Homeland security: War on terrorism includes shoreline patrols by Coast Guard

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Homeland security: War on terrorism includes shoreline patrols by Coast Guard

By SONJA BARISIC Associated Press Writer

November 10 2001

ABOARD THE COAST GUARD CUTTER CAMPBELL -- A fog shrouds much of the Chesapeake Bay, but Seaman Melissa Mathis can just make out the silhouette of a small boat speeding by.

Standing on the bow of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Campbell, Mathis picks up a bullhorn and admonishes the boat: "Stay clear!"

Under temporary protection zones established since the terrorism of Sept. 11, non-military boats must stay at least 100 yards away from U.S. Navy ships. The Coast Guard also is enforcing a security perimeter around its own ships, and the boat Mathis spied was maybe 50 yards in the distance.

Encroachments upon that zone are just one thing Coast Guard members look for as they patrol the nation's 95,000 miles of coastline and inland shores and more than 360 ports. They're also boarding commercial vessels and staying alert for anything unusual.

Coast Guard cutters that normally would be enforcing fishing regulations, conducting search and rescue missions, and looking for drug smugglers and illegal immigrants have a new top priority: homeland security.

"The Coast Guard's involvement in homeland security is the greatest that it has been since World War II," said Lt. Cmdr. Brendan McPherson, spokesman for the Coast Guard's Atlantic Area Command, based in Portsmouth, Va.

The Coast Guard has 35,000 active-duty members. That includes 24,000 in the Atlantic Area, which encompasses 40 states from New Mexico through the heartland and up the Eastern Seaboard to Maine. The Atlantic Area is responsible for everything from the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean to the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes.

In addition, about a third of the Coast Guard's 8,000 reserves have been called up nationwide. The Coast Guard also gets help from 40,000 auxiliary, or civilian volunteers aboard pleasure boats who keep watch.

Still, the heightened security needs--and the accelerated work pace--are stretching the resources of the lead agency for maritime homeland security.

"We are trying to figure out a balance" so the Coast Guard can manage its other missions as well, McPherson said.

The Coast Guard has put much of its fleet to work patrolling ports and coastlines since Sept. 11. On homeland security duty are 55 cutters, 42 aircraft and hundreds of small boats, McPherson said. The Guard also has reassigned some of its largest cutters from offshore duty to a number of the nation's largest and busiest ports, he said.

The Campbell, a 270-foot cutter based in New Bedford, Mass., has kept vigil off southeastern Virginia for about three weeks. The area is particularly high risk because it is home to one of the world's largest Navy fleet concentrations, as well as shipbuilding and repair facilities and a commercial port. Once the Campbell leaves, it will be replaced by another cutter.

"It's not unusual for the Coast Guard to shift missions," Cmdr. Eric Brown, the Campbell's commanding officer, said recently as the ship sailed into the bay from Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base, which straddles Norfolk and Virginia Beach, Va.

"In the '20s, we were enforcing Prohibition laws," Brown said. "This is where we're needed now."

The Sept. 11 attacks forced shifts in strategy as well, said Jack Crumbaugh, the Campbell's chief enlisted adviser_ such as having extra people monitor the ship's radar.

"Now you're really not sure who your enemy is," said Crumbaugh, 40, of Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.

The Campbell was in its homeport when the terrorist attacks occurred. The cutter sailed on Sept. 12 and arrived in New York on Sept. 13 to help provide security.

"When we got on scene--to not see the World Trade Center was something you could not ever fathom," said Lt. j.g. Carmen DeGeorge, 26, of Berwick, Penn.

The Campbell stayed in New York for three weeks. After a short break, it headed to Virginia. Armed with mounted .50-caliber machine guns and a 76mm gun, the ship has been doing exercises and sending crews to board and inspect commercial vessels.

"You're always observant for anything out of the normal," said Seaman Corey Franklin, a 22-year-old deck hand from Norfolk and a member of one of the cutter's boarding teams. "You never reach a comfort level. You're always alert."

To ease the boarding of ships before they reach port, thus disrupting commercial traffic as little as possible, the Coast Guard now requires ships to provide notice 96 hours before they arrive in U.S. waters, up from 24 hours.

A boarding takes about four hours; the Campbell did about a half-dozen in Virginia over a two-week period, finding nothing untoward.

To help with homeland security, the Coast Guard now also has been assigned six high-speed, heavily armed coastal patrol boats previously used by the Navy for special operations missions.

Four of the 170-foot boats based at Little Creek will be used along the East Coast. Two that are based in San Diego will be used on the West Coast. Coast Guard law enforcement detachments of a half-dozen people will be placed aboard each boat, which will continue to be operated by Navy crews.

For Mathis, who had been in the Coast Guard reserves, the homeland security mission is so important that she dropped out of college after the attacks and went into the service full-time.

"I'm very proud to be on this mission," said Mathis, 19, of Clinton, N.C., the only woman among the Campbell's crew of 90-plus. "I love being underway, I love the people, I love being on a big ship, I love being part of national security.

"We're making a difference."

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), November 10, 2001


I hope the Coast Guard does a better job today than World War II. The Germans sunk many merchantmen in the Gulf during World War II. Some were even sunk in the mouth of the Mississippi.

-- David Williams (DAVIDWILL@prodigy.net), November 11, 2001.

Geesh guy - the Coast Guard wasn't responsible for dealing with Nazi subs - the Navy was. The Coast Guard did well with what they had and are about the only people we really shouldn't blame about that mess.

It took the Navy quite a while to get a handle on the subs - a problem made worse because merchants along the coast lines refused to turn off their advertising lights. The resulting horizon glow illuminated blacked out merchant ships and made them excellent targets for the subs.

-- Rich Marsh (marshr@airmail.net), November 11, 2001.

I guess the mouth of the Mississippi isn't part of the coast that the Coast Guard should patrol

-- David Williams (DAVIDWILL@prodigy.net), November 12, 2001.

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