I still hold on to a belief that a man with a mission that he can’t believe in will often find himself struggling. To be honest, I was a man that didn’t believe in the mission that the Navy gave me. We were tasked with driving our boat around in circles, hoping to spot speed boats laden with cocaine with either our radar or a helicopter. The ultimate goal was to detain the operators of the boat and to seize the cocaine. (Not for a giant homosexual sailor orgy but to hand over to a final law enforcement entity).
I differed from our embedded coast guard cohorts in that I thought that communities were best suited to handle how they wanted to handle drugs or if they wanted them to be legal. I still think that parents and extended family have more influence on a community than the all seeing big brother federal government. The display of anti intellectual cheerleading dampened my spirits.
These same spirits that were beaten by boredom and monotony. We had been told to search in a certain area at a certain time. In reality, it was going around in circles. We would find a fishing boat that was of no interest. We would find trash in the water. Rinse and repeat. For the best of what my memory allows me to access, we were in route to another position when someone spotted what looked like flashing lights.
My unrealistic memory had mentioned that a friend who knew flashing light morse code mentioned that the flashing lights were gibberish. Our ship had ended up investigating the source, considering most mariners follow a code to aid. I didn’t get to watch the whole approach but I did get to watch part of the boat’s boarding. One of the boarding party members I held in high esteem told me that there were 200 plus people jammed on to a small fishing trawler, noted that there were roughly 220 persons on my ship. The next steps were the most interesting.
We ended up taking on quite a few of the migrants on the front part of our ship. They were set up with blankets, water, and a portable toilet. An order was made for rice and beans so they could eat. Our ships “doc” provided medical aid and translation service. Within a few days, the truth came out.
The truth was that these people had paid thousands of dollars for a long haul smuggling trip to the US from the shores of Ecuador. Their smuggler had fuel and engine trouble, of course disappearing. The smuggler took a jet ski elsewhere, leaving the people without food and water. We happen to stumble upon them a few days later.
The humanitarian calling sidelined the hunt for drugs. We ended up hauling them and their boat back to Ecuador. The same port that I likened to the Hotel California. I watched the people “dejectably” get offloaded and interviewed by the authorities. I am hoping that their second chance at life was better than their first.
It was weird that I felt better professionally about helping these people, volunteering at a kids school, and setting up for a Christmas party than I ever did chasing drug boats. I felt like I had purpose; more purpose than making chemical precursors, conducting tax money sucking experiments, or creating data which might never be used. The feeling lingers today, much like a boat over troubled water.