March 29, 2021 —
In this documentary series, we spoke with retired Rear Adm. David W. Kunkel. He retired as a U.S. Coast Guard rear admiral in 2008 with 35 years of military service and played a pivotal role in standing up the Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron (HITRON). Kunkel is recognized for his role as the Chief of Aviation Forces during the standup of HITRON.
HITRON operations started as an experiment in 1998 to halt the flow of illegal drugs into the U.S. Drug trafficking organizations primarily used "go-fast" boats, high-speed smuggling vessels capable of traveling over twice the speed of Coast Guard cutters. The Coast Guard needed a way to counter the threat.
In late 1998, six Coast Guard pilots and four enlisted aircrew members developed tactics and procedures to utilize armed helicopters operating aboard Coast Guard cutters to answer the call.
HITRON helicopters operate in known smuggling vectors and rely on expertly trained aircrews and precision marksmen to disable go-fast drug smuggling vessels in the event suspects refuse to comply with verbal and visual warnings for law enforcement boardings under international maritime law. This series focuses on the founding members, pioneers, and stakeholders who have played an essential part in HITRON's history.
Interview by: Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory Mendenhall
Edited by: Petty Officer 2nd Class Amber Howie