“The Perpetual Challenges of Securing Borders Against Illegal Drugs and Undocumented Migrants: Lessons from Past Decades”
featuring Retired Coast Guard Captain and Former Special Advisor to the Vice President on Homeland Security James Howe
AAFSW at DACOR-Bacon House
Wednesday, March 27, 2019
On Wednesday, March 27, 2019, the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) and the Diplomatic and Consular Officers Retired (DACOR) co-sponsored an outstanding program and delicious lunch featuring Captain James Howe, who presented the fascinating subject of “The Perpetual Challenges of Securing Borders Against Illegal Drugs and Migrants: Lessons from Past Decades.” The AAFSW members and guests also had the opportunity to view the historic DACOR-Bacon house, built in 1825 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Jim Howe served as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Coast Guard for 27 years, rising to the rank of Captain. He was stationed aboard cutters for a total of 11 years, with five years in command. During his time at sea, he gained extensive experience in maritime law enforcement, search and rescue, and national security missions. He is the author of the Navy-Coast Guard tactical manual for drug and migrant interdiction, and his recent book, Red Crew (Naval Institute Press) describes his firsthand experiences chasing smugglers and saving lives in the waters off South Florida aboard a one-of-a-kind flotilla of high-speed patrol boats. James Howe discussed extensively the issues that the USA is currently facing regarding drug smuggling, undocumented migrant and human trafficking and their interdiction by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Throughout his presentation, Howe mentioned his firsthand account of U.S. Coast Guard anti-smuggling operations during the early years of the nation’s maritime war on drugs. He described his experience as the executive officer of a specialized drug-hunting crew that sailed in then-state-of-the-art “surface effect ships,” a small flotilla of high-speed vessels pressed into the drug war on short notice.
In the early 1980s, South Florida and the Caribbean were awash in illicit drugs, with hundreds of smuggling organizations bringing huge loads of marijuana, and later cocaine, into the United States. To fight this epidemic, the Reagan Administration led a massive effort to disrupt shore-side gangs while bolstering interdiction activity at sea. To increase the number of days at sea for each surface effect ship, a “multi-crewing” concept was employed, with four teams of sixteen sailors — the Red, Blue, Green, and Gold Crews — rotating among three hulls.
Through his narrative, Howe offered a rare glimpse into the day-to-day pressures, challenges, failures, and successes of Coast Guard cutter-men as they carried out complex and dangerous missions and the continuing war on drugs, illegal migration (i.e. from Haiti, Cuba, etc.), and human trafficking. He also discussed the potential building of a continuous wall in the U.S. southern border and analyzed the possible advantages and disadvantages regarding the current humanitarian crisis. The AAFSW members and guests were astonished with the plethora of photos that James Howe shared with all of us so we can better understand the significance of the work involved in the various Coast Guard interdictions.
Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen, PhD
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