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The History of Air Station Clearwater

In 1934, an air station was commissioned on the West Coast of Florida at Albert Whited Airport in downtown St. Petersburg. This became a home base for various Coast Guard amphibious aircraft and helicopters. In 1976, the additions of four HC-130s airplanes prompted the move to St. Petersburg/ Clearwater International Airport and the name changed to U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater.

Clearwater became the Coast Guard's largest air station in 1987 with the expansion of the drug interdiction mission, "Operations Bahamas, Turks, and Caicos" or OPBAT. This large ongoing mission resulted in the assignment of 12 HH-60J helicopters, the newest in the Coast Guard fleet, and boosted personnel strength to its current level of over 500 men and women. Also during this period, three additional HC-130s were stationed at Air Station Clearwater to support the increased law enforcement efforts. The air station's motto of "ANYTIME, ANYWHERE" accurately describes it's pace of operations.

The C-130s "HERCULES" performs numerous missions in support of Search and Rescue, Law Enforcement, Marine Environmental Protection, and logistics. The aircraft is a ideal platform for long range Search and Rescue, with over 14 hours of airborne endurance and large scanner windows built into the airframe side. Originally designed for DOD missions of carrying large cargo loads into short, rough landing strips, the C-130 demonstrates this ability to perfections for the Coast Guard's required support of missions in isolated areas. Clearwater C-130s have deployed to many of the contiguous 48 states, Alaska, Hawaii, the Caribbean, Central and South America, Europe, and many other parts of the world.

The 9 state-of-the-art Sikorsky HH-60J "JAYHAWK" helicopter assigned to the air station have a long-range capability of 600 nautical miles to support Coast Guard ships on Law Enforcement patrols, deliver dewatering pumps to sinking vessels, evacuate injured crew members from vessels far at sea, and many other missions. Air Station Clearwater helicopter aircrews fly an average of over 400 Search and Rescue cases each year along the coasts of Florida, the Bahamas, and beyond.

Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater has a rich history, and its operations have been at the heart of significant events in Florida and the Caribbean for many years. In the early 80s, its high operations tempo earned Clearwater two Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendations, the Humanitarian Service Medal, and the Coast Guard Unit Commendation.

It was during this time that the Air Station provided crucial support to the surface fleet during the Cuban boat lift. Shortly thereafter Clearwater answered the call to duty during operation URGENT FURY- the Grenada rescue mission, and was awarded the Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendation for its efforts. Later that same year a second Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendation was awarded to the Air Station for operation WAGON WHEEL, an international drug interdiction effort.

In 1986 following on the success of the previous operation, Clearwater conducted operation HUNTER. This drug interdiction effort planted the seeds for what is today's OPBAT (Operation Bahamas and Turks and Caicos).

Perhaps the single most noteworthy mission for the Air Station also came in 1986, during the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Air Station crews responded immediately, the initial crew arriving on scene so quickly it had to stand off while the debris from the explosion continued to fall. In all, Clearwater flew 33 sorties on the Challenger mission and was awarded a Coast Guard Unit Commendation.

The 90s have been no less dramatic for the men and women of Clearwater. In 1991 our C-130s responded rapidly to fly personnel and supplies in and out of the combat theater in support of operation DESERT STORM. During the Haitian uprising in 1992, Clearwater crews evacuated American embassy personnel and transported U.S. Special Forces into Haiti. When south Florida and Louisiana were devastated by hurricane Andrew, Clearwater crews flew missions round the clock transporting hundreds of tons of badly needed supplies. In March 1993 the "Storm of the Century" struck Florida leaving numerous sunken vessels in its wake. Air Station crews launched at the height of the storm and pulled 62 people from the water in what was the busiest search and rescue day in the Air Station history, In the summer of 1994 air crews participated in a massive SAR effort which located and rescued 34,568 Cubans and 23,389 Haitian migrants from the waters of the Caribbean.

In 1997 President Clinton announced a renewed effort towards the War on Drugs, and Clearwater responded as part of operations FRONTIER SHIELD, GULF SHIELD, AND FRONTIER LANCE. Those operations were aimed at stemming the flow of illegal drugs and migrants and spanned from the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean to the southern coastline of Texas. The Coast Guard set new records for both drug seizures and arrests. Time and time again Clearwater flights crews and support personnel have risen to the challenge of the momentous tasks which they are given, and they are justifiably proud of their long history of distinguished service to our nation.

Last Modified 2/26/2015