Operation Patriot Sands: U.S. Air Force and Coast Guard joint airlift exercise

Written by Lt. j.g. Andrew Cook

Members of Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team Miami prepare load a small boat onto an Air Force C-17 in Homestead, Florida, March 8, 2017. An Air Force C-17 airplane transported two MSST boats from Homestead to Tampa to highlight the value of using joint service airlift operations to transport assets over large distances as part of exercise Patriot Sands. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Eric D. Woodall.

Members of Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team Miami prepare load a small boat onto an Air Force C-17 in Homestead, Florida, March 8, 2017. An Air Force C-17 airplane transported two MSST boats from Homestead to Tampa to highlight the value of using joint service airlift operations to transport assets over large distances as part of exercise Patriot Sands. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Eric D. Woodall.

Mobility is a critical aspect for every military organization. For the Coast Guard, effective mobility is the capability to surge people, boats and equipment on short notice to an area of need. In cases of natural disasters or other catastrophic incidents the surge of assets must be accomplished quickly in order to save lives and property.

To prepare for these events, Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Teams Kings Bay, Georgia, and Miami participated in the Air Force’s 2017 Operation Patriot Sands. Operation Patriot Sands is an annual joint, interagency exercise that allows units to practice cooperative transport of vital equipment using Air Force planes. The two MSSTs met with an Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft crew and successfully loaded two response boats, two trucks and over a dozen Coast Guard personnel onto the aircraft. The group flew to MacDill Air Force Base where they unloaded and reloaded all of their gear before returning to Homestead, Florida.

Trained load planners with the MSSTs know the principles of putting heavy equipment on aircraft for transport but opportunities to practice those skills can be rare.

Members of Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team Miami set up ramps on an Air Force C-17 in Homestead, Florida, March 8, 2017. An Air Force C-17 airplane transported two MSST boats from Homestead to Tampa to highlight the value of using joint service airlift operations to transport assets over large distances as part of exercise Patriot Sands. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Eric D. Woodall.

Members of Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team Miami set up ramps on an Air Force C-17 in Homestead, Florida, March 8, 2017. An Air Force C-17 airplane transported two MSST boats from Homestead to Tampa to highlight the value of using joint service airlift operations to transport assets over large distances as part of exercise Patriot Sands. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Eric D. Woodall.

“Operation Patriot Sands was one of the best teamwork experiences of my career,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Leugi Cotayo, load planner for MSST Miami. “Air Force and Coast Guard members worked together as if it was routine. This exercise gave us the experience and confidence required to perform an air mobility evolution at any given time. The mechanics of the operation were all that was needed to complement what was learned during the load planning classroom course.”

The sight of orange-sided Coast Guard response boats being trailered on and off a massive Air Force C-17 turned a few heads, but it was a strong symbol of how important and effective joint cooperation is for America’s armed services. Most importantly Operation Patriot Sands allowed MSSTs King’s Bay and Miami an opportunity to practice an essential aspect of their role – deployability.

Members of Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team Miami offload a 29-foot Response Boat-Small from an Air Force C-17 in Homestead, Florida, March 8, 2017. An Air Force C-17 airplane transported two MSST boats from Homestead to Tampa to highlight the value of using joint service airlift operations to transport assets over large distances as part of exercise Patriot Sands. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Eric D. Woodall.

Members of Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team Miami offload a 29-foot Response Boat-Small from an Air Force C-17 in Homestead, Florida, March 8, 2017. An Air Force C-17 airplane transported two MSST boats from Homestead to Tampa to highlight the value of using joint service airlift operations to transport assets over large distances as part of exercise Patriot Sands. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Eric D. Woodall.

For everyone involved, Operation Patriot Sands was a successful learning opportunity that strengthened partnerships and showed that mobility is a team effort.

“We’re very lucky to be based here in Homestead at an Air Force facility,” said Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Duffy, commanding officer of MSST Miami. “The base is very supportive of us and everything we do. This exercise was just another great example of how much we benefit from working closely with our sister service here. As members of the Deployable Specialized Forces, it’s our job and part of our value proposition to be deployable so we can get where we’re needed to help out with Coast Guard operations. We may not always get to accomplish that using a C-17, but we have strong joint partners and the ability to be creative should the circumstances call for it. Ultimately, it’s about being where the Coast Guard needs us, being team players and supporting the geographically-based units that are doing great Coast Guard work every day.”

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