Coast Guard Cutter Valiant: Interdicting drugs, detaining suspected smugglers and building relationships

Written by Ens. James Martin

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Valiant and members from SENAN gather for a group picture following the Partner Nation Engagement in Panama City, Panama. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Dillon Whitaker.

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Valiant and members from SENAN gather for a group picture following the Partner Nation Engagement in Panama City, Panama. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Dillon Whitaker.

In early March, the crew of Coast Guard Cutter Valiant wrapped up a two month, Joint Inter-Agency Task Force South counter-narcotics patrol in the Eastern Pacific Ocean in which the crew interdicted eight go-fast vessels, seized 4.7 tons of cocaine valued at more than $141 million and detained 23 suspected smugglers.

Despite their accomplishments, the crew had one more job to do before returning to their homeport of Mayport, Florida.

Before heading back through the Panama Canal, the ship stopped at Vasco Nuñez de Balboa Naval Base near Panama City, Panama, for a three-day port visit. Although short, this visit played a crucial role in enhancing relationships with partner nations, which is a goal of the Coast Guard’s Western Hemisphere Strategy.

Petty Officer First Class Mark Velez and Ensign Craig Rooke lead a discussion on the Coast Guard’s risk assessment model. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Dillon Whitaker.

Petty Officer First Class Mark Velez and Ensign Craig Rooke lead a discussion on the Coast Guard’s risk assessment model. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Dillon Whitaker.

In Panama, the crew worked side-by-side with the country’s National Air and Naval Service, referred to as SENAN. Formed in 2008, SENAN is a branch of the Public Forces of the Republic of Panama and is responsible for carrying out naval and air operations.

“We view Panama, particularly SENAN, as a very capable, willing partner who can serve as a regional force multiplier in the mission to combat transnational organized crime,” said Lt. Cmdr. Kristen Hahn, the regional advisor for South and Central America at the Coast Guard’s Office of International Affairs and Foreign Policy.

This being the first engagement with SENAN in nearly two years, this exchange gave Valiant crewmembers the opportunity to share techniques and best practices for law enforcement, small boat operations, voice and visual communications, and operational risk management.

“This was a really unique opportunity for us to be able to work with another nation’s military and showcase our knowledge and skill,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Terence Klingele, a maritime enforcement specialist who taught the law enforcement control techniques. “It’s a reminder that we as a Coast Guard are some of the best at what we do and to be able to share that with a friendly military is a neat experience.”

Chief Petty Officer Derrick Borel and Petty Officer 1st Class Conor Hotchkiss led small boat tactics training in Valiant’s cutter boat, one of the ship’s two surface assets used in drug interdiction cases. The duo, along with Petty Officer 2nd Class Freddy Zamora, illustrated approaches and pursuit tactics for non-compliant vessels.

First Class Petty Officer Terence Klingle demonstrates law enforcement control techniques to SENAN members. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Dillon Whitaker.

First Class Petty Officer Terence Klingle demonstrates law enforcement control techniques to SENAN members. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Dillon Whitaker.

On Valiant’s bridge, operation’s specialist focused training on voice and visual communications. Petty Officer 2nd Class Zavier Washington and Petty Officer 2nd Class Walter Lewis, instructed SENAN members on proper radio etiquette and complex communications procedures during drug interdiction cases. In addition, Boatswain’s Mate Petty Officer 3rd Class Trevor Wilson, demonstrated tactical visual communication procedures.

Ensign Craig Rooke led a discussion concerning operational risk management and assessment, to improve their understanding of the concept. Rooke explained that operational risk management is a continuous, systematic process of identifying and controlling risks in all activities, and that every crew member conducts risk management prior to every operational evolution.

Despite all the training, members of SENAN and Valiant’s crew had time to participate in another valuable activity- a friendly game of soccer.

Throughout the day-long interaction and camaraderie building, the crews proved that throughout the Western Hemisphere, nations are focused on a common goal: To work together to disrupt the flow of illegal narcotics by targeting transnational organized criminal networks.

“Our time here in Panama gave the crew of Valiant an opportunity for a successful, professional exchange between their Air and Naval Service and Coast Guard cutter,” said Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Hill, the Coast Guard’s liaison officer to Panama. “Both SENAN and the Coast Guard look forward to similar exchanges in the future.”

Fireman Kevin Magersuppe leads the offensive in a soccer match between the crew of Valiant and members of SENAN, Panama’s Naval and Air Service. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2rd Class Dillon Whitaker.

Fireman Kevin Magersuppe leads the offensive in a soccer match between the crew of Valiant and members of SENAN, Panama’s Naval and Air Service. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2rd Class Dillon Whitaker.

 

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