By Ensign J. C. Ireland, USS VALLEY FORGE
May 18, 2000, USS VALLEY FORGE, At Sea (NNS) -- The guided missile cruiser USS VALLEY FORGE (CG 50), while on a six-month deployment in the Eastern Pacific and Caribbean, recently intercepted a "go-fast" speed boat hauling over a half-ton of cocaine.
VALLEY FORGE had been on deployment as part of a joint inter-agency task force for about one month when their embarked helicopter, Red Stinger 103 from Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light (HSL) 49 Detachment 2, spotted what would be the cruiser's first bust.
One early afternoon, Red Stinger 103 was on a routine patrol flight when it reported sighting a go-fast on the horizon. A go-fast is a small speedboat often used by smugglers. After flying in for a closer look, the pilot, Lt. j.g. Steve Oseland, recalled that when the suspects saw the helicopter, they came to a dead stop in the water. "I guess they hoped we would go away."
But Red Stinger 103 didn't go away. Instead, the suspects tried to get away. The helicopter continued to circle over the suspects and relay information back to the ship.
"When they saw us above them and saw a 567-foot warship behind them, they started to throw everything overboard," said one of the helicopter's crew, Aviation Antisubmarine Warfare Operator 3rd Class Paul Amado. "When we flew on their starboard side, they threw everything over to port. When we flew over the port side they threw it all over the starboard side. I guess they thought we couldn't see that."
The helicopter's crew remained over the suspects' boat while VALLEY FORGE stopped and collected a large number of the bales. A P-3 Orion aircraft, which was conducting a maritime patrol nearby, took over the tracking from the sky while Red Stinger 103 returned to the ship to refuel.
Once the helicopter was launched again and the suspicious bales were on board, VALLEY FORGE changed course to intercept the go-fast. The chase lasted only around 30 minutes. The suspects gave up and stopped their boat.
Once along side the suspect boat, the embarked Coast Guard law enforcement detachment set out on VALLEY FORGE's rigid hull inflatable boat to board and search the vessel.
While the Coast Guard boarding was in progress, back on VALLEY FORGE the contents of the suspicious bales were being tested. Once the test results came back the crew knew they had scored big. Initial and subsequent tests resulted in positive indications of cocaine. The VALLEY FORGE seized an estimated 1,300 pounds of the substance.
The crew of the small boat was detained on VALLEY FORGE and the cocaine was locked away. The five-man crew and the drugs were transported to a nearby Coast Guard cutter for transport to their final destination.
VALLEY FORGE's commanding officer, Cmdr. Thomas Goodwin, said that he couldn't be happier. "These events are a direct result of a lot of training and preparation by everyone," he said. "We have put so much work into preparing for a situation like this, it's great when it all comes together."
Goodwin also added that the ship had been out for just a month, but already had one good bust. "I think they should find a different route to send their drugs because we're going to be here for five more," he said.
USS VALLEY FORGE, a TICONDEROGA-class guided missile cruiser, is currently on a counter-narcotics deployment in the Eastern Pacific and Caribbean and is scheduled to return to San Diego, Calif. in late September 2000.