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Guardian of the Week – LT James O’Mara

Cross-posted from Coast Guard Compass

Friday, December 3, 2010
Written by: LTJG Stephanie Young




CGC Farallon
Homeported in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Farallon patrols the Caribbean and executes counter-narcotics,
 alien migrant interdiction and homeland security missions.   Photo by: USCG

 
Whether in corporate culture or the military, buzzwords are often used to describe the success of an organization. One of these buzzwords is “teamwork,” but for Coast Guard Cutter Farallon, and LT James O’Mara, teamwork isn’t just another word. It’s a way to achieve mission excellence.

As Commanding Officer of Farallon, O’Mara has the responsibility to create a positive culture aboard his unit. At no time was that teamwork more evident than during a seven-day period where his crew stopped two drug smuggling ventures and one migrant smuggling attempt.

Farallon’s mission-filled week began with the report of an unidentified air contact. When the aircraft began acting suspiciously, Farallon detected two surface contacts moving into the area and attempting to pull contraband from the water, apparently dropped by the aircraft.

The cutter’s small boat, joined by a small boat from Coast Guard Station San Juan and British authorities, intercepted the first vessel involved in the airdrop while the second vessel fled south and unloaded their contraband into the bushes of a nearby island. While those smugglers evaded authorities, the eight bales of cocaine they attempted to conceal were recovered. Three suspects aboard the intercepted vessel were transferred to British authorities for prosecution and overall, the inter-agency, multi-national effort disrupted a major drug trafficking route and prevented an estimated $7.2 million of cocaine from hitting the streets.
 

migrant interdiction off Puerto Rico
This photo, from a Customs and Border Protection aircraft
shows the vessel Farallon interdicted with 15 Dominican nationals
 attempting to gain illegal entry to the United States.
Photo by: USCG

Later that week the crew again found themselves at the forefront of homeland security when they received notification from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) of a possible migrant vessel. Aided by CBP and Puerto Rican authorities, Farallon boarded a vessel with 15 Dominican nationals attempting to gain illegal entry to the U.S. and one smuggler. All 16 individuals were brought aboard the cutter and using biometrics a suspect was positively identified and linked to a known human trafficking organization.

“This case put Farallon’s teamwork on display,” said O’Mara. “It was the middle of the night, other agency assets were on scene, lives were at stake on an overcrowded vessel. Puerto Rico’s lights were literally in sight, this vessel was that close to ‘making it.’ My crew did a fantastic job managing law enforcement interactions on scene, including a challenging three-hour tow of the vessel back to port for evidence. The case was textbook and I was proud of every single one of my Shipmates.”

Farallon was not done with their missions though. The next night, a U.S. Customs aircraft reported two suspicious vessels dead in the water where the exclusive economic zones of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic meet.

The crew, fatigued from the week’s previous missions, kicked into high gear once again to perform at their best. At this high operational tempo, with back-to-back-to-back missions, Farallon found out who they were as a team.


CGC Farallon Crew
The Farallon crew, under the command of LT O’Mara, has
redefined what it means to work together as a team as
they set the example for mission excellence.
Photo courtesy of LTJG Christopher O’Meara.

 “This is where our motto makes its mark: ‘Deal Justice,’” said O’Mara. “That’s what this unit, this crew and this team does every time we take in lines and head out there because we know we are being counted on to deal justice. This team steps up, comes together and delivers every time.”

Working with U.S. Customs aircraft support, the Farallon monitored the vessels as they transferred contraband at sea. The loaded vessel was then tracked covertly as it headed towards Puerto Rico, back into U.S. waters. On the Farallon’s mark, the cutter, boarding team and aircraft moved in.

“As soon as we closed in, the smuggling vessel increased speed, began to maneuver erratically and jettisoned the contraband,” said O’Mara. “My coxswain had positioned the small boat and boarding team perfectly – the smugglers had no choice but to stop. The quick end to the chase enabled the cutter to remain in the vicinity of the jettisoned contraband. This positioning was crucial to my crew’s ability to detect and recover individual bricks of cocaine floating on the surface of the water – not an easy task in the middle of the night, but my Shipmates focused, searched for hours and made it happen.”

Farallon detained the vessel, two drug smugglers and recovered a total of 77 cocaine bricks worth an estimated street value of $2.64 million.

These high-pressure situations demanded teamwork, and the Farallon brought it. When so much was at stake, O’Mara and his crew were able to perform as a team.

Congratulations LT O’Mara on your crew’s mission excellence!

Published by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Washington, D.C.
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