and Journal Times staff CHARLEVOIX, Mich. - Departing from the usual search-and-rescue or buoy tending exercises, the crew of the U.S. Coast Guard ship Acacia recently underwent a different type of training: firing a machine gun.
All 11 of the Coast Guard's Great Lakes cutters have been armed with heavy weaponry since 2004 to ready them for possible anti-terror missions, the Traverse City, Mich., Record-Eagle reported this week.
The Acacia, based in Charlevoix, was fitted with an M240 mounted gun, which can fire up to 600 rounds a minute.
The closest cutter to Racine is the U.S. Coast Guard ship Mobile Bay, which is home-ported at Sturgeon Bay. The U.S. Coast Guard ship Mackinaw is in Sheboygan, Mich. They are the only two cutters on Lake Michigan.
A Coast Guard cutter is any vessel more than 65 feet long. The Coast Guard deploys 12 different types of cutter.
Petty Officer Third Class Jared Shear said the Kenosha Coast Guard Station maintains two water-worthy vessels: one 41-foot utility boat and a 25-foot response boat.
The Milwaukee Coast Guard Station maintains seven patrol boats varying between 25 and 41 feet in length.
After the Coast Guard was absorbed by the Department of Homeland Security in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, cutter missions expanded to include patrolling "for smugglers of migrants and drugs, or terrorists seeking to infiltrate the international border," said Petty Officer William Colclough with the Coast Guard's Cleveland office, headquarters for Great Lakes
Executive Lt. Cary Godwin of the Acacia said the ship was provided the weaponry in 2004, but crew members were not able to train with the guns on the water until last week.
"There were political hurdles that needed to be taken care of before we could mount the weapons and water train," Godwin said. "In the past, there's been issues because of the Canadian border and treaties."
The 7.62 mm guns, capable of firing up to 600 rounds a minute, could disperse a lot of lead over a large area.
"The political and environmental concerns have been outweighed (by security concerns) to make sure the cutters can respond if necessary," Godwin said.
Frederick Stonehouse, a Great Lakes maritime historian in Marquette, said big new guns on the lakes suggest that the Coast Guard is driven "from the top down" with "a one-size-fits-all" mentality.
"Personally, I think it's ludicrous," he said. "Where's the threat? Who are they after with this thing, a recreational boater who doesn't have enough life
jackets?" The M240s always will be aboard the cutter ships, including the new icebreaker Mackinaw, which has yet to receive its guns but is equipped with gun mounts, Colclough said. But the weapons will not be mounted unless circumstances require, he said.
One such circumstance was security detail in the Detroit River last month during the Super Bowl, said Senior Chief Petty Officer Jeff Hall, also with the Coast Guard's Cleveland office.
"In normal, everyday operations they're not going to be in use," Hall said. "Our ships and boats all have to meet a certain standard of response. They have to have them on board. It's not so much overkill when you don't need them as preparedness for when you might."
Journal Times staff contributed to this report.