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My Coast Guard
Commentary | May 2, 2024

Joint Program Office uses the MQ-9 aircraft to save four souls off the coast of Texas

By Jason Allred MyCG Web Editor

Military units are intended for collaboration. The concept is also true for various branches of federal services. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) are two partners who mutually benefit from collaboration. Specifically, at the Joint Program Office in San Angelo, Texas, where USCG and CBP MQ-9 pilots, sensor operators, and radar operators support various functions within the maritime and land border domains.  

On Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, the Joint Program Office received a call from Sector Corpus Christi to help support a SAR mission to find an overdue vessel with four souls aboard. Sector Corpus Christi called in support from the Joint Program Office in San Angelo following an uneventful search of the area by Coast Guard helicopters, aircraft and vessels. Lt. Cmdr. Luke Grant, an MQ-9 Pilot attached to the Joint Program Office, explained how the call to support the SAR case came in. “We’ve been working with Sector Corpus Christi on how they could use us and activate us in case they need us. It just happened that later that week they had a report of an overdue vessel. We already had a plane that was getting ready to launch, so we changed their mission set to go to that area and search for the overdue boaters.”  

Historically, the Coast Guard has supported similar missions with helicopter and aircraft crews as well as various maritime assets to locate missing vessels. However, with recent capability advancements the Coast Guard is leveraging new ways to support legacy missions. With flight times of up to 24 hours, CBP’s MQ-9 offers a wide array of advantages over traditional manned assets. Lt. Cmdr. Grant says the platform has worked well in his experience. “It’s pretty good at finding the type of targets that we’re typically looking for in the Coast Guard. We’ve had good luck with finding go fast vessels.”  

An additional advantage was Sector Corpus Christi’s ability to view the video feed from the MQ-9 during the SAR case. “They were pretty excited about being able to see what we were seeing and that definitely helps us reduce the number of communications with sector because they see exactly what’s happening.”  

The impact the Joint Programs Office can make is literally the difference between a family member making it home or not. Petty Officer 1st Class David Garman, an avionics electrical technician (AET), explained his perspective after supporting this case. “I’m trained to operate this radar and assist in getting the vessel the assistance it required. It wasn’t until later when driving home at the end of the workday where I was like, I helped save lives today, I assisted in what I joined the Coast Guard to do 15 years ago. So, while it’s not the same as physically pulling them from a bad situation at night in a helicopter hovering 35-feet above the water, I was still elated and proud of the job the crew and I did to get them home safe.”  

Lt. Cmdr. Grant was also pleased he was able to help bring a citizen to safety. “I know how important it is to people to get their family members back home, so there's definitely a lot of job satisfaction when we can do a case like this and bring people back home.” 

The mission and responsibility at the Joint Program Office at San Angelo is growing and the team couldn’t be more excited to share the possibility to recruit other aviators to their small community. Garman had a glowing review when asked about his current assignment. “This mission, skillset, and future opportunities available as an MQ-9 operator are well worth the time. Our mission is different than what most fellow AET’s experience in their time at normal Coast Guard air stations.”  

For more information on the rescue or to watch the feed from the MQ-9 read here