Capt. Kevin P. Gavin relieved Capt. Donna L. Cottrell as commanding officer of Coast Guard Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron Jacksonville during a change of command ceremony at HITRON Friday.
HITRON is America's first airborne law enforcement unit trained and authorized to employ airborne use of force and intercept go-fast vessels suspected of transporting illicit narcotics toward U.S. borders.
During the ceremony, Vice Adm. Robert Parker, Atlantic Area commander, presented Cottrell with a Legion of Merit, highlighting many of her accomplishments.
"Capt. Cottrell has led with superior grace and initiative," said Parker. "Team HITRON's achievements are indicative of her strong leadership."
Under Cottrell's command, from June 2011 to April 2014, HITRON crews busted 70 boats and interdicted more than 65 tons of cocaine and 7.5 tons of marijuana, with a total value of $1.7 billion.
During her speech, Cottrell recognized and thanked many of the members assigned to HITRON, and tried to paint a picture of the skill required of helicopter crews interdicting vessels by asking the audience to imagine trying to lasso the tail of a black cat in the dark while riding a bicycle. It requires immense skill and precision, she said.
"HITRON was my number one pick," Cottrell said. "I wanted a challenge. I wanted something different. It was that and so much more."
As she concluded her speech, she gave the following message to Gavin. "This is the hardest job you will ever love. This crew will serve you well and make you proud."
Cottrell is transferring to Coast Guard District 13 in Seattle, Wash., where she will serve as the chief of staff.
Gavin, who has previously been assigned to HITRON and reported from Coast Guard Personnel Service Center in Arlington, Va., briefly addressed the crew during his speech.
"We are a brotherhood," he told the crew. "We share a special bond that represents pride. We are a family. We are a championship caliber team, and there's our scoreboard," he said, pointing to HITRON interdiction statistics displayed on an electronic board near the stage. "Its an honor and a privilege to be your commanding officer."