You can't sail there." These four words changed my life. It was late October 2002, and I had been in command of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Aquidneck (WPB-1309), a 110-foot patrol boat out of Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, for well over a year. In that time, my crew and I had spent many long hours conducting homeland security operations along the East Coast. Now, we were moored at Group Philadelphia for a short break before escorting a ship to sea. Because this was the first cruise ship to board passengers in Philadelphia, a lot of press coverage was expected, which also raised my concerns that it could be a terrorist target.
With our escort plan in place, there was a calm on board the cutter as we took a break prior to getting under way. A message was handed to me from a Group Philadelphia watchstander—get under way and return to homeport as soon as possible. This is odd, I thought. Who was going to cover our escort? In all my time in the service, I had never been ordered off a case, boarding or escort. Surely there was a miscommunication. I called my operational commander to ensure the orders were correct.