EAST COUNTY¬†‚Äî Mount Helix resident Jonathan Tatroe had already moved on from his role on a tactical enforcement team protecting pirate-infested waters when he received a surprise phone call in September.
Tatroe, a 31-year-old Coast Guard first class petty officer, had been selected for a prestigious award, an admiral told him.
Two years earlier, Tatroe helped rescue the crew of a German-owned freighter, which was being attacked and had been boarded by Somali pirates in the Red Sea. For his efforts, Tatroe won the Grateful Nation Award, presented by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.
The Grateful Nation Award has been given annually since 2003 to six service members who have distinguished themselves during the War on Terrorism. Honorees come from all five branches of the military and the Special Operations Command. Winners are enlisted, noncommissioned officer and junior officer service members.
‚ÄúI was a little taken aback,‚Äù Tatroe said. ‚ÄúI had no expectations of any awards for that. It was a multidepartment, multiteam takedown. It wouldn‚Äôt have happened had we not all come together.‚Äù
In 2010, when Tatroe was stationed with Tactical Law Enforcement Team South in Opa-locka, Fla., the Thorndale, Texas, native was deployed to the Middle East aboard the cruiser Princeton. The goal of the three-month mission was to conduct counterpiracy and counterterrorism operations.
The team is a special tactical unit of the Coast Guard.
In September 2010, while the Princeton was in the Red Sea, it got a distress call from the freighter Magellan Star, which was under attack from pirates trying to take over the ship. The Princeton was first on the scene, Tatroe said.
With the freighter‚Äôs crew holed up in a safe room, a Marine Expeditionary Unit from the amphibious ship Dubuque boarded and disarmed nine pirates, Tatroe said.
Tatroe‚Äôs enforcement team followed, and along with 100 U.S. servicemen, searched and secured the ship. The entire crew was rescued, without any casualties, in about eight hours, he said.
‚ÄúWe trained very extensively for that kind of mission,‚Äù said Tatroe, who has served nearly 13 years in the Coast Guard. ‚ÄúIt was like seeing all your training come together and work.‚Äù
One month later, Tatroe and his team returned to Florida, and there has since been a dramatic decline in pirate attacks off the Somali coast.
The last merchant ship to be successfully hijacked was about nine months ago, according to a report by Reuters.
By the time Tatroe received his surprise phone call in the fall, he had been transferred to San Diego, where he now works to patrol the Southern California coast and does search-and-rescue missions.
In December, he traveled to Washington, D.C., to participate in the awards ceremony.
‚ÄúJonathan Tatroe … exemplifies the best of the American military,‚Äù JINSA Chairman Michael Nachman said. ‚ÄúHis exemplary service with the U.S. Coast Guard helped turn what were once pirate-laden waters into safe shipping lanes critical to global commerce.‚Äù