Interview with Derek Wallin of the U.S. Coast Guard

Today I’m interviewing Derek Wallin of the U.S. Coast Guard. The knowledge I have on the Coast Guard could fit into a thimble. As you’ll see most of my questions will be leading so you can elaborate and correct any misconceptions I have.  Before we start on the actual interview questions, would you please tell us your position and title in the Coast Guard? And give us a little background.

Derek: I am a Boatswain Mate 1st Class and currently serve as a Boarding Officer on a Law Enforcement Detachment.  As a Boatswain Mate I am a subject matter expert in Deck Seamanship, Small Boat Navigation, and many other nautical endeavors.  As a Boarding Officer I work with my 8 member team to conduct Counter Narco-Terrorism boardings in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific, as well as Maritime Interdiction Operations in the Northern Arabian Gulf and Horn of Africa.  During our Counter Narco-Terrorism patrols we hunt and chase suspected narcotics smuggling vessels and stop, board, and search them.

Mary: What made you decide to serve for the Coast Guard?

Derek:  I was 20 years old and in my 2nd year of college.  I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in school, no idea what I wanted to study.  During High School I had worked down in the Florida Keys as a Divemaster and had seen and met a few of the Coasties and they made a good impression on me.  I saw a commercial for the Coast Guard late one night and the next day stopped by the recruiting office to talk to them.

Mary: Coast Guard, I assume, means you patrol and keep the coast of the United States safe. However, that sounds so simple, please expound on exactly what is their responsibility to the USA?

Derek:  The Coast Guard in general  is a life saving service, it was originally the Revenue Cutter Service, one of the first fleets to protect America’s coast, and was a huge component in the regulation of Prohibition.  It then joined with the Life-saving Service and the Lighthouse Service.  So the Coast Guard’s main focus throughout the years has been Search and Rescue off our coasts, lakes, and rivers.  In modern times the Coast Guard’s responsibility has grown tremendously to include maritime safety and security, marine safety, search and rescue, aids to navigation, marine environmental protection, ice operations, port waterways and coastal security, drug interdiction, migrant interdiction, and defense readiness.

Mary: How far—as in miles—do you patrol from the coast?

Derek:   On our counter narcotic patrols we may sometimes patrol close enough to see the shoreline of certain Central and South American countries.

Mary: Describe a typical day of duty for Derek Wallin.

Derek:  There are two different days I could have, the first is in port at the office.  When we are not deployed I report to the office in North Miami at around 630am, check emails and converse with my teammates.  At 715 all 9 teams, and support staff muster (gather and account for everyone) and pass any pertinent information.  Then we have until 930 to workout, I usually go for a run from 2 to 5 miles, then hit the gym to lift weights and bs with the guys.  After that we go back to our office and shower and change into uniform.  Form there we take of our day to day business, emails, ordering gear, training, preparing for a deployment or taking care of business from a past one.  Lunch is at 1100, and then back to work and much more bsing with the guys until around 1300 when we leave for home.  Some days of training we end up at the range shooting or other activities until late in the day 5-9, it all depends.

Another day would be while we are underway on a US Navy  or Allied vessel, while many of the things we do is For Official Use Only, I can describe a normal underway day, just not a typical boarding of drug interdiction without permission from our legal department.

Mary: When I hear of modern day Pirates I think of the high seas. Do you ever run across pirates? And if so what is the procedure. Like in the 1800’s do they hide away in coves, during storms and rough seas? What is fact and myth when it comes to pirates?

Derek:  In Coast Guard operations in the Horn of Africa teams from my unit have been involved in many many cases of pirates.  Chasing, boarding, and detaining until they can be transferred to higher authority.  Pirates are not normally run across other than there.  The Somali pirates normally work with a mothership and smaller chase boats and crews of around 10-40.  They use fishing boats and skiffs to get around, not old pirate ships.  They will lie in wait pretending to be fishermen, then when they see an opportunity to go after a ship they launch their skiffs and chase it down, threatening to blow it up with RPGs and explosives if they are not allowed to board.  Our teams patrol the area 24/7 waiting to spot suspect vessels or respond to distress calls over the radio.  We can chase them with helicopters and ships.  In some instances we have used gunfire from the helicopters to make the pirates stop.  Then we board them, sieze any contraband such as weapons, and detain them as pirates.

Mary: Do officers or anyone in the coast guard ever work cases with mainland police departments? With Federal Agents? If so what would be the circumstances or procedure?

  Many units in the Coast Guard consistently work with other departments and services.  Police departments are regularly worked with in state law enforcement cases, normally being BUI or Boating under the Influence.  Also working with State Fish and Game, we work fisheries cases or sometimes state enforcement options are harsher than federal options.  We also work with Customs Border patrol, ICE, DEA, the US Navy, and other countries coast guards and navies.

Mary:  I’m running out of questions, or I should clarify I’m running out of knowing what to ask. So I’m asking you to elaborate on anything you think would be useful to a writer who has a character in the Coast Guard.

Derek:  It’s hard to know what to write about exactly, the Coast Guard has so many responsibilities  and there are so many duties that could be talked about.  For a service of less than 45,000 people, nearly the same as the whole New York Police Department, to cover the US from coast to coast you can imagine the many different hats one could wear in a day.  As a member of the smallest and least known Armed Force I take pride in what we do everyday to keep Americans and America safe and out of harm’s way.

Thank you, Derek Wallin for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions today.

I hope this helps Mary!!!
Take care! GO UTES!!


Cassy Pickard said…
Wow! Derek I know so little about your branch of the service. This was incredibly helpful and very generous of you to take the time to fill us in on what you and Coast Guard do.

I live in Connecticut. You'd think I'd know given the Academy is only 45 minutes away. Shame on me.

Again, thanks so much.
stanalei said…
Wonderful interview Mary, and Derek thanks for sharing your information.
And a HUGE thank you for all you and your teams do for our safety and freedoms. We do so appreciate you.

Awesome interview Mary. Derek, you've provided so much information on what exactly the Coast Guard does. Very helpful.

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