The Coast Guard has already recovered billions of dollars worth of illegal drugs in 2022.
Cutters like the Valiant are key to the Coast Guard’s counter-drug efforts and migrant interdiction.
I got a firsthand look at what it’s like onboard, but my trip there started on a much smaller boat -- a 45-foot one. It took us a few miles out into open water to meet the Valiant.
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From there, we were loaded onto an even smaller boat that the cutter would typically use for pursuits.
But instead of it being lowered into the water to chase another boat or ship, it came to get us so that we could be hoisted onto the cutter.
One of the most interesting things to remember is that every time we changed from boat to boat, both were moving. That’s even more astounding to think about when you see our small boat is next to the 210-foot cutter.
Next, we were “hooked” into place and taken on what our newest guide called an “elevator ride” up the side of the ship.
Once on board, we met the Valiant’s captain and commanding officer, Cmdr. Jeff Payne, and got arguably the best surprise: homemade cinnamon rolls made by the ship’s kitchen.
There were 70 crew members on board the Valiant. Yeoman Petty Officer 1st Class Patrick Dailey was one of them, and he arguably does it all. He makes sure the crew gets paid and is a member of the cutter’s law enforcement team.
Boarding and “sweeping” other ships are part of his job. He said, “It’s one of those things you are going to need your teammates, and we are family. We are family away from family, so we watch each other’s backs.”
The Valiant did not have any counter-drug calls on this particular patrol, but it did recover more than 200 migrants.
At one point, the crew found a migrant boat that had unexpectedly sank, leaving 39 people in the water.
The Valiant crew coordinated with crews out of Puerto Rico to save all of them.
Another last-minute mission delayed its homecoming by two days.
In the meantime, the Valiant’s communications officer Ens. Rochelle Anne Parocha called in the cutter’s approach for the first time.
She essentially directed the pilothouse, by calling out every small move to make.
“I mean it was pretty nerve-wracking,” Parocha said. “But I think the important thing was having all of these experiences while we were underway and knowing the plan before we came in, so I was pretty confident in what I was doing.”
She explained it comes down to staying calm, “You should be able to take things as they come and not overwhelm yourself, because if you do that you’re putting everyone in danger.”
Payne gave her first approach a “9 out of 10.”
He said there is only one reason it wasn’t a perfect score, saying, “We are always trying to get better. … We’ll debrief and we’ll take the criticisms on what we could have improved on and we’ll build that into the next one, the next one and the next one so you’ll constantly get better.”
But any tense moments are all worth seeing the reunions at the dock.