PANAMA CITY — Once the crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Active returns to port, they will have spent 60 days at sea.
That’s 60 days of being on the hunt for serious drug smugglers who aren’t willing to give up very easily.
The hunt often goes into the night and the break of dawn.
“At the end of the day, the cartels that are running these drugs, they’re very dangerous organizations,” explains Lt. Commander Jennifer Runion.
The 75 men and women on board know what’s at stake.
Lt. Commander Runion is second in command of the ship and her role is keeping the crew ready to go at a moment’s notice.
When they do jump into action, the payoff goes well beyond the dollar value of the drugs.
“It’s a huge morale boost for the crew when we have a drug interdiction when we can do something where they can see that result,” Lt. Commander Runion said.
For 10 days, we experienced what these crews do. We slept alongside them, ate with them and found that balance they’re always looking for to pass the time spent on the open ocean.
A balance between the daily routines and the high risk situations of chasing drug runners.
In the kitchen, Zachary Davis is one of the most popular crew members.
You can imagine why.
“After doing it for a while, it becomes second nature. You can do it in your sleep,” he said.
From the weekly pizza night on Saturdays to the comfort food -- the meals are surprisingly good.
Davis admits he joined the Coast Guard because he didn’t set himself up to go to college. But he is now playing a vital role in helping seize drugs worth more than $766 million.%
“It was the craziest thing I have ever seen, knowing all that was going into the U.S. and we could stop it is awesome.”
At the bottom of the ship, where temperatures reach 115 degrees, we found Noah Falcon.
“I joined the coast guard because I wanted to do something more with my life,” he explained.
Just 11 months ago, he was a mechanic at a Cadillac dealership in Florida.
Now he tunes up the ship’s engine far below the deck.
Their recent bust was his first time seeing two tons of cocaine.
“I thought it was crazy. Seeing the boat, seeing it actually happen; I didn’t even think we were going to catch anything, but it was something else,” Falcon comments.
Many of these young Coast Guardsmen are seeing the results of their work up close and even for them it’s a little hard to believe.
The fight continues, targeting the unknown and an enemy that’s constantly trying to outrun them at every cost and in a new direction.
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