The Last Frontier: Tactical Coxswain

Tactical Coxswain check ride

Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Klosterman maneuvers a Coast Guard Station Juneau 45-foot Response Boat – Medium during a tactical coxswain check ride in the Juneau, Alaska, harbor August 28, 2015. During the evaluation Klosterman showed the station’s command that he was able to effectively operate the RBM while also making sound judgment calls about potential safety threats in the harbor. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Grant DeVuyst.

One of Coast Guard Station Juneau’s two 45-foot Response Boats – Medium pulls away from the station’s pier and jets off across the city’s busy little harbor. Petty Officer 1st Class Brett Reilly, the station’s operations officer, test the engines and then lets the boat idle in the rain.

Roaring seaplanes come and go against a backdrop of towering cruise ships, the lifeblood of Juneau’s tourism industry.

A few minutes later the second RBM heads out into the harbor. At the helm is Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Klosterman, a boatswain’s mate who recently reported to Juneau from Hawaii. He’s taking the boat out for a check ride, an examination of sorts, with the station’s officer-in-charge aboard to review his performance. It’s a nerve-racking situation, but this isn’t Klosterman’s first time in the hot seat. He previously qualified as a tactical coxswain while stationed in Honolulu.

Tactical coxswain check ride

Petty Officer 1st Class Joshua Link, executive petty officer, Coast Guard Station Juneau, role-plays as a belligerent boater in violation of a safety zone during a tactical coxswain check ride in the Juneau, Alaska, harbor August 28, 2015.

With a signal between the evaluators, Reilly’s boat begins making way back in toward the harbor. He’s no longer piloting a Coast Guard boat, but roleplaying as recreational vessel OpFor (short for opposing force.)

Reilly begins driving erratically, threatening to violate the safety zone that’s in place to protect the thousands of cruise ship passengers nearby. This is where Klosterman taps into previous experience and the two months of preparation he’s had since arriving in Juneau.

A proper response is first determining the level of danger an intruder presents, then reacting accordingly, Klosterman said.

A tactical coxswain is not only responsible for the safe operation of a boat, but also takes on the burden of making decisions during law enforcement or homeland security operations when lives may be on the line. Their abilities take full advantage of vessel speed and maneuverability, as well as the team of qualified tactical crewmembers that fill other roles on the boat.

“Klosterman is an experienced coxswain, so we knew his boat handling was on-point,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Joshua Link, Station Juneau’s executive petty officer. “What we were really looking for is his judgment and maturity level.”

The tactical coxswain position in Juneau serves the cause of protecting the cruise ship passengers that visit Juneau every summer – somewhere in the realm of a million tourists. From May through September the hulking ships steam in and out of the Juneau harbor, each loaded with thousands of people. The station crew provides random escorts during this busy season, just as Coast Guard crews do in other ports across the country.

Due to standardization across the service, Klosterman arrived in Juneau with the knowledge to swiftly qualify as a tactical coxswain. An extra set of hands with six years of experience was exactly what the station crew needed when he showed up.

“Between search and rescue, law enforcement and escorts, we wear many different hats,” said Link. “It keeps us stretched pretty thin sometimes, so any time we can have a member come in and get recertified as a tactical coxswain right away aids the whole section.”

Klosterman rolls with the belligerent boat operator.  He intercepts, dictates radio commands and strategically uses the crew, manning mounted weapons to enforce compliance before the simulated aggressor presents a danger to nearby cruise ships.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Klosterman maneuvers a Coast Guard Station Juneau 45-foot Response Boat – Medium during a tactical coxswain check ride in the Juneau, Alaska, harbor August 28, 2015.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Klosterman maneuvers a Coast Guard Station Juneau 45-foot Response Boat – Medium during a tactical coxswain check ride in the Juneau, Alaska, harbor August 28, 2015.

With three varying scenarios completed, both boats turn back toward the pier. The crews stow their gear and prepare the boats for use at a moment’s notice, should a search and rescue case arise. parlance

Once everyone changed out of their dry suits, they gathered in the station training room. Chief Petty Officer Jason Tessier, Station Juneau’s officer-in-charge, lets Klosterman know how he did on the evaluation. Station Juneau has one more qualified tactical coxswain.

But Klosterman’s work isn’t done.

“It’s always a load off to get that qualification under your belt, and it’s all fine tuning from there,” said Klosterman. “Now it’s time to get better and pass on my knowledge.”

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