A Veteran’s Journey Home

Steve Fuller

Ever hear of the green spark? When the sun sets on a clear day at sea, the last ray of sunlight is not orange or yellow or red, it is green and appears as briefly as a spark. In almost 24 years of going to sea I had never seen it, until my ship departed Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on the hunt for drug traffickers. What a treat as I sat content in my bridge wing chair and headed off on the hunt.

Hunting drug-traffickers is a lot like fishing. Some days the fish are jumping, some days they are not. Sailing across the Honduran Rise, we thought we might get in on a multi-million dollar bust that didn’t pan out, and it seemed that every few hours we were re-tasked to find a trafficker’s speed boat we called a “go-fast” or to investigate a suspicious fishing vessel. Nothing biting.  

And then, the line got taut. 

A maritime patrol aircraft spotted a go-fast lurking about 70 miles to the south of us. The bosses in Key West put us on the case. We launched our alert helicopter and sent them out ahead of us while we kicked it up to flank speed to get there as fast as we could. Our helicopter found the boat; the traffickers had spotted the maritime patrol and were heading our way, fast. We had a bite! We put on another engine and Scotty “gave it all she’s got, Cap’n.” Meanwhile, the Coast Guard legal detachment began gathering the information required to justify airborne use of force not more than a week after our certification. With daylight running out, we shifted our tactical control to the Coast Guard and got authorization for warning shots and disabling fire.  

Warnings in English. No stop. Warnings in Spanish. No stop.  

I gave “batteries release” to the sharpshooter in the helicopter. Three separate rounds of warning shots. No stop.

Two well-placed rounds into the steering block of the go-fast. Stop. Arms up. Surrender. Sunset. Just in time.

To get the fish in the net my ship was still over an hour away from the go-fast and helicopter at best speed, but I think the crew could have willed the ship an extra knot or two there was so much excitement. We arrived on scene, recovered our helicopter and sent the Coast Guard legal detachment to begin its investigation of the suspected traffickers on the go-fast.

What a great day. Over the next couple of days, we waited for the process to unfold. And waited. Got sunburned sitting watching the go-fast. And waited. Paused to sleep and eat. And waited. Finally, we were given authorization to bring the drugs and traffickers on board for prosecution in the United States. We’d caught the fish.    

At noon that day, the Coast Guard gave us authorization to sink the emptied go-fast. I got to fire a grenade launcher, the bang and yellow flash of the exploding grenade an echo in the real world of the serenity of the green flash.   

Steve Fuller retired from the U.S. Navy in 2019 after nearly 27 years of service serving at sea on ships as small as frigates and as large as aircraft carriers. A visit to the Driftless and a desire for a radical course change brought him home to Wisconsin where he lives on a small parcel of land with chickens and horses and … more to come! He has been a creative writer since he first saw U2 perform in Live Aid, and now as he returns home after a life of service, he looks forward to sharing more of his writing with willing readers.