficiency course in their designated airframe. Serving within the Coast Guard's Force Readiness Command's Training Division (FC-T), the ATC Mobile evaluation center is responsible for ensuring that Coast Guard aviation forces are using the best equipment and tactics to successfully complete all required missions. The Operations Department, flying the HC-144A Ocean Sentry, is a segment within the ATC command that conducts traditional Coast Guard air station missions including Search and Rescue, Homeland Security, and Environmental Protection.

The Operations Department operates under the tactical control of the Eighth Coast Guard District and has area of responsibility that extends from the Louisiana/Texas border to the eastern edge of the Florida panhandle. The Aviation Training Center is committed to be the model Coast Guard aviation and support unit. At the helm of leadership is Captain Christopher J. Hulser.

Captain Hulser is the 21st Commanding Officer of Coast Guard Aviation Training Center (ATC) Mobile, AL. He is responsible for all aspects of Coast Guard pilot and aircrew training and standardization for 26 Air Stations and 43 flight deck equipped Coast Guard Cutters. Additionally, he commands the Coast Guard’s Aviation Capabilities Development Center, provides 24/7 fixed-wing operational response, and directs helicopter disaster surge response for America’s Gulf Coast. Captain Hulser is a 23-year veteran of the US Coast Guard, and a 1997 graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

His first assignment was aboard the 270’ Cutter SPENCER (Boston, MA) where he performed CG Law Enforcement, Fisheries, and Search and Rescue missions. Next, he earned his “Wings of Gold” at US Navy Flight School, Pensacola NAS. His first aviation duty assignment was Air Station San Francisco where he served as a Helicopter Aircraft Commander. In 2004, he was selected as the Coast Guard’s Exchange Pilot to the Royal Canadian Air Force and transferred to British Columbia, Canada. During his last year on exchange, he served as the Pilot Leader in Canada’s 442 Rescue Squadron, an honor never before conveyed to a foreign officer. After returning, LT Hulser reported to Miami, FL for duty as a Department Head and Aircraft Commander.

In 2010 he was selected as a Presidential Public Service Fellow and earned his Master’s degree from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. At Harvard he earned the distinction of being named the Lucius N. Littauer Fellow for academic and leadership accomplishment. After Harvard, LCDR Hulser served as the Military Aide to the 24th Commandant for two years until receiving orders “back to the fleet” as Chief Pilot at Air Station Houston. While at Houston, he was promoted to the rank of Commander, and the unit’s Executive Officer.

In 2015 CDR Hulser attended Senior Service School at the US Marine Corps War College. He graduated with honors and was named the class Distinguished Graduate. Following War College, CDR Hulser was assigned to US NORTHCOM (J3 - Domestic Operations), to conduct Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA). From 2018-2020, CAPT Hulser returned to CG Headquarters as the Acting Director of Military Personnel and the Coast Guard Reserve (CG-13). He was responsible for the development and oversight of military personnel policy programs to attract, recruit, train, and retain the Coast Guard’s 55K person workforce.

The Coast Guard has consistently proven itself in the domestic and foreign fight against both drugs and terrorism. But at its cornerstone is the art of search and rescue. Search and Rescue (SAR) is one of the Coast Guard's oldest missions. Minimizing the loss of life, injury, property damage or loss by rendering aid to persons in distress and property in the maritime environment has always been a Coast Guard priority. Coast Guard SAR response involves multi-mission stations, cutters, aircraft and boats linked by communications networks. In early April of this year, the Coast Guard rescued three people from an aground sailboat near Fort Morgan, Alabama.

A Coast Guard Station Dauphin Island 45-Foot Response Boat-Medium boat crew, Coast Guard Aviation Training Center Mobile MH-65 Dolphin helicopter and Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew to assist the stranded passengers. The Station Dauphin Island boat crew arrived on the scene but was unable to access the aground vessel due to water depth. The Air Station New Orleans helicopter crew arrived on the scene, safely hoisted the three people and then transported them back to Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley in Mobile, Alabama.

For many like these, the sounds of the rotors of the Coast Guard helicopters and the sights rescue swimmer are like God sent angels of mercy. Every year, thousands who have been stranded at sea, or caught in the midst of a hurricane while at sea, are plucked to safety by those who are willing to risk life and limb. While many are unaware of the combat roles played by the Coast Guard in the GWOT, many are only minimally knowledgeable of the heroic efforts of the Coast Guard's Search and Rescue.

In the motion picture, The Guardian gave viewers an inside look at the Coast Guard and the demanding training of a Coast Guard rescue swimmer. Starring veteran actor Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher, the film refers to a legendary figure within the film which protects people lost at sea: "the Guardian". The film focuses on the United States Coast Guard and their Aviation Survival Technician program. Throughout the film, viewers see real to life situations and consequences that Coast Guard members very often experience such as broken marriages due to long deployments, high risk rescue efforts, and failed rescue attempts that often result in death. In the film, Costner's crew dies in the line of duty, which leaves him haunted by survivor's guilt. The mishap is loosely based on an actual U.S. Coast Guard aviation mishap in Alaska in 1981 that lost an entire crew.

