Alumnus Commands Large U.S. Coast Guard Cutter in $390M Drug Seizure

By Veronica Gonzalez/

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Legare returned from a 67-day deployment in April with 12 tons of cocaine and one ton of marijuana seized as part of an international effort to combat transnational criminal organizations operating in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. The wholesale value of the haul totaled $390 million; an impressive accomplishment for the cutters and crews involved in the operation, including Legare’s Commanding Officer, Sam Houston State University alumnus Commander Jonathan Carter. The interdictions happened off the coasts of Mexico and Central and South America with the assistance of Canadian Naval vessels, authorities said. The 85-member crew, stationed in Virginia, have been at sea since February.

"This year, we are already on pace to equal what we interdicted last year, and what we interdicted last year was a record, and what we interdicted before that was a record," Carter said in a news conference on board the USCGC Legare on April 24.

The former first baseman for SHSU graduated in 1999 with a degree in Criminal Justice. Carter has had quite the seasoned career with the U.S. Coast Guard, from currently commanding one of its largest cutters, to serving tours at the Pentagon, White House, and Iraq War Zone.

He became the first Coast Guardsman ever appointed to the President’s Emergency Operations Center, serving during the final year of the Bush administration and the first 18 months of the Obama administration.

Carter wouldn’t have considered a military career if it wasn’t for a bad semester that he thought might cost him his baseball scholarship. He didn’t lose his scholarship and worked to get himself back on track, but the career idea stuck with him.

During a baseball game his junior year, the first base umpire asked what he is thinking of doing after college and told him he was considering the U.S. Coast Guard because of their law enforcement mission.

“Turns out that umpire was the Coast Guard recruiter for the Houston area,” Carter explained. “One year later he got me into Officer Candidate School.”

Classes discussing community policing, ethics, and law influenced Carter before he realized it during his time in college.

“What opened my eyes about the program was the importance of classes like community policing, and ethics and the law, but I don’t know that I really knew that at the time,” he recalled. “I consider myself a federal law enforcement officer. What we do is a profession and there are ethics associated with that profession. Looking back on that now, that was the most important part of what the criminal justice program provided me. Those are the classes that meant the most to me.”

Carter explained you could teach someone to be a police officer, but to make somebody understand the relationship they have with their community and the code and ethics of their profession to abide by is not as easy.

“It’s about understanding the relationship between ethics and morals. There’s a difference,” he said. “As somebody who is going to study criminal justice and be in a leadership position, it’s important to understand that yes you have a lot of authority but you also have a customer. The customer is the public who grants you the ability to deny them unalienable rights.”

Aside from inspiring his passion and influencing his career, SHSU is where Carter met the former Amy Michalczak, who is now his wife. That’s his fondest memory of his time at SHSU by far, he said.

His wife also graduated with a degree in Criminal Justice in 1998. They remained friends at first for quite a while. It wasn’t until after Carter began his career with the U.S. Coast Guard that a deeper relationship developed. They got married between his first and second tour of duty and now have three children.

Carter also holds a master’s degree in National Security and Strategic Policy from the United States War College. He will turn over command of the USCGC Legare on June 28 in a change of command ceremony in Portsmouth, Va. He will spend the next year pursuing a second master’s degree, this time from the Marine Corps University at Quantico, just a few miles from the family’s home in Stafford, Va.

To find out more details of the confiscation of 13 tons of drugs on the USCGC Legare’s recent deployment to the Eastern Pacific, go here.
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