CGC Aspen – Multi-mission, multi-talented

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Coast Guard Cutter Aspen, photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Loumania Stewart

 Story by Lt. Cmdr. Tom D’Arcy

After netting a $2.4 million drug smuggling bust on their latest patrol, the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Aspen, homeported in San Francisco, Calif., continues to demonstrate versatility and commitment to keeping California’s coast safe and secure.

Boaters and sailboat racing fans may most recently remember seeing Aspen on the waters of San Francisco Bay, where the crew held the boundary line for spectator vessels at the 34th America’s Cup.  Positioned at the exciting leeward mark during those epic races, Aspen helped carry out and showcase the Coast Guard’s more than two years of careful planning with maritime partners, ensuring the events of the America’s Cup were safely conducted within the confines of one of the nation’s busiest commercial and recreational waterways.

As a seagoing buoy tender, Aspen’s designed purpose is to maintain floating aids-to-navigation in and around California’s harbors, spanning from the California-Oregon border to the U.S. and Mexico border.  Marking dangerous shoals and illuminating preferred channels for vessel traffic, Aspen is a critical element of the Coast Guard’s effort to safeguard the transportation of commercial and military cargo into and out of the California’s ports.

 By looking at the ship, you would think Aspen is primarily a work vessel distinguished by a 20-ton capacity, 60-foot telescoping crane designed to lift massive steel buoys and their moorings.  But, as Aspen and crew have proven time and again, they truly embrace the Coast Guard’s motto Semper Paratus — they are “always ready” for any mission.

This was embodied during their most recent patrol which, although only two weeks long, was full of accomplishments.  In addition to servicing and transporting buoys, Aspen’s boarding teams also visited commercial fishing vessels at sea and boarded recreational vessels, ensuring their compliance with required laws and safety regulations.  And, responding to the report of an overdue vessel, Aspen’s crew also searched for and confirmed the well-being of a fishing crew who, while working in heavy seas, were delayed in their scheduled return to port. 

However, what people may be surprised to learn is that this Coast Guard buoy tender is also a vital resource in addressing the growing concern of smugglers who are intent on transporting illegal drugs and migrants across our maritime border.  And that is exactly what Aspen did on January 18, 2014, when they were patrolling just west of California’s Channel Islands.

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The Aspen’s crew held the boundary line for spectator vessels at the 34th America’s Cup. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Mike Lutz

This was Aspen’s second smuggling interdiction in 18 months.  In July of 2012, the crew apprehended six smugglers and confiscated 7,400 pounds of marijuana worth $6.7 million.  Both busts were not only successes for Aspen, but also demonstrated the continued cooperation between the Coast Guard, U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), U.S. Customs and Border Protection, as well as other federal, state, and local law enforcement officials.  To keep our border secure from those who smuggle, whether it is drugs, people, terrorists, or weapons, it takes a layered approach of air, land, and sea resources.  Aspen and the other Coast Guard cutters protecting the California coast are proud to do their part.  And as Aspen’s multi-mission focus demonstrates, protecting our Nation’s maritime interests comes in many forms.

This story may lead you to ask how one Coast Guard cutter can be so diverse in its mission success.  It’s simple: Aspen’s capabilities are built upon the base of an outstanding group of Coast Guard members.  Aspen is staffed with an optimally manned crew — 43 enlisted personnel and seven officers who serve under the skillful guidance of Lt. Cmdr. Tom D’Arcy.  Each crewmember is essential to the fabric of every mission, displaying resounding adaptability and the resolve to keep Aspen ready to respond to whatever the crew is called upon to do.

This dynamic crew includes Fireman Dennis Monahan, who, despite being one of the most junior members aboard Aspen, not only works to keep the ship’s machinery running well, but also maintains small boat and boarding team qualifications.  Petty Officer 1st Class Erin Doege, a boatswain’s mate who fills a leadership role across a spectrum of missions, whether running the buoy deck, deploying the ship’s Spilled Oil Recovery System*, or serving as one of the lead smallboat coxswains.  Lt. j.g. Sarah Jane Sapiano, who leads the law enforcement team and is one of Aspen’s primary deck watch officers.  These three members are only a sample of the dedicated crew of 50 whose talents are too innumerable to list in entirety.

California’s diverse maritime environment will continue to call for a dynamic Coast Guard to protect it, and Aspen will continue to be a versatile asset for serving the American public, thanks to her devoted crew, who continue to epitomize Semper Paratus – Always Ready.

*Aspen recovered 138,000 gallons of spilled oil from the Gulf of Mexico during the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010

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