By Jeanne McKinney
The daily work of the U.S. Coast Guard might not hit home until a sister or brother, daughter or son is tempted to buy their first bag of illegal drugs. Having the Coast Guard on watch means more secure coastlines and safer communities from those who would break our nation’s laws. Wherever they sail, the United States Coast Guard’s mission set is vast, from search and rescue and disaster response, ship inspections, engaging in war and more.
The job for Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Troy Dostart encompasses many areas of responsibility called collaterals, one of which includes law enforcement on the high seas. He and other “Coasties” operate under the Department of Homeland Security, governed under a separate regulatory agency from the Department of Defense – with a unique set of military roles, authorities, and powers.
With broad jurisdiction in both domestic and international waters, BM2 Dostart knows his limits. “I’m not going to solve the ‘war on drugs’ or save everybody in an overdue boat or a ship or plane that goes down.” He boils his work down to helping someone’s family member or loved one. Doing his part defines duty to him.
To start, Dostart had to wrestle with a personal dislike. “I love boats, but you won’t catch me surfing or swimming in the ocean.” He’s got a wary respect for the ocean and its powers and doesn’t take anything about it for granted.
Troy, who graduated from Union Mine High School in Placerville, Calif., was tired of school with no plans for college. He joined the Coast Guard and wryly adds, “I’ve been doing schooling for 10 years now.”
Much of Dostart’s education has been on the job. He struck his first rate (job) as a small boat crewman stationed in Seattle and then began to break in as a Boarding Team Member (BTM). “It wasn’t that I was so gung-ho about law enforcement. I wanted to be involved in the action, to get underway more and those guys got the opportunity more than a basic crewman.”
Dostart passed all the training qualifications to become a BTM. “Once I started doing it more and more, I had a passion for it.” He set his sights on the highest Coast Guard law enforcement level — a Boarding Officer (BO) who runs the boarding show.
Working as a Boarding Team Member, he didn’t like the way a couple of BOs operated. “They put the hammer down every time.” In one instance, a father and two kids were fishing in the Marina and didn’t have their registration or their oil and pollution dump site placard on the boat. “Instead of sending them back to the pier to pick these items up, their voyage was terminated.”
Now a Boarding Officer, Dostart takes extra Coast Guard boating requirements in his boarding kit along with his steely resolve, “Educate first and if they do it again, now they’re breaking the law.”
For this Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class, law enforcement is a gripping task. Money or lack of it keeps things moving in the Coast Guard. Dostart runs from task to task in charge of six collaterals, including overseeing weapons, supplies, rescue and survival systems, along with documenting, purchasing, and the actual boardings. “You have so much to do, it’s hard to prioritize. It’s been a tough learning curve,” he adds, “as ways to do things are always changing.”
When Dostart’s boat was noted for not meeting requirements, a Ready for Operations (RFO) inspection turned into a surprise 22 Migrant Interdiction. You want to say, “You’re telling me I’m not ready for operations? I’m doing it right now.
“My friends ask me if it feels good. It feels good to do my job, but they’re still human. I’d do anything I could if my family was away from me.” They try again and again and there’s no easy way to stop them. “Ultimately, Illegals are not allowed to come into the country, so I don’t let it happen.”
It takes honoring the law, being ready for all things and sometimes relying on a hunch. Dostart is assured, “With my training and experience, you know when something’s awry — your senses are heightened.
“I enforce Federal law, not state and federally, marijuana is illegal. The medicinal marijuana here in California is really difficult. Frequently, we can tell by pre-boarding questions if they’re lying about it.
“We’ve had a couple of cases where they say they have marijuana on board and a medicinal marijuana card.” Even with the card, “we still run wants and warrants on that individual, because if they have a criminal record or it’s a second offense, then it becomes a larger issue.” Blocking the flow of drugs, when some are medicinal, is a big gray area to enforce.
If 2,000 pounds of marijuana is discovered on the water, “that’s a big enforcement,” quips Dostart, “California is the biggest marijuana producer. The stuff from Mexico is going somewhere else.”
Dostart says his best job was working with Tactical Law Enforcement Teams (TACLET) in Panama. Their target was smuggling off the coast of Columbia. “There’s always room for concern. If six tons of drugs or weapons, explosives or anything threatening can go undetected on a self-propelled semi-submersible (SPSS), then it’s getting into the country and we have no idea.”
“The only rounds I’ve ever shot were from a helo. An individual covered [a second] engine after I disabled the first. In high-altitude pursuit, you have to be comfortable with the crew and comfortable with doing it all right or you won’t take the shot. I fired a second shot aft of the engine to let him know we’re as serious as they are.”
In his dangerous world of covert ops on the seas, Dostart was generous to give this interview, and did so only with caution. Keeping a low profile is crucial.
Every day BM2 Troy Dostart juggles military politics, changing policies and procedures, job overload and looking for threats. For him the risk lies in doing nothing. “It’s my job,” he’ll say, “When you know you’re successful at what you do and your crew is successful at what they do and you work well together, you walk with your chin up a little higher.”