Coast Guard Cutter Alert faces Canada’s Fury

SEATTLE – A deafening salvo of missiles, 25mm cannons and .50 caliber machine guns broke the midday calm as the Canadian navy vessel, HMCS Huron, disintegrated under fire from the Coast Guard and Navy, May 14. Tensions between two countries with a history of enmity for one another had finally reached their zenith and had now exploded with the all the fury of an angry god.

But it was only a drill.

The sinking of the Huron was part of Operation Trident Fury, an annual, joint, coalition-based exercise developed by Canada’s Joint Task Force (Pacific), and the U.S. vessels were invited to be a part of it. It was also the first time that Canadian military forces have been able to fire missiles at a vessel within their own domestic waters, said Leftenant Commander Mark MacIntyre, a Maritime Forces Pacific spokesman.

“When you have a real ship, it’s a great training opportunity,” MacIntyre said. “There was lots of interest from the U.S.”

The Coast Guard Cutter Alert, homeported in Astoria, Ore., along with four Navy warships, one submarine and several Air Force fighter jets joined the Canadian navy and air force on the waters west of Vancouver Island, B.C., May 7-18, to take part in the training and share knowledge and tactics. An estimated 2,000 U.S. and Canadian military members took part in the exercise.

“This exercise enabled us to work with our American allies, and demonstrated the interoperability of our forces. It was an excellent training opportunity for our forces and theirs alike, so it was a real win-win situation,” said Commodore Roger Girouard, Commander of Canada’s Pacific Fleet.

The Trident Fury exercise pitted two feuding imaginary countries, Orange and Green, and their allies against one another in a variety of scenarios ranging from drug and weapon smuggling to border disputes and a full-scale attack. The Alert was assigned to the Orange nation, a large Communist dictatorship with a history of provoking its neighbors, and in a drastic case of role-reversal for the Coast Guard, members of the Alert’s crew took on various roles from fishermen to drug traffickers and arms smugglers.

“I played a hostile master of a vessel in a non-compliant vessel situation,” said Chief Greg Zerfass, CGC Alert Command Chief. “It was a lot of fun. We got to get a little ornery on the radio and do a lot of things we never get to do.”

Trident Fury 2007 is the first of the Trident Fury exercises to feature a Coast Guard unit and it gave Alert’s crew an opportunity to test their communications abilities in a large, coalition-based situation.

“One of the best things we’ve been able to get out of this is learning where we need to trace up our communications so we can effectively pass information during a joint operation with our coalition partners.” said Lt. Chad Fait, CGC Alert operations officer. “Our opportunity to work with the Navy has given my operations specialist division a chance to learn a whole different side of their rate and our conning officers have gained a great deal of information about formation steaming, something the Coast Guard really doesn’t do very much of.”

Falling back on the Coast Guard’s history of law enforcement, the Alert’s crew used methods of evasion and subterfuge typically employed by the waterborne criminals they often pursue.

“We were to conduct a simulated drug transaction with the Canadian navy vessel Saskatoon,” Fait said. “Several other vessels were tasked with monitoring our communications, covertly surveying us and trying to get video documentation of the exchange. We didn’t want to make it too easy for them so we worked with the Saskatoon to create roaming frequencies and deceptive lighting, and to mask our radar signature.”

One of the issues at the heart of the Trident Fury scenario was the Orange nation’s pursuit of nuclear weapons technology. The crew of the Alert was tasked with transporting faux nuclear material and attempting to conceal it from a Navy boarding team.

Ten members of the Alert’s crew were dressed in civilian clothes and hidden aboard the cutter with rubber training weapons and a gallon-jug of green water substituting for nuclear material when the USS Ingraham’s team boarded. After a brief search, the boarding team managed to locate three of the “Orange” crewmembers and departed without ever locating most of the weapons or the nuclear Kool-Aid.

“We were working with the USS Ingraham and they were forced to conduct a Visit, Board, Search and Seize operation involving simulated warnings shots, and screening maneuvers in order to stop a non-compliant vessel,” Zerfass said. “It was a good opportunity for us to see what they could do, and we were able to offer them a few pointers on boarding operations.”

The crew of the HMCS Saskatoon also got a lesson in boarding from the Coast Guard when members of the Alert’s own boarding team provided a demonstration aboard the Canadian ship.

“We boarded the Saskatoon, and their skipper followed our team as we proceeded,” said Ensign Ed Quinn, CGC Alert Law Enforcement Officer. “The Canadians were very curious about our boarding operations and law enforcement and had a lot of questions about our training and policies.”

“We had a great boarding by Coast Guard members aboard the Saskatoon,” said Able Seaman Dan DeMarbre of the HMCS Saskatoon. “I hope we’re able to do something like this again in the future.”

Trident Fury 2007 came to an end with the sound of jet fighters roaring through the sky and vessels on both sides steaming off towards one final confrontation, but there were no bullets, missiles or bombs rending steel or sailor; only terse messages barked across the airwaves like a radio play while the once-mighty HMCS Huron gathered rust at the bottom of the sea.

“It’s absolutely vital for the Canadian and U.S. militaries to maintain a good working relationship,” Quinn said. “If we’re fortunate enough to be invited back for 2008, I’d love to be a part of it.”

SEATTLE - Petty Officers George Melvin and Matthew Pincumbe, and Seaman Lee Wisler operate the 25mm deck gun aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Alert during the 2007 Trident Fury exercise near Tofino, B.C., May 14.  Trident Fury is a coalition-based drill bringing Canadian and U.S. forces together to train for potential threats to the national security of both countries.  (Official Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Shawn D. Eggert)

Petty Officers George Melvin and Matthew Pincumbe, and Seaman Lee Wisler operate the 25mm deck gun aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Alert during the 2007 Trident Fury exercise near Tofino, B.C., May 14. Trident Fury is a coalition-based drill bringing Canadian and U.S. forces together to train for potential threats to the national security of both countries.
Official Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Shawn D. Eggert

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    One Comment

    1. michael wood says:

      I sailed on the ALERT out of Dartmouth, and I thought they sunk our finest coast guard ship, my mistake.