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BUSAN, South Korea — Two weeks after the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Munro set sail from Alaska and its snow-capped mountains, it docked in a steamy commercial shipping port in South Korea for a military exercise that, seven years ago, wouldn’t have happened.

It was Monday morning, the Coast Guard’s 218th birthday. Over the next day, the 378-foot cutter would be the stage for a series of anti-terrorism drills between two small, specialized teams of South Korean and American Coast Guardsmen trained in detecting bombs and preventing attacks.

The teams would save "hostages" in the bridge of the cutter, and respond to a "bomb" hung from the ship. They would practice searching cars at a vehicle inspection point and, before the cutter docked, divers would sweep the harbor for explosives — all crucial elements in deterring a terrorist attack.

"This wasn’t necessarily our focus 10 years ago," said Capt. Bark Lloyd, the Munro’s commanding officer.

The Coast Guard was formed in 1790 to enforce tariffs on goods coming into the country. Over time, it evolved into the military and law enforcement agency responsible for protecting the country’s coast.

Today, its focus remains on patrolling domestic waters. But since Sept. 11, 2001, the agency’s role has expanded to include port safety.

The Coast Guard is now part of the Department of Homeland Security, and after 9/11 it formed a dozen anti-terrorism Maritime Safety and Security Teams, including one that deployed from Hawaii to Busan for the exercise with the Munro.

"We’re working toward a common goal of protecting and keeping the maritime environment safe, whether it’s in the U.S. or in other countries," Lloyd said.

During its two-week voyage from Kodiak, Alaska, to Busan, the Munro crew and the cutter’s distinctive orange-red helicopter airlifted two sick civilians from their boats. They conducted helicopter and pyrotechnics exercises and weathered 10-foot swells that tossed the cutter for hours and forced Coast Guardsmen to hang onto rails for balance.

For Munro crewmembers, this four-month deployment is a break from their usual job of patrolling the Bering Sea. Other cutters deploy to the Pacific every year or so, but this is the first time the Munro has made the journey.

"It’s kind of a big deal. We’re all very excited to be here," said Petty Officer 1st Class Tiffany Pash.

In Alaska, the Munro patrols the Bering Sea for fishing violations and conducts search-and-rescue operations. The cutter took part in the dramatic Easter Sunday rescue of the crew of a sunken fishing trawler; 42 people survived, according to U.S. Senate testimony.

"We’re basically 911 for the Bering," Lloyd said.

About 160 Coast Guardsmen, including 25 women, are stationed on the cutter. For 60 percent to 70 percent onboard, it was their first assignment with the Coast Guard, and for most of the crew, the three-day port call in Busan was their first visit to South Korea.

"Getting the chance to visit other countries, getting the chance to visit the Pacific — these are all the things that they’ll tell stories to their grandchildren about," Lloyd said.


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