Lt. Kraig Jones
HC-130 Hercules Pilot
Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater, Fla.
Igrew up on the water in West Palm Beach, Fla., and always knew joining the Coast Guard would be my destiny. I have been in Clearwater for
seven months and it’s quite beautiful flying through the Caribbean and
having the opportunity to land on different islands and provide assistance
to new people.
Prior to coming to Clearwater, I was in primary flight school in Corpus
Christi, Texas. Before that, I held posts as a marine inspector at sector
Miami and was an enlisted machinery technician on various cutters and
The biggest challenge I am faced with on a daily basis is becoming
familiar with the fixed-winged HC-130 Hercules aircraft. In this position,
every day is different. One day you can be flying in perfect sun-kissed skies
and the next it can be pouring down rain.
I have been on six drug-interdiction missions during my time here so far.
The missions are very challenging, fun and exciting. From the beginning, you
have the adrenaline running and you’re ready to get the big bust for the day.
U.S. COAST GUARD
The missions usually last eight or more hours. Every time you pick up
a contact you’re hoping it’s the vessel you’re looking for. When you find
them, it’s a big relief because you actually accomplished something that
you’ve been training to do and you’ve reached that goal.
“I have been on six drug-
Recently, I assisted with searching for the missing NFL players.
[Oakland Raiders linebacker Marquis Cooper and Detroit Lions lineman
Corey Smith, whose fishing boat capsized Feb. 28 with two other men
onboard in the Gulf of Mexico.]
during my time here so
Time was of the essence on this case and it was not ideal search conditions. Every time we saw something in the water we though it was them.
As soon as we found one [survivor] we thought, “OK, now let’s get into
the game and find the other three.” We were anticipating we would find
them right away and we didn’t.
far. The missions are
very challenging, fun
The hardest thing for us to do, in any case, is call off the search. We’re
thinking maybe if we do one more search we can find them. But we only
can use the resources we have so much for one case.
and exciting. From the
beginning, you have the
You don’t always find what you’re looking for and that’s always in the back
of your mind. Sometimes we spend eight hours looking in the wrong place
and get information that the contact is actually 100 miles somewhere else.
Unlike office jobs, where you can get up and leave for a lunch break when
you’re frustrated, in the plane we are stuck in that box for eight hours.
adrenaline running and
you’re ready to get the
When you’re flying an aircraft, there is not much else you can do aside
from that — and you cannot deviate from the mission. We can get up and
walk around in the aircraft to get your mind off things for a minute, but you
are still in that environment and that becomes a big stressor, mentally.
big bust for the day.”
While in the air, we are in coordination with the operational control
and have frequent conversations with the crew in the back to talk about
strategies. Once you spot a suspect you have to verify it’s the right suspects. It can also become challenging to fly the plane low enough to spot
a vessel but also maintain a safe distance between you and the water. ■