It’s not often that a Navy crew gets awarded a Special Operations Service Ribbon by the Coast Guard. Then again, it’s not often that a Navy crew seizes $350 million worth of cocaine in a trans-Atlantic drug bust.
The Gold Crew of expeditionary mobile base Hershel “Woody” Williams, which helped conduct the bust in April off the west coast of Africa, was recognized with the Coast Guard decoration at a ceremony Aug. 22.
The award honored the crew’s “overall exceptional support of several tri-maritime service operations from February to April 2022,” according to a Navy news release Thursday. The first U.S. warship permanently assigned to U.S. Africa Command, Hershel “Woody” Williams has also conducted maritime security operations, prevented illegal fishing and participated in multinational maritime exercise Obangame 22.
But the crew really made a name for itself with the April 1 drug bust.
Joined by a team of U.S. Coast Guardsmen and Marines, INTERPOL officials and Cape Verdean law enforcement, the sailors boarded a Brazilian-flagged fishing vessel in international waters near the west coast of Africa.
An inspection of the boat turned up approximately 5,668 kilograms, or 12,496 pounds, of cocaine, according to a Cape Verde Judiciary Police news release in April. Cape Verdean law enforcement arrested five crew members of Brazilian nationality and two of Montenegrin nationality.
Photos in an AFRICOM news release highlight the scope of the drug bust. In one, a large net containing what appear to be several large bricks of cocaine is hoisted onto the Williams. In another, dozens of cocaine bricks are displayed in a neat pile.
The ship’s sailors qualified for the Special Operations Service Ribbon because they “participated in significant numbers in a major Coast Guard operation of a special nature, not involving combat,” as the Coast Guard Medals and Awards Manual puts it.
The commander of the Coast Guard’s Atlantic Area, Vice Adm. Kevin Lunday, presented the award at Coast Guard Base Portsmouth, Virginia, according to the Navy release.
Capt. Michael Concannon, the commanding officer of the Gold Crew, expressed his excitement for his sailors in the Navy release.
“The successes from Obangame Express and the MSO patrols go a long way to show African partners that the U.S. is committed to regional stability assistance,” Concannon said.
The Williams is now deployed to Souda Bay, Greece, according to the Navy release.
The ship is named for a Marine who received the Medal of Honor, the highest award for valor, for single-handedly operating several flamethrowers under heavy fire from Japanese forces at the Battle of Iwo Jima. When Williams died in June at 98, he was the last surviving WWII recipient of the Medal of Honor.
Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.