They stood side by side, one last time, on the back of the great white beast as they entered the quiet waters of Charleston Harbor. For the last 72 days, they had toiled together under the Caribbean sun far from home and hearth in service to their country. It had been a hard journey, but a fruitful one. However, for now, they were left only to gaze out into the harbor, each with their own thoughts. As they drew closer they could see the banners of their nation flapping gently in the soft December breeze. A crowd had gathered; some were holding signs, while others waved.
Just before reaching their destination, the tugs took over and began to maneuver them toward the pier. The crew sprung to life and set to work mooring their vessel, one last time. They had made it; they were finally home. The last patrol of Coast Guard Cutter Gallatin and its crew had come to an end.
However, the story does not end here. More remains to be told.
Gallatin was built in 1967 at Avondale Shipyard in New Orleans. On Jan. 2, 1969, it was commissioned as the sixth cutter to bear the same name. The cutter was named after the fourth and longest serving secretary of the treasury, Albert Gallatin, who held the position under then presidents Jefferson and Monroe.
Secretary Gallatin emigrated from Switzerland in 1780, and led a long life of dedicated public service that include: U.S. secretary of the treasury, terms in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate and U.S. minister to France and United Kingdom. He helped found the University of New York and was also instrumental in brokering the Treaty of Ghent, ending the War of 1812.
Just like the man it was named after, cutter Gallatin’s story holds a rich history of service to the United States.
From its first patrol to its last, Gallatin crews can lay claim to 63 separate narcotics seizures, three during its final patrol.
“It’s great to come out here and do the mission that you are here to do and not just punch holes in the ocean,” said Capt. Caleb Corson, the commanding officer of Gallatin. “As soon as the turbines kick on and we’re chasing something, everyone wants to know what’s going on. It really builds a lot of excitement.”
Corson, who has served as the Gallatin’s commanding officer since 201l, remembers well the first time he took the ship to sea. According to Corson, the ship had been underway for only six hours when they came upon a vessel carrying six people. They had left from Jamaica and became victims of an act of piracy. They were left to float on the open ocean for 30 days with no food.
“We saved six lives,” said Corson. “The day after my change-of-command, and we are already saving lives.”
Other than saving lives, Gallatin has been tasked with many other missions throughout its 45 years of service.
The ship’s crew has crossed the Atlantic many times, transited the Panama Canal and served in the Pacific. In 2012, during Hurricane Sandy, Gallatin and its crew assisted in the search for survivors when the storm sank the tall ship HMS Bounty, and provided further support in the New York area.
“We anchored maybe 5-600 yards off the Statue of Liberty,” said Corson. “For some of the crew, it was the first time they had seen snow.”
However, whatever the weather, the cutter’s crew continued its legacy of exceptional performance, unsurpassed dedication and superior teamwork into its final patrol as a Coast Guard cutter.
On Oct. 1, 2013, Gallatin left its homeport of Charleston, S.C., and headed south to begin its final patrol. Along the way to their operating area, they took aboard a helicopter from Coast Guard Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron.
Not long after, Gallatin disrupted a go-fast vessel that was ultimately caught by the Colombian navy. On November 4, Gallatin’s crew made its first seizure and took aboard detainees as well. All told, the crew made three drug seizures and interdicted a total of 1,016.7 kilos of cocaine worth more than $33.85 million.
But it wasn’t all work for the crew. Over the course of their deployment, they also made three port calls: one in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, one in Bocas Del Toro, Panama, and their final one in Key West, Fla.
“It’s my first boat right out of boot camp,” said Seaman Rachael Martin, a member of Gallatin’s deck division, who joined the cutter in April. “We got to do some cool things and visit some cook places.” One crew member even received a phone call on Thanksgiving, while the ship was underway, from President Barak Obama.
Though, as with all good things, they must eventually come to an end. Gallatin’s final stop, before heading home for the last time, was at Naval Station Mayport, Fla., to offload ammunition. With rain falling, at around 2:30 p.m., on Dec. 10, Capt. Corson gave orders to get Gallatin underway one final time.
For Chief Petty Officer Shawn Borland, an operations specialist in Gallatin’s communications division, the final transit home was a unique one.
“This is going to be a special time for me because I’m a Gallatin sailor,” Borland said. “I got my permanent cutterman’s pin on Gallatin.”
Borland had previously served aboard the cutter from 2001 to 2003 as a telecommunications specialist.
“Every time I walk up and down the passageway of every day, I remember the faces of the people that were here previously,” said Borland. “I look at a corner and recall a conversation I had there.”
There were many lasts during the trip. The crew experienced the last sunset, the last underway meal and the last watch, among many others.
The upside to this is that the ship isn’t being made into a reef, said Corson. It will live on and join the former Coast Guard Cutter Chase, now part of the Nigerian navy. Following its scheduled decommissioning at the end of March 2014, Gallatin will be replaced by the newest national security cutter, Coast Guard Cutter Hamilton.
“There are a lot of benefits to the new ships,” said Corson. “ They have more sensors, a larger flight deck and two hangars.”
When it is finally commissioned, Hamilton will take up where Gallatin left off, including taking some of Gallatin’s current crew as its own.
“I’d really like to cross-deck to Hamilton because I really like being on a boat,” said Seaman Zach Copley, a member of Gallatin’s deck division. “I think the crew has a lot to do with it too; it’s really like family.”
But the replacement is still a somber thing to think about for some.
“It’s kind of an honor to be the decommissioning commanding officer,” said Corson.
For others, their thoughts turn to the shipmates they have served with.
“Whatever happens to this vessel after the Nigerians take it, it’s just a vessel,” said Borland. “Even if I were to take Gallatin home with me, and put Coast Guard Cutter Gallatin in my backyard, without the crew onboard it’s an empty hull. The crew is what makes it special.”
The one constant for Gallatin is that the mission will go on. Just like the wind and tide ever changes the shore, so too, changes the Coast Guard. From its humble beginning as the Revenue Cutter Service to today’s modern fleet, Coast Guard men and women will continue to stand a taut watch and press forward in the name of service. Just like Gallatin, power with ability.