Coast Guard Commandant recognizes servicemember for role in drug busts

Coast Guard Headquarters News
ALAMEDA, Calif. – The Coast Guard’s highest ranking officer made a surprise visit to the Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. to recognize a Coast Guardsman for his role in two drug busts off the Colombia coast.

The Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. Paul Zukunft recognized Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Baasch, a gunner’s mate aboard the Cutter Bertholf, for his actions during two counter narcotics operations off Colombia June 28 and July 20. Baasch’s direct involvement resulted in the seizure of more than 7,450 pounds of cocaine with an import value of more than $113 million and the apprehension of six suspected smugglers.

“Everyday Coast Guard men and women like Petty Officer Baasch are on the frontlines combating violent criminal networks fueled and funded by the illicit trafficking of drugs, weapons and people,” said Adm. Zukunft. “We have to take opportunities to recognize them for their service and sacrifice.”

Coast Guard Commandant, Adm. Paul Zukunft, recognizes Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Baasch from Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf in Alameda, Calif., Sept. 16, 2014, for his role in two separate counter narcotics off the coast of Colombia. The crew of Cutter Bertholf recently returned from a 140-day patrol off the coast of South America. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley)

Coast Guard Commandant, Adm. Paul Zukunft, recognizes Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Baasch from Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf in Alameda, Calif., Sept. 16, 2014, for his role in two separate counter narcotics off the coast of Colombia. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley)

Baasch was aboard the Cutter Bertholf with fellow crew members when Adm. Zukunft caught up with him Tuesday. The servicemember was completely unaware of the Commandant’s intention to recognize him. Baasch was given the Commandant Commitment to Excellence Award.

“There are multiple evolutions that have to happen aboard the cutter to just make one bust; therefore, it’s a team effort from everyone on Bertholf,” said Baasch. “I couldn’t have done anything without my shipmates.”

During the first drug bust, Cutter Bertholf came across the Costa Rican-flagged fishing vessel Goliat I in international waters June 28. Costa Rica gave the Coast Guard crew permission to board the vessel. Boarding parties from the Cutter Bertholf including a team led by Baasch conducted a search of the vessel that lasted several days. The team located more than 5,900 pounds of cocaine hidden in the vessel’s fuel tank and detained four suspected smugglers.

Baasch and the crew of Bertholf intercepted the fishing vessel Jandry in international waters about 90-miles northwest of Colombia during the second bust July 20. The vessel’s flag-state could not be determined so the Coast Guard boarded it to investigate. Narcotics testing kits picked up traces of cocaine on the vessel, and a team from Bertholf led by Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Baasch began an extensive search of the boat’s compartments. Baasch and his team found more than 1,550 pounds of cocaine hidden throughout the vessel.

Baasch is from Polson, Mont., and has been a member of the Coast Guard since 2008 when he graduated basic training at Training Center Cape May with Yankee Company 179.

Adm. Zukunft assumed the duties of the 25th Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard on May 30. He leads America’s oldest continuous seagoing service and the largest component of the Department of Homeland Security, comprised of 41,700 active duty, 7,800 reserve, 8,300 civilian and 31,000 volunteer Auxiliarists. A native of North Branford, Conn., Adm. Zukunft is a 1977 graduate of the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn.

Bertholf returned home from a 140-day counter narcotics deployment off the coast of Central and South America Aug. 11. The Bertholf is the first of eight planned national security cutters, the service’s newest, most capable cutter and was built in Pascagoula, Miss., at Northrop Grumman Ship Systems.

Click the photo for more from the ceremony.

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