New London - Four members of an elite Coast Guard counterterrorism team visited the Coast Guard Academy last Thursday to dispel a few misconceptions about their unit and look for potential recruits.
The Maritime Security Response Team in Chesapeake, Va., is "not a very well understood unit," said a lieutenant, who is a team leader.
The four members of the team got quite a few odd looks walking around campus Thursday dressed in green and beige camouflage instead of Coast Guard blue. The camo, they said, blends in better against ships and various containers.
They asked that their identities be concealed because of the work that they do. One said he has a Facebook page but only five people know how to find it. Another said his page is "all lies."
And when it comes to what they do and how, there's not a lot they can say.
When asked if he could talk about some of the cases they've worked on, the lieutenant grinned and said, "Um, not really."
It's one of the larger Coast Guard units but the lieutenant said he can't say how many people are in it.
"We are an advanced interdiction team. We specialize in counterterrorism," he said. "Everyone thinks of the Coast Guard as rescue, rescue, rescue. They think we should've been Marines if we wanted to kill people. But that's not it at all."
If there is some sort of a threat on a ship that endangers the port and the people who live around it, the lieutenant said, removing that threat could save millions of people.
"We do rescue people," he said, "just not in the traditional way."
The academy invites Coast Guard units to spend time on campus - an "operations spotlight" - so cadets will truly understand what the service does.
According to the Coast Guard, the MSRT can respond quickly to threats of maritime terrorism and higher-risk criminal law enforcement threats on the water or in a port.
The four members who traveled from Virginia spent most of the day talking with cadets and sharing tips on basic shooting techniques at the academy's indoor shooting range. Cadets shoot competitively on five different teams, each using a different weapon and style of shooting.
The lieutenant, a 2004 academy graduate, said he wanted to introduce cadets to "the real side of the sport." The members of the MSRT never operate alone, so their tactics are much different from those of a single shooter.
Kellen Stock, a senior, fired his handgun on the range to demonstrate the practical skills the cadets have learned. A member of the combat arms team, Stock said it was somewhat intimidating to be on the range with "some of the best in the field" watching.
The chief of the academy's weapons section, Chad Barber, handed the lieutenant a gun magazine so he could take a turn on the range. The lieutenant's pockets were already bulging with ammunition.
Barber, a chief warrant officer 3, asked the lieutenant, "What are the two times you can have too much ammo?"
Another member of the team who was standing nearby, and perhaps not realizing Barber was telling a joke, adamantly replied, "Never."
Barber said with a laugh, "When you're swimming and when you're on fire."
The lieutenant expertly drew his gun and rapidly fired. Without looking at the targets, Barber could tell he had hit his marks just by the cadence of the shots.
Stock said he was trying to learn as much as he could from the team. He listened closely to the lieutenant's career advice.
To join the team, one must be able to think and act under pressure, the lieutenant said. Skills can be taught. Potential candidates go through a number of courses, including a basic course and weapons qualifications at the Special Missions Training Center at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.
"I want to learn how he did it so I can maybe direct my career path the same way," said Stock, 22, of Anchorage, Alaska. "I couldn't have asked for a better opportunity than being here this afternoon."