Lt. Taylor Tennyson showed up more than four months late to his new job as the aide to the Coast Guard Academy’s superintendent.
But for good reason.
The 2015 academy graduate spent much of this year — 205 days, to be precise — on a Navy destroyer conducting counternarcotics operations in the Caribbean Sea and Eastern Pacific Ocean.
Tennyson’s assignment was only supposed to last 45 days. But as it has done to almost every aspect of our daily lives, the coronavirus pandemic upended that schedule, keeping him and the ship at sea for much longer than planned.
The guided-missile destroyer USS Pinckney (DDG 91) left for deployment in mid-January, initially setting out with the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), which several months later was sidelined in Guam due to a coronavirus outbreak among its crew. The Pinckney continued on to the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific as part of a push by the Trump administration for a greater presence of Navy warships in the region to seize drugs at sea.
Tennyson reported to the Pinckney in mid-March as part of a Coast Guard law enforcement team assigned to assist the destroyer with its counter-drug mission. He spent his time aboard running drug cases, making recommendations to the Pinckney’s captain about how to respond to drug-smuggling vessels it came across.
He recalled two back-to-back cases in the spring, when the Pinckney came across two separate so-called low-profile vessels, which sit low to the water and are designed to avoid visual detection, suspected of drug trafficking. In the first case, Tennyson recommended a small boat with a Coast Guard crew be sent out to board the vessel and investigate.
About 24 hours later, a U.S. military aircraft spotted another of these vessels. The Pinckney took off, transiting 300-plus miles at full speed. In this case, the vessel refused to stop when a small boat launched from the Pinckney approached, so Tennyson recommended that a Coast Guard marksman riding in a helicopter above the scene fire warning shots in front of the bow of the vessel to get it to stop.
He also oversaw the apprehending of suspects and ensured proper authorization was granted to search the vessels, and whether they needed to be submerged so as not to present a hazard to other ships.
In total, during its deployment, the Pinckney, with the help of the Coast Guard team, recovered an estimated 9,800 kilograms of suspected cocaine and an estimated 2,800 pounds of marijuana, the assessed wholesale value of which is estimated to be more than $720 million, the Navy said.
While Tennyson’s new job is a big change from “chasing down drug smugglers,” the 28-year-old Virginia Beach, Va., native said he has returned to his alma mater for what he’s been told is one of the most challenging and rewarding jobs in the Coast Guard.
He will serve as Rear Adm. Bill Kelly’s right-hand man, handling a multitude of tasks including organizing events, serving as the liaison between the superintendent and the civilian community and other military members, ensuring Kelly stays atop his demanding schedule and that he is prepared for meetings. The position also will enable Tennyson to garner insight into how decisions at the highest level of the academy are made.
“My previous job prepared me for here,” he said. “When stuff doesn’t go as planned, I know how to flex to the situation.”
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