"The response I get is surprise, but I'm also greeted with welcoming and excitement," Espinoza said. "My Spanish has served me well, too, especially in my dealings with the Colombian navy. My crew is diverse, and I am always surrounded by young Americans who serve in the Navy. I am proud of the fact that the USS Curts is one of the most decorated ships in the Navy's history. It netted the largest maritime cocaine bust ever, which had a street value of $2.3 billion."
Most of the frigate crew's seizures have involved intercepting speedboats that ferry narcotics. Drug cartels are also known to use submersibles and recreational-type submarines to transport drugs by sea. Espinoza said suspects who are caught with contraband are detained and turned over to the DEA or other corresponding law enforcement agency.
When they're not chasing drug-traffickers, or responding to requests for humanitarian assistance, the crew, from the commander on down, is training to keep their skills sharp, and this includes firing weapons like the mainstay M-16 rifle.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Casey Deck, also from El Paso, works as a tactical helicopter air controller aboard the USS Curts. The 24-year-old operations specialist shares Espinoza's views on drug-trafficking.
"What we're doing is helping to keep drugs from reaching Mexico and the United States," Deck said. "For example, in August, we intercepted a 'go-fast boat' carrying drugs off the coast of Colombia. I know how the drug trade has affected Juarez and El Paso, and how it contributed to all the violence in Juarez and people having to flee to El Paso. We're supporting a good cause."
Deck, who graduated from Franklin High School, said he's glad to serve under Espinoza.
"He was former enlisted, and he's instilled in us a sense of what we can achieve," Deck said.
Deck also said he still misses some things about El Paso, especially eating at the iconic Chico's Tacos. "I really do miss eating at Chico's Tacos," he said.
Southern Command officials said "Operation Martillo" is a multi-nation effort that includes U.S., European and Western Hemisphere partners. The U.S. contribution includes Navy and Coast Guard vessels, aircraft from U.S. federal law enforcement agencies, and military and law enforcement units from several nations that are working together to prevent transnational criminal organizations from using transshipment routes to move narcotics, precursor chemicals, bulk cash and weapons.
One of Espinoza's next assignments may be the decommissioning of the USS Curts next year; the frigate is currently home-ported in San Diego.
Closer look Navy USS Curts (FFG 38) highlights:
-- Commissioned Oct. 8, 1983. -- Early years focused on anti-submarine warfare operations in the Pacific. -- Deployed in 1990-91 in support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. -- Deployed for six months for counter-drug operations in the Eastern Pacific and Caribbean Sea ending in February 2000; intercepted more than 5 tons of cocaine. -- Deployed to U.S. Southern Command in 2004 on new counternarcotics operation; credited with the largest maritime seizure of cocaine (12 tons) in history. -- Took part in a third counternarcotics deployment in 2006; conducted three boardings, transferred more than 50 suspected drug traffickers, recovered 3 tons of cocaine. -- Deployed in 2008 to U.S. Fifth Fleet area of operation supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom and the U.S. global war against terrorism.
Source: U.S. Navy.
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