Video by Cmdr. Ace Castle Interview and edition by Petty Officer 1st Class Adam Stanton
In this documentary series the Coast Guard spoke with the Cmdr. (Ret) Patrick Merrigan who was the Mission Commander for the first HITRON (Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron).
Merrigan retired as a USCG Commander with 30 years of military service. He was not only one of the original ten members (HITRON 10) to stand up Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron (HITRON), but was also the Mission Commander for the first HITRON bust. Additionally, seven of his 30 years of service were as a Marine, where he was a helicopter assault pilot during Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada.
Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron operations started as an experiment in 1998 to halt the flow of illegal drugs into the United States Drug trafficking organizations primarily used “go-fast” boats, high-speed smuggling vessels capable of traveling over twice the speed of Coast Guard Cutters (USCGC). The Coast Guard needed a way to counter the threat.
In late 1998, six Coast Guard pilots and four enlisted aircrew members developed tactics and procedures to utilize armed helicopters operating aboard Coast Guard cutters to answer the call.
In reference to aircraft, the HITRON began operating with rented helicopters MH-90 Enforcer, USCG designation for the MD900 Explorer which were later replaced by the type MD902 (made by MD Helicopters). The MH-90s gave way to Italian aircraft MH-68A Mako, or Stingray, (Agusta A109 Power). Currently the Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron aircrews fly eight Airbus Helicopters MH-65 Dolphin.
HITRON helicopters operate in known smuggling vectors and rely on expertly trained aircrews and precision marksmen to disable go-fast drug smuggling vessels in the event suspects refuse to comply with verbal and visual warnings for law enforcement boardings under international maritime law. This series focuses on the founding members, pioneers, and stakeholders who have played an essential part in HITRON’s history.
The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.