The nation's "drug czar" today recognized U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command for their efforts in counternarcotics operations. John P. Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, presented the Director's Award for Distinguished Service to the sailors of the Mayport, Fla.-based command.
The director presented the award to Rear Adm. James W. Stevenson Jr., the commander of U.S. Navy Forces Southern Command.
Walters recognized the command in part for their efforts in disrupting the smuggling of 205 metric tons of cocaine in the past two years. "The brave men and women who are working to stem the flow of drugs to the United States deserve our thanks and gratitude," Walters said. "Their work is making American communities safer and protecting our citizens from the misery of drug crime, violence and addiction. They are proving every day that when we push back against the international drug problem, it gets smaller."
"We are honored to receive this award on behalf of all the men and women who have participated in our ongoing counternarcotics operations," Stevenson said. "It is truly a team effort with ships at sea, deployed air detachments, the U.S. Coast Guard, a variety of other forces and agencies, as well as with our partner nations in Latin America."
Navy aircraft -- mostly P-3 Orion, E-2 Hawkeye and S-3 Viking planes -- have flown 5,750 flight hours since Jan. 1, 2005, in support of the counternarcotics mission.
Just the presence of Navy ships and planes serves as a deterrent to smugglers. The USS George Washington Carrier Strike Group operated in the Caribbean for more than 50 days in April through May. Officials said this significantly increased the U.S. Navy presence and deterrence factor against narcotics trafficking. The movement of cocaine by air and sea in the Caribbean virtually stopped during that period, Navy officials said.
The USS Gettysburg, an Aegis guided-missile cruiser, was highly successful in combating narcotics smuggling in the eastern Pacific and Caribbean. During a six-month deployment, the ship's crew seized more than 40 traffickers and more than 28 metric tons of cocaine.
The Navy has been working with the U.S. Coast Guard to train and deploy Coast Guard door gunners to man Navy helicopters. This capability adds warning shots and disabling fire to the helicopter's ability to interdict surface traffickers in speedboats, Navy officials said. Currently, U.S. Navy ships in both the Caribbean and Pacific are operating with this capability.
The command also participated in exercises with other nations that impacted the flow of drugs north. The multinational exercise Panamax has U.S. Navy ships participating each August for 10 days. The exercise significantly impacts narcotrafficking and results in a dramatic reduction in cocaine flow during that timeframe, Navy officials said.
U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command's mission is to direct U.S. naval forces operating in the 16 million square miles of seas and oceans encompassing the Caribbean, Atlantic and Pacific. The command interacts with coast guards and navies within Latin America to enhance maritime security.
(Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Holly Boynton, of U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command)