Hamlet man keeps Coast Guard full, moving forward

By Eric Ressel, Lt. j.g.
U.S. Coast Guard

KODIAK, Alaska — For two and a half months on the frigid Bering Sea, Petty Officer 1st Class Laron Jones kept 165 Coast Guard troops fed around the clock.

Jones, a food service specialist from Hamlet, is the galley supervisor aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Munro. Responsible for 14 subordinate cooks, Jones ensures four wholesome meals are served each day (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and “midrats” for crewmembers who stand watch in the middle of the night).

Submitted photo A military operation needs two things fuel and food - and Petty Officer 1st Class Laron Jones ensures the latter on Coast Guard Cutter Munro.

Submitted photo
A military operation needs two things fuel and food – and Petty Officer 1st Class Laron Jones ensures the latter on Coast Guard Cutter Munro.

CGC Munro recently returned to its homeport of Kodiak, Alaska, following a 76-day deployment in the Bering Sea. Munro departed Kodiak in late September to patrol the U.S.-Russia Maritime Boundary Line, conduct domestic fisheries boardings and maintain a persistent search and rescue presence in the Bering Sea.

The president’s cook  

Jones graduated from boot camp in 2002 and was assigned to Coast Guard Station Panama City, followed by Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast.

He was assigned to Sector New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina from 2006 to 2010, after which he was selected to join the Special Command Aide Program in Washington, cooking for the secretary of homeland security, the commandant of the Coast Guard and the president of the United States. Jones arrived at CGC Munro in July 2014.

“This patrol I was able to get all my qualifications done two and a half months ahead of time. I also helped several other shipmates get qualified,” said Jones.

Jones lives in Kodiak with his wife, Gerisha, and five children.

“It was extremely hard dragging my family to the other side of the world, away from family and friends, so I’m thankful that my wife is so supportive of my career,” said Jones.

Jones plans on making the rank of chief petty officer soon and is striving to become a warrant officer within several years.

“I am extremely proud of the men and women who crew Munro,” said Capt. Jeff Thomas, Munro’s commanding officer. “They continually exceed expectations while executing our assigned missions in weather and sea conditions few understand with enthusiasm, dedication and the utmost professionalism.”

Patrolling the boundary

Munro patrolled along the Maritime Boundary Line that serves as a border between the Exclusive Economic Zones of the U.S. and Russian Federation. An EEZ is an area of water within 200 nautical miles of a country’s coastline, to which the country claims exclusive rights for fishing and other resources.

Munro’s purpose along the MBL was to protect the United States’ economic interests and fisheries by patrolling the line to detect and deter incursions by foreign fishing vessels.

This was the first patrol for more than 40 percent of Munro’s 165-person crew, thus training and qualifications were high priorities. All personnel reporting aboard are required to learn and qualify in shipboard damage control and various watch stations. This includes basic shipboard firefighting, flooding response techniques, first aid and CPR certification.

These skills are learned through daily training and reinforced through drills, where casualties are simulated and observed by training teams. For some crewmembers, either coming straight from recruit training or those with prior Coast Guard experience, this was their first tour on board a cutter, which demands a certain degree of adaptability in a demanding environment.

After patrolling the boundary, Munro conducted domestic fisheries boardings of fishing vessels leading into the Alaskan red king crab season opener. The primary purpose of these boardings is to ensure vessels comply with safety regulations.

The harsh environment and cold temperatures of the Bering Sea are a deadly combination. With seawater temperatures near 40 degrees Fahrenheit, a person without any survival equipment will lose useful consciousness in around 15-30 minutes and die within an hour. Even when wearing a dry suit, survival time is limited to about five hours.

Another purpose of these boardings is to ensure the regulation and continued preservation of Alaskan commercial fisheries which are valued at more than $6 billion annually and amount to 53 percent of the national catch.

Munro to the rescue 

While in the Bering Sea, Munro and its embarked helicopter serve as a search and rescue asset for the Coast Guard. As the patrol neared its end, Munro was diverted 600 miles northwest to the boundary to respond to the sinking of a 326-foot South Korean fishing vessel, 501 Oryong, in the Russian EEZ.

A small fleet of “good Samaritan” Russian fishing vessels were also assisting in the efforts. Once Munro arrived on scene, the cutter began searching the waters. Combined with its embarked helicopter, an HH-65 from Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak, Munro searched day and night more than 1,500 square nautical miles of ocean, an area roughly 30 percent larger than the state of Rhode Island.

Of the 60 people aboard the fishing vessel, only seven were found alive. A Russian fishing vessel found the seven hypothermic survivors in a life raft hours after the sinking occurred.

In addition to Munro, the Coast Guard had frequent C-130 searches over the area, and Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley arrived on scene to relieve Munro and continue the search. South Korea also dispatched search planes and a Navy vessel to assist in the search. The South Korean prime minister, Jung Hong-won, praised the Coast Guard for its fast response and willingness to assist.

Munro arrived safely in Kodiak last month with her crew looking forward to spending the holidays with their families.

Filed in: Latest Headlines

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