In August of 1981, a Coast Guard station at Kodiak, Alaska received a distress call from a fishing boat. The Coast Guard crew responded. Communications was lost due to the hostile weather conditions typical of that in the Bering Straight region. The passenger on the fishing vessel survived but the fates of the four-man Coast Guard helicopter were not as fortunate.

The bodies of Lt. Ernest Rivas and AT3 John Snyder Jr. were eventually located on Montague Island, which was followed by the retrieval of Scott Finfrock’s mortal remains. But the body of Lt. Joseph Spoja was not found. A painting by Arden Von Dewitz, named ‘So Others May Live,’ commemorates the incident and still hangs at the Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak. Thirty years later in August of 2011, a memorial service commemorating the loss of lives that day was held to honor the four crew members

Many of the supporting actors in The Guardian, including ASTC instructors, helicopter pilots, and support personnel, are actual U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmers, pilots, and ground personnel. This added authenticity to the film. Several motion pictures such as "The Finest Hours", and "The Perfect Storm", have been made that portray the professionalism and the "into the eye of danger" courage that is consistently demonstrated by the US Coast Guard.

A defining moment for the Coast Guard in the Gulf Coast region was that of Hurricane Katrina. The Coast Guard played a key role in the planning, response and recovery efforts for Hurricane Katrina in three mission areas: search and rescue, maritime pollution response, and management of maritime commerce. The Coast Guard was one of the first federal agencies to begin rescue operations, despite the fact that almost half the local Coast Guard personnel lost their own homes in the hurricane. They rescued or evacuated more than 33,500 people, six times as many as they saved in all of 2004. Much of this can be attributed to the workhorses of the Coast Guard - The MH-65 Dolphin, Sikorsky MH-60J Jayhawk

The Eurocopter MH-65 Dolphin is a twin-engined helicopter operated by the US Coast Guard for medevac capable search and rescue and armed Airborne Use of Force missions. It is a variant of the French-built Eurocopter AS365 Dauphin. The MH-65A's minimum equipment requirements exceeded anything previously packaged into a helicopter weighing less than 10,000 pounds. Seventy-five percent of the MH-65's structure including rotor head, rotor blades and fuselage consists of corrosion resistant composite materials. Also, a unique feature of the Dolphin is its computerized flight management system, which integrates state-of-the-art communications and navigation equipment. This system provides automatic flight control. At the pilot's direction, the system will bring the aircraft to a stable hover 50 feet above a selected object. This is an important safety feature in darkness or inclement weather. Selected search patterns can be flown automatically, freeing the pilot and copilot to concentrate on sighting & searching the object.

A distinctive feature of the MH-65 is its fenestron ducted fan anti-torque device. The fenestron consists of 11 blades spinning inside a circular housing at the base of the helicopter's tail fin. The Fenestron differs from a conventional open tail rotor by being integrally housed within the tail boom, and like the conventional tail rotor it replaces, functions to counteract the torque generated by the main rotor. While conventional tail rotors typically have two or four blades, Fenestrons have between seven and eighteen blades; these may have variable angular spacing so that the noise is distributed over different frequencies.[6] By placing the fan within a duct, several distinct advantages over a conventional tail rotor are obtained, such as a reduction in tip vortex losses, the potential for substantial noise reduction, while also shielding both the tail rotor itself from collision damage and ground personnel from the hazard posed by a traditional spinning rotor Certified for single-pilot instrument flight rules (IFR) operation, the HH-65A was the first helicopter certified with a four-axis autopilot, allowing for hands-off hover over a pre-determined location.

The Dolphin is primarily a Short-Range Recovery (SRR) aircraft. There are now a total of 102 Dolphins in the Coast Guard Fleet. The fleet has home ports in 17 cities on the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Gulf of Mexico, Hawaii, and the Great Lakes region. The Dolphin is usually deployed from shore but it can be deployed from medium and high endurance Coast Guard Cutters, as well as the Polar Icebreakers. The Dolphin's main jobs are: search and rescue, enforcement of laws and drug interdiction, polar ice breaking, marine environmental protection including pollution control, and military readiness.

When deployed from an icebreaker, the helicopter acts as the ship's eyes, searching out thinner and more navigable ice channels. They also have the job of airlifting supplies to villages isolated by winter, or transporting scientists to conduct remote research.

The MH-65 is also used to patrol the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) around Washington, D.C., also known as the National Capital Region (NCR). Seven new-build MH-65Cs were acquired for this mission.

The Dolphin is primarily a Short-Range Recovery (SRR) aircraft. There are now a total of 102 Dolphins in the Coast Guard Fleet. The fleet has home ports in 17 cities on the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, Hawaii, and the Great Lakes region. The Dolphin is usually deployed from shore but it can be deployed from medium and high endurance Coast Guard Cutters, as well as the Polar Icebreakers. The Dolphin's main jobs are: search and rescue, enforcement of laws and treaties (including drug interdiction), polar ice breaking, marine environmental protection including pollution control, and military readiness. When deployed from an icebreaker, the helicopter acts as the ship's eyes, searching out thinner and more navigable ice channels. They also have the job of airlifting supplies to villages isolated by winter, or transporting scientists to conduct remote research.

