Friday, July 4, 2014
The Pursuit of Happiness
The Coast Guard gets little respect. Few people consider us a vital part of our nation’s defense, but in peacetime as well as in times of war, the Coast Guard is constantly involved in keeping our country safe, from the perils of the sea, and from foreign invaders. We are Semper Paratus, Always Ready, to protect our citizens Life, Liberty, and their pursuit of Happiness.
I am assigned to one of the larger cutters. I spend more time in the open waters off of Long Island than the smaller boats do. The smaller boats are better known for inspecting private pleasure boats, and handing out fines for things like not enough life jackets on board, or a dead fire extinguisher. These are all things that are intended to save your life, while you are pursuing happiness out on the bay. But most people on Long Island hate us for that. We just don’t get any respect. Thank goodness I will be spending this year on a bigger ship out in the open water.
This past Saturday night we received a report from a maritime reconnaissance drone that an unmarked cargo ship was stopped dead, in international waters, due south of Democrat Inlet, and that a forty-foot long “Cigarette boat” was heading towards it at a high rate of speed. That could mean anything, but everything it could mean was some kind of trouble.
We received a second report from the drone that the Cigarette boat had indeed rendezvoused with the cargo ship and was taking on a large quantity of cargo. We were a big fast cutter, but we were no match for a cigarette boat in a race. We asked the Navy drone controllers to make one more pass and see what kind of radar the cigarette boat had mounted. They reported sighting no radar at all on the suspect vessel. The bad guys were taking every measure possible to keep from giving away their position. They were relying on their speed alone.
The Captain of our cutter set an ambush, two miles south of the inlet. He called Fire Island Station and ordered the smaller cutter stationed there to linger just inside the inlet, in case the bad guys got past us. Then the Captain sounded Battle Stations!
I was in charge of the forward 20mm auto-cannon. It was originally a world war two left over antiaircraft gun with a lot of miles on her, but she got refitted with a new barrel just last year, and she shot straight and true every time.
We could hear the bad guys coming before we could see them. The Captain gave the word and our searchlights lit up the bad guys, our sirens started to wail, and the engineer blasted open the engines lifting our cutter out of the water and charging at the bad guys full steam ahead! They turned and started to run. The Captain squawked in my headset, “You’re cleared to fire, put a round over their bow!
The sea was rough, both my cutter and the target were bouncing wildly. I aimed over the targets bow, but just as I pulled the trigger we hit a wave and my first round penetrated the rear-end of the target, hitting her square in the engine. High performance fuel, air, and hot lead don’t mix well. The resulting explosion blew the transom right off the cigarette boat. The transom flew through the air and slammed right into the gun shield of my 20mm.
The cigarette boat was burning wildly and sinking at the stern. We could see four crewmen jump from the burning wreck into the water. The Captain maneuvered us to the windward side of the wreck and we rescued the cigarette boats crew, and took them into custody. The cigarette boat’s cargo was burning wildly.
Then the wind changed direction. We all got a whiff of eighteen bails of marijuana, as it burned and laid down a smoke screen that put a smile on the face of everyone on board, and any fishing boat that happened to pass within a mile of us to the leeward. That is when I looked down at the transom of the cigarette boat as it lay against the gun shield of my 20mm auto-cannon. My single 20mm round had dotted the “I” in the cigarette boat’s name, “Happiness.”