The Coast Guard Atlantic Area (LantArea) command oversees all Coast Guard (USCG) domestic operations east of the Rockies including the Caribbean as well as Coast Guard “out-of-hemisphere” operations in Europe, Africa, and Southwest Asia. While day-to-day domestic operations are run by the five regional district commands within Atlantic Area, it is the LantArea’s responsibility to coordinate the flow of Coast Guard resources between districts when major events occur. Since January 2010, LantArea was called upon twice to perform this role: for the earthquake in Haiti and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
On Jan. 12, 2010, a devastating earthquake struck Haiti. The USCG was quick to respond as the CGC Forward was the first U.S. asset to respond, arriving in Port-au-Prince the morning of Jan. 13. Over the weeks to follow, the staff at LantArea worked tirelessly coordinating the diversion and deployment of 14 ships, more than 750 personnel, and thousands of sorties flown by Coast Guard fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. As a result of these efforts, 1,164 American citizens were evacuated, 240 medical evacuations were completed, and more than 360,000 pounds of cargo and equipment were delivered.
On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 and injuring 17 of the crew. The initial focus of the Coast Guard response led by the 8th District was to save lives and extinguish the fire. With these tasks accomplished, the next focus was to address the oil spill that resulted from the explosion. The oil spill response quickly escalated to a Spill of National Significance as responders realized the large volume of oil being release and the difficulties of capping a well a mile beneath the water’s surface. With the escalation in response, the LantArea staff again went to work coordinating the deployment of Coast Guard ships, aircraft, oil response equipment, and thousands of personnel to the Gulf. This coordination included working with Coast Guard Pacific Area to obtain additional ships, aircraft, equipment, and personnel as the response quickly exceeded LantArea’s capacity. A critical role for each area was to balance the demands of the Deepwater response with the need to continue Coast Guard domestic operations around the country at appropriate levels.
Ten days into the Deepwater response, LantArea changed commanders as Adm. Robert J. Papp turned over command to Vice Adm. Robert C. Parker on April 30. Taking command in the midst of responding to such an unprecedented disaster was certainly a baptism by fire, one that the new commander was clearly ready to handle. Under his leadership, the Deepwater response continues to be properly supported, while sufficient forces remain around the nation to keep ports secure and respond to mariners in distress. With the well capped and the flow of oil stopped – though there is still plenty of oil cleanup left to be done – the next challenge will be reconstituting forces and equipment to ensure the area is prepared to respond when the next major crisis occurs.
In a twist of irony that benefited the Coast Guard and the nation’s response to the Deepwater disaster, the Coast Guard had just completed a Spill of National Significance exercise the previous month in the 1st District. The exercise brought together federal, state, and local government agencies, as well as representatives from Canada and the private sector, to practice critical aspects of responding to a major oil spill. This exercise focused in particular on the role of the national incident commander in coordinating a national response to such a spill. Doing so introduced many of the most senior federal personnel, as well as state and local authorities, to oil spill response concepts, roles, and responsibilities just in time for Deepwater Horizon.
In addition to hosting the Spill of National Significance exercise and supporting the Deepwater Horizon response with personnel (more than 800 members) and assets (three cutters and one helicopter), the 1st District, headquartered in Boston, Mass., led many significant events: developed security plans acceptable to state and local officials for the security of liquefied natural gas shipments coming into Boston from Yemen; completed implementation of an Airborne Use of Force capability across the district, adding armed helicopters to the inventory of forces securing the Northeast maritime; worked with the Coast Guard Auxiliary to educate more than 1 million boaters in eight states on boating safety; deployed the icebreaker Penobscot Bay to assist the 9th District with ice breaking in the Great Lakes; and led the U.S. delegation at the North Atlantic Coast Guard Forum, with its 20 member nations. In conjunction with this forum, the 1st District designed and facilitated Iceland’s first major maritime search and rescue (SAR) and environmental response exercise. Rear Adm. Daniel Neptun assumed command of District 1 in May 2010.
The 5th District, headquartered in Portsmouth, Va., changed commanders this year as well, with Rear Adm. William “Dean” Lee taking command. In addition to its normal operations associated with SAR, maritime security, marine safety, and fisheries, District 5 conducted Operation Bow Rider, an outreach, education, and enforcement operation aimed at reducing accidents associated with bow riding. The 5th District also has responsibility for rotary wing intercept operations in support of the National Capital Region and provided several port security operations in support of significant events occurring in Washington, D.C.
Under the command of Rear Adm. Steve Branham, the 7th District in Miami, Fla., led the Coast Guard’s response to the Haiti earthquake and initiated the response to protect the Florida shoreline from the oil spilled by the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Command of District 7 changed hands to Rear Adm. William Baumgartner in May. Over the past year, SAR remained a busy mission for 7th District, with more than 3,900 cases and 754 lives saved. District 7 also intercepted more than 2,000 illegal immigrants and interdicted 46 drug-smuggling craft resulting in 91 arrests and the seizure of more than 65,000 pounds of cocaine and more than 18,000 pounds of marijuana.
While Deepwater Horizon was clearly the biggest event for District 8 under the command of Rear Adm. Mary Landry, the district had plenty of other significant events including the Red River floods; the G-20 summit in Pittsburg, Pa.; and the commissioning of the Towing Center of Expertise in Paducah, Ky.
The 9th District in Cleveland, Ohio, continued its Shiprider Program in partnership with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The excellent rapport and interoperability that has developed through this program was used to great advantage in support of security operations for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, and the G-20 Summit in Toronto, Ontario. Now under the command of Rear Adm. Michael Parks as of May 2010, District 9 is continuing to engage in development of the nation’s Northern Border Security Strategy. The district is also doing its part in the development of an Arctic strategy deploying the buoy tender Alder to the Arctic as part of joint exercise Operation Natsiq with the Canadians.
Beyond its domestic operations, LantArea continues its operations in support of the Defense Department in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are approximately 420 Coast Guard personnel supporting operations in these two countries, including 136 crewmembers for the six 110-foot patrol boats protecting the offshore oil platforms in the Arabian Gulf and a 32-member Redeployment Assistance and Inspection Detachment with personnel forward deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait, who are containerizing military cargo.
In support of U.S. Africa Command, LantArea has increased the personnel assigned from four to eight. The area also sent the cutter Mohawk on a six-month African Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership deployment. In addition, a Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment deployed aboard the USS John L. Hall and Coast Guard Auxiliary interpreters deployed on the USS Swift and USS Gunston Hall to support training operations.
Between the summers of 2009 to 2010, it has been an incredibly busy period for LantArea. Twice area personnel staff was called upon to coordinate the rapid redirection and flow of Coast Guard forces in response to major disasters. Each of these surge efforts demonstrated one of the core values of the area – ensuring an effective response was provided while simultaneously ensuring that USCG mission responsibilities were still met elsewhere. In the end, the success of such efforts is a result of excellent teamwork and cooperation between the area and its districts and with the Pacific Area command, all with the support of an outstanding Reserve force.
Chris Doane and Dr. Joe DiRenzo III are retired Coast Guard officers. Both are adjunct professors at the Joint Forces Staff College. DiRenzo is also an associate professor at American Military University.
This article first appeared in Coast Guard Outlook 2011 Edition.