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Team 9-11-01

There are some new good guys in the area. They’re armed to the teeth and ready to keep the bad guys away.

The United States Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team 91101, commissioned in Seattle on July 3, responds to threats to harbors, ports, waterways and Navy assets in Puget Sound.

One of the officers in charge of the unit said they’ll be around Whidbey Island and its naval air station whenever they may be needed to keep terrorists away.

“Just know that we’re out there doing our job,” said Lt. Edward Madura, executive officer of MSST 91101.

That job is a serious one. MSST 91101 will enforce moving and fixed security zones to protect U.S. Navy ships and other military coastal assets, commercial “high interest” vessels and waterside critical infrastructure.

“One of the things the Coast Guard felt...we hadn’t been able to focus enough on the security aspect,” Madura said. “(Putting) a security zone around a specific vessel or an asset...there was not specific training for that.”

Until now.

While the Coast Guard tries to avoid the term “SWAT team,” Madura said, the MSST is based on a similar principal. MSST is a specialized unit that does not have routine patrol responsibilities. All MSST crew members spend more time on the practice range with weapons qualification, and they go through tactical training.

“All of our crews are required to be boarding team members,” Madura said.

MSST 91101 uses 25-foot boats with twin inboard motors, which have two machine guns mounted on them, Madura said. Crew members carry “standard issue” sidearms and M-16 rifles.

MSST 91101 responds to an area, including Whidbey Island, in only two situations. The first is at the request of any particular district in need of heightened security for an event, such as Sea Fair. Those requests come down the chain of command from the Coast Guard Pacific Area Command in Alameda, Calif.

The second is in response to a potential threat. The Coast Guard receives intelligence data from the FBI, the CIA, and other agencies. The unit sorts through the data regularly, looking for any suspicions regarding Puget Sound.

“There’s a lot of information out there,” Madura said. “It’s a matter of deciphering.”

If MSST 91101 is off of Whidbey Island, the crew is busy.

“If you see us on the water...don’t come by to say, ‘hi,’ ” Madura said.

That doesn’t mean the crew doesn’t want to be friendly, Madura added. It means that they need to keep an area secure, even from presumably friendly people.

MSST 91101 is the first of four teams the Coast Guard will commission this year. The others are set to be based in Chesapeake, Va.; Los Angeles/Long Beach, Calif., and Houston/Galveston, Texas.

The name of the first team in Seattle, “91101,” came from someone in Washington, D.C., Madura said, and it commemorates the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The name has special significance to the crew

“I think it just reconfirms why we are here and doing what we do,” Madura said.

He said it is “satisfying” to perform a job aimed at protecting people and U.S. assets. The crew works to ensure that the tragedy of last Sept. 11 isn’t repeated.

“When nothing happens it means we’re doing our job,” Madura said.

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