Red Crew

Fighting the War on Drugs with Reagan's Coast Guard

  • Subject: U.S. Coast Guard
  • Format:
  • Pages:
  • Published:
    August 15, 2020
  • ISBN-10:
  • ISBN-13:
  • Product Dimensions:
    9 × 6 × 1 in
  • Product Weight:
    16 oz
Softcover $25.95
Member Price $20.76 Save 20%
Book: Cover Type


Red Crew is a first-hand account of U.S. Coast Guard anti-smuggling operations during the early years of the nation’s maritime war on drugs. Jim Howe describes his experience as the executive officer of a specialized drug-hunting crew that sailed in then-state-of-the-art “surface effect ships,” a small flotilla of high-speed vessels pressed into the drug war on short notice.

In the early 1980s, South Florida and the Caribbean were awash in illicit drugs, with hundreds of smuggling organizations bringing huge loads of marijuana, and later cocaine, into the United States. To fight this epidemic, the Reagan administration led a massive effort to disrupt shore-side gangs while bolstering interdiction activity at sea. To increase the number of days at sea for each surface effect ship, a “multi-crewing” concept was employed, with four teams of sixteen sailors—the Red, Blue, Green, and Gold Crews—rotating among three hulls.

Through its first-person narrative, Red Crew offers a rare glimpse into the day-to-day pressures, challenges, failures, and successes of Coast Guard cuttermen as they carried out complex and dangerous missions. Red Crew provides a unique historical view of the early days in the Coast Guard’s war on drugs, and is the only book-length history of the diminutive, one-of-a-kind surface effect ship fleet.

About the Author

Editorial Reviews

“The U.S. Coast Guard is well-known worldwide for its search and rescue, lifesaving and humanitarian missions. Less well-known — and often under-appreciated — is its critical law-enforcement role combating drug smuggling. Red Crew is author Jim Howe’s exciting history of an elite squadron of special Coast Guard cutters and their dedicated crews battling drug smugglers throughout the Caribbean basin in 1982-85.” —Military Officer
"Red Crew takes you through the frequently harrowing, often heartbreaking, and sometimes humorous stories that are universal within the military services, as seen through the eyes of a sailor who combines the technical expertise of Tom Clancy with Pat Conroy's mastery of the English language. This fascinating book brings back many memories for the older generation among us - while easily making [our] list of required reading for all current and future young women and men who are considering the sea services as their calling. Red Crew is truly nothing short of an inspirational page-turner: it stands as a fast-paced account of everyday Coast Guard heroes as they serve our nation. It presents their selfless adherence to the Coast Guard's core values in a way that would no doubt make President Reagan proud." —The Bulletin
"Howe's book is a fast-paced account of true Coast Guard heroes that would, no doubt, make Reagan proud. Red Crew puts the reader in the middle of missions as nerve-racking and diverse as rescuing migrants who are literally at death's door [and] outwitting sophisticated and extremely well-funded smugglers - all told by a sailor who combines the technical expertise of Tom Clancy with Pat Conroy's mastery of the English Language." —Military Officer
"This overall is a very timely read. The book reads well even for more novice folks, and is a good look at the dangers of the current situation in the Western Pacific. US leaders must walk a fine line between preparing for but not exacerbating a conflict in this theatre. This book provides a good reason for why there must be action taken sooner rather than later." —The Mathlete's Dilemma
"Captain Howe's excellent book is hard to put down. He covers a unique period in Coast Guard history, when technology finally caught up with and integrated into Coast Guard operations, allowing specialized teams to successfully carry out complex missions. I truly savored Red Crew and hope others will enjoy it as much as I did."—Master Chief Vince Patton, U.S. Coast Guard (ret.), Eighth Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard
"Howe narrates, in vivid detail, a stirring tale of small crew dynamics, innovative leadership, and improvisation, as he and his crew battle the threat of smuggling. Red Crew expertly captures the essence of life in the patrol boat fleet and is a thrilling tribute to the men and women who serve our great nation at sea." —Admiral Robert J. Papp, Jr., 24th Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard
"Jim Howe dramatically captures the courage and sacrifice that the Nation may require of its 'Coasties' on any given day. Whether it be putting their lives on the line to save a vessel and crew in distress on a lee shore under storm-force winds, or facing down violent drug smugglers on the high seas, Red Crew tells it like it is for these maritime heroes."—Captain Bruce Miller, USN (Ret), former Assistant to the Vice President for Homeland Security Affairs, and commanding officer, USS City of Corpus Christi (SSN 705) and USS Alaska (SSBN 732G)
"Gripping! Howe's non-fiction book detailing the early years of the Coast Guard's war on drugs reads like a fast paced action novel. His story casts a vivid spotlight on the unsung heroes that played a major role in almost completely stopping 'at sea' smuggling during the 1980s. These are tales that have not been told and are well worth the read." —Master Chief Charles Skip Bowen, 10th Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard
“An engaging book on an unusual subject. Overshadowed by the massive presence of the United States Navy in maritime history, the story of the coast guard is too often neglected. As XO and senior boarding officer, Howe has many things to say about life in the Coast Guard…. Howe’s memoir of his service on these vessels is an important addition to first-person narratives of a neglected service.” —The Mariner’s Mirror
“This book is well suited to anyone with a keen interest in USCG operations. Howe does not shy away from discussing the dangers and sacrifices associated with a position in the Coast Guard. His respect for the organization, its operations, and his fellow shipmates is clearly established throughout the book, providing the reader with an appreciation for the work and life of an officer with the USCG.” —Canadian Naval Review