Every two years, a patriotic change of command unfolds at the Coast Guard station in Opa-locka. In a ceremony filled with tradition, music, military ritual and formal medal-filled uniforms, the outgoing commander hands over the reins.
But on Wednesday, before Rear Adm. Peter Brown relinquished his authority, he had one final duty: checking the uniforms of his lined-up crew. Brown looked them up and down with approval. An hour later, he handed his responsibilities to new commander, Rear Adm. Eric Jones.
Running the Coast Guard’s Seventh District is a busy job. Cocaine, illegal immigration, missing boaters, sick cruise-ship passengers, repatriation. The Coast Guard is often the first on the scene to make a rescue or stop a crime on the high seas.
On Wednesday, just a few hours after the ceremony, the Seventh District announced that a cutter crew repatriated 11 Dominican migrants. Another Coast Guard crew on Monday found the group on a 20-foot boat heading toward Puerto Rico.
The Miami-based district has 10,000 Coast Guard members, and the commander has a lot of responsibility. Operations span Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“There’s no place like the Seventh,” Brown said.
Rear Adm. Eric Jones was installed Wednesday as the new commander during the ceremony at Coast Guard Air Station Miami in Opa-locka.
Brown served as commander of the district from 2017 to 2019. He said his most memorable moments were providing aid to Puerto Rican and Coast Guard families during Hurricane Maria in 2017.
“The Coast Guard came through in spectacular fashion,” Brown said.
Another focus during Brown’s tenure has been deterring illegal immigration.
“Maritime migration in the Caribbean is always a challenge.,” he said. The policy on immigration “is to promote legal, safe and orderly migration.”
According to the Coast Guard, the Seventh District intercepts between 2,000 and 12,000 undocumented migrants each year.
Brown will transfer to Coast Guard headquarters in Washington as deputy assistant to the president, the Department of Homeland Security and the counter-terrorism adviser.
Jones, who was military adviser to the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security since June 2017, said he is ready to take on the challenges of the Miami district.
One of those challenges is the size of the district.
“There’s just so much going on within the Seventh District ... including the commercial ports, the cruise ship industry, the container ports, the drug interdiction, migrant interdiction, boating safety, search and rescue,” he said. “Everything except ice breaking.”
As for Brown’s advice to Jones, he says he’ll be in good company.
“The good news is he’s got a tremendous staff,” Brown said. “We’ve got almost 10,000 Coast Guard members. That is a tremendous workforce ... and they’re ready to respond and meet the needs of the American people.”