They are part of the Coast Guards $21 billion-plus modernization program. A decade in, the program has hit some rough waters but now is showing some good results.
Its way overdue, Baumgartner said. I came in the Coast Guard 33 years ago as an ensign. My first ship was 13 years old when I stepped aboard in the middle of the Mariel to Key West boatlift in 1980.
That ship, the 210-foot USCGC Dependable, is still one of our mainstays. It was designed to last only 30 years.
If you were running a highway patrol and you were using a 65 Impala as your primary patrol vehicle, people would look at you like you were crazy, Baumgartner said. Were still five to seven years away before we could see the first of the replacements for those ships.
The 154-foot cutters became a priority when a project to upgrade the Coast Guards aging 110-foot, Island-class patrol boats backfired. Instead of a stopgap measure, at least eight of the boats had to be scrapped in 2006 when structural problems arose from adding 13 feet in length for an automated small-boat launch and additional navigation and communications systems.
On Jan. 25, the Robert Yered left Key West Harbor. The boat and crew had been there since mid-November for sea trials, damage control skills and navigation skills. Its also where the 21 men and four women from 13 states and Puerto Rico built camaraderie.
The crew is mostly young and eager, led by Stepler, 29, a 2006 Coast Guard Academy graduate. PK3 Amanda Jimenez, 24, and the junior engineer, showed off the two 5,000-horsepower engines. The technology on these things are very precise, she said. Its not like the old engines where youve got a little wiggle room here and there.
EM3 Mariah Chastain, who just turned 21, is the boats electricians mate. She started to go to college to study chemical engineering but decided to follow in her mothers military footsteps.
Ensign Colin Weaver, 22 and just out of the Coast Guard Academy, drove the ship out of port while standing on the deck. He used a pendant, which looks like controls from a video game, to navigate the cutter out of the busy harbor. By his side was Lt. Mario Gil, a 15-year Coast Guard veteran from the Dominican Republic but raised in Miami, to provide guidance much as a father would for a teenage son driving on the freeway for the first time.
The cutter tracked 30 miles south to a gunnery range for one last exercise: remotely firing the biggest machine gun on the ship the Mk 38 Mod 2 25mm automatic and manually firing the four Browning M2 machine guns to test the structure of the mounts.
GM2 Kenneth Rose, nicknamed Guns, briefed the crew about the weapons exercise. Were going to be firing 55 rounds through the 25mm and 200 rounds of ball and tracer through the machine guns, Rose said.
To ensure all 10 rounds are discharged and help deal with adrenaline, Rose told the shooters to lay on the trigger while saying Run Fuzzy Bunny Run.
The weapons exercise went smoothly, and the Robert Yered began its course for home. The cutter is not operational until its commissioned, but the crew still searched the waters in hopes of spotting illegal activity. They discovered an errant bobbing buoy in 300 feet of water. It said: Danger, coral reef.