Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater
With thirteen HH-60J "Jayhawk" helicopters, seven HC-130H "Hercules" planes, and over five hundred assigned personnel, Clearwater is the largest and busiest Air Station in the Coast Guard. In addition to the local area, the Area of Operations includes the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean basin, and the Bahamas. Clearwater constantly maintains four deployed H-60s for Operation Bahamas Turks and Caicos, a joint DEA, Coast Guard, Bahamian, and Turks and Caicos anti-drug and migrant smuggling operation in the Bahamas, and one C-130 for JIATFE operations in the Caribbean. This is done while simultaneously maintaining a constant Bravo Zero Search and Rescue response at home.
The original Air Station was commissioned in 1934 at Albert Whitted Airport in downtown St. Petersburg, and was homebase for various amphibious aircraft. The addition of four HC-130 airplanes in 1976 prompted the move to St. Petersburg/ Clearwater International Airport and hence, the name change to Air Station Clearwater.
Clearwater became the Coast Guard's largest Air Station in 1987 with the increase of two additional HC-130H airplanes and nine HH-3F helicopters, boosting personnel strength to 92 officers and over 420 enlisted men and women to maintain and operate the six airplanes and twelve helicopters. The new station motto, "Anytime, Anywhere" describes the current operation of the air station. Numerous missions by the C-130 "Hercules" in support of search and rescue, law enforcement, and marine environmental protection are flown on a daily basis. During the recent months C-130s have deployed to Alaska, South and Central America, Europe and the Caribbean.
The HH-3F twin engine helicopter, while shore-based, uses its long-range capability of 600 nautical miles to support Coast Guard ships on law enforcement patrols, deliver pumps to sinking vessels, and evacuate injured crewmembers on vessels far at sea. A yearly average of over 300 such search and rescue cases are handled by the HH-3F "Pelican" throughout the coast of Florida and as far away as the Bahamas.
The Air Station is also home base for two AN/TRC-168 Emergency Communications Vans, capable of a variety of communications. The units are normally transported by C-130 and their equipment can provide essential communications to any emergency organization. The vans are designed for continuous service under severe weather conditions and were deployed to assist in rescue relief efforts associated with hurricane Hugo, as well as other natural disasters.
The Air Station is instrumental in fighting the "War on Drugs". It provides continual helicopter support, from two forward deployment sites, for Operation Bahamas, Turks and Caicos (OPBAT) a multi-national, multi-agency drug interdiction program throughout the Bahamas and Caribbean. OPBAT has been the single most effective drug interdiction effort. Air Station Clearwater's efforts have been responsible for the seizure of over 36,000 lbs. of marijuana and 41,000 lbs. of cocaine (as of 1990).
Air Station Clearwater helicopter aircrews fly an average of over 400 Search and Rescue cases each year along the coasts of Florida, the Bahamas, and beyond. Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater has a rich history, and its operations have been at the heart of significant events in Florida and the Caribbean for many years. In the early 80s, its high operations tempo earned Clearwater two Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendations, the Humanitarian Service Medal, and the Coast Guard Unit Commendation. It was during this time that the Air Station provided crucial support to the surface fleet during the Cuban boatlift. Shortly thereafter Clearwater answered the call to duty during operation URGENT FURY- the Grenada rescue mission, and was awarded the Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendation for its efforts. Later that same year a second Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendation was awarded to the Air Station for operation WAGON WHEEL, an international drug interdiction effort. In 1986 following on the success of the previous operation, Clearwater conducted operation HUNTER. This drug interdiction effort planted the seeds for what is today's OPBAT (Operation Bahamas and Turks and Caicos). Perhaps the single most noteworthy mission for the Air Station also came in 1986, during the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Air Station crews responded immediately, the initial crew arriving on scene so quickly it had to stand off while the debris from the explosion continued to fall. In all, Clearwater flew 33 sorties on the Challenger mission and was awarded a Coast Guard Unit Commendation.
The 90s have been no less dramatic for the men and women of Clearwater. In 1991 our C-130s responded rapidly to fly personnel and supplies in and out of the combat theater in support of operation DESERT STORM. During the Haitian uprising in 1992, Clearwater crews evacuated American embassy personnel and transported U.S. Special Forces into Haiti. When south Florida and Louisiana were devastated by hurricane Andrew, Clearwater crews flew missions round the clock transporting hundreds of tons of badly needed supplies. In March 1993 the "Storm of the Century" struck Florida leaving numerous sunken vessels in its wake. Air Station crews launched at the height of the storm and pulled 62 people from the water in what was the busiest search and rescue day in the Air Station history, In the summer of 1994 air crews participated in a massive SAR effort which located and rescued 34,568 Cubans and 23,389 Haitian migrants from the waters of the Caribbean.
In 1997 President Clinton announced a renewed effort towards the War on Drugs, and Clearwater responded as part of operations FRONTIER SHIELD, GULF SHIELD, AND FRONTIER LANCE. Those operations were aimed at stemming the flow of illegal drugs and migrants and spanned from the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean to the southern coastline of Texas. The Coast Guard set new records for both drug seizures and arrests.
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