The Sikorsky MH-60T Jayhawk is a multi-mission, twin-engine, medium-range helicopter operated by the United States Coast Guard for search and rescue, law enforcement, military readiness and marine environmental protection missions. It was originally designated HH-60J before being upgraded and redesignated beginning in 2007. Chosen to replace the HH-3F Pelican, the HH-60J was based on the United States Navy's SH-60 Seahawk and a member of the Sikorsky S-70 helicopter family. Compared to its predecessor, the HH-3F, the HH-60J is lighter, faster, and equipped with more sophisticated electronics and more powerful engines. The HH-60J was developed in conjunction with the U.S. Navy's HH-60H Rescue Hawk.

The USCG began converting its 42 HH-60Js to MH-60Ts in January 2007. The avionics and capabilities upgrade is part of the USCG's Integrated Deepwater System Program and will provide a glass cockpit, an enhanced electro-optic/infrared sensor system as well as a radar sensor system and airborne use of force capability. The airborne use of force package includes both weapons for firing warning and disabling shots and armor to protect the aircrew from small arms fire. The MH-60T upgrades were completed in February 2014.

The Jayhawk has a normal cruising speed of the MH-60T is 155 to 161 mph and the aircraft is capable of reaching 207 mph for short durations. It can fly at 161 mph for six to seven hours. With a fuel capacity of 6,460 pounds, the helicopter is designed to fly a crew of four up to 300 miles offshore, hoist up to six additional people on board while remaining on-scene for up to 45 minutes and return to base while maintaining an adequate fuel reserve. The Jayhawk has a radar for search/weather that gives its nose a distinctive look. A forward looking infrared (FLIR) sensor turret can be mounted below its nose. It can carry three 120 US gal fuel tanks with two on the port side rack and one on the starboard side rack. The starboard side also carries a 600 lbf capacity rescue hoist mounted above the door. The hoist has 200 ft of cable. It uses the NAVSTAR Global Positioning System as its primary long range navigational aid, using a Collins RCVR-3A radio to simultaneously receive information from four of the NAVSTAR system's 18 worldwide satellites. The helicopter is normally based on land but can be based on 270-foot medium endurance Coast Guard Cutters (WMEC) or 378 ft high endurance Coast Guard Cutters (WHEC).

The US Coast Guard has a powerful footprint the in the great State of Alabama. When Hurricane Katrina gripped the Gulf Coast into a natural disaster of epic proportions, the Coast Guard was there to meet the needs of residents. The horrific images of people stranded on the roof tops, being extracted in baskets by search and rescue personnel will forever be engrained into the memories of those who lived through the ordeal. While the rest of the nation sat by seemingly helpless to intervene, the Coast Guard went in and perhaps became the face of the relief efforts in terms of rooftop extractions and providing small watercraft operations in flooded areas.

The Alabama Gulf Coast is ground zero for drug smuggling in the state as well as Florida/Mississippi/Louisianna panhandle. The Coast Guard has been more than willing to invest in the latest law enforcement technologies, high speed advanced watercrafts, as well as advanced aviation assets in order to establish and maintain its dominance on the waters. Given the nature of illegal drugs and drug smuggling, criminals will continue to be creative in how they covertly bring drugs into the country illegally. However, the Coast Guard stands at the ready to evolve with the challenges of drug interdiction. The Coast Guard is the lead and only federal maritime law enforcement agency with both the authority and capability to enforce national and international law, including drug interdiction, on the high seas. The Coast Guard shares the lead for interdiction and enforcement responsibilities with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in U.S. territorial waters.

To combat the growing threat posed by the drug trafficking organizations’ expanded use of semisubmersible and submersible vessels, the Drug Trafficking Vessel Interdiction Act was enacted in 2008.The Coast Guard uses cutters, boats, and aircraft in a layered approach to combat cartels as they transport illicit drugs from the source zone, through the Western Hemisphere Transit Zone (WHTZ) and into the United States. The Coast Guard’s most capable interdiction platforms include flight deck-equipped major cutters with embarked airborne use of force rotary wing capability, deployable pursuit-capable boats, and Coast Guard law enforcement detachments embarked on U.S. Navy (USN) and allied ships. The Coast Guard dedicates a considerable number of resources and effort to its counter-drug mission across the WHTZ. the Coast Guard is constantly refining tactics, techniques, and operational procedures, as well as is optimizing the use of varied interdiction surface forces to counter the changing and increasingly sophisticated practices of the transnational criminal organizations responsible for drug smuggling through the WHTZ and into the United States. Working with interagency, the DOD, and international partners, the Coast Guard continues to seek efficiencies and improvements in the execution of this critical mission.


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