As I mentioned in a previous article for Tactical Knives magazine, during my law enforcement career serving as a U.S. Customs Service Special Agent I participated in many different types of drug interdiction and undercover operations. My unit’s mission was to use rented private undercover aircraft and vessels to conduct as many controlled delivery sting operations as possible before our covers were blown. In order to do so my colleagues and I would infiltrate smuggling organizations by pretending to be real smugglers. Once we used a plane or boat to pick up a multi-hundred or a multi-thousand kilogram shipment of cocaine in Colombia, we would deliver the contraband to the drug smugglers in the U.S. and arrest our “clients” after they paid us a substantial fee for our transportation services. We repeated this process for several years with tremendous success.
In addition to being heavily armed with firearms, my colleagues and I also carried and used different types of knives and tools when we performed our duties. While I always carried a Parkerized Spyderco Police Model folding knife with a fully serrated blade, on special occasions I also used other edged weapons, including a Cold Steel Master Tanto. The main reason I often carried a tanto knife was because a Cold Steel blade was strong enough to punch through a 55-gallon steel oil drum. Clearly, this asset could come in handy if I ever had to cut myself out of a damaged UC aircraft after a crash landing.
While participating in one particular covert marine operation my colleagues and I faced a serious survival situation when we found an equipment locker on our undercover vessel had broken open during the night while we traveled through a powerful storm at sea. Once the locker broke open, a good portion of the deck line that was normally used to secure the vessel to a dock spilled out on deck and was eventually blown over the starboard side railing. After being unable to pull the deck line back onto the vessel, we were immediately concerned that the line was wrapped around one or more of our three drive shafts. Under the circumstances our vessel commander had no choice but to shut the engines down and inspect the potential damage to our drive shafts and props.
When our vessel commander asked for a knife that he could use to cut any deck line that he found wrapped around our props or drive shafts, my number 1 Cuban Informant stepped forward and handed him his own Cold Steel Tanto. Once we tied a lifeline around his waist, U.S. Customs Marine Enforcement Officer Jimmy E. performed one of the bravest acts of heroism I have observed during our nation’s drug war when he put on his dive gear and went over the side of the UC vessel to conduct the inspection.
After being under the boat for a relatively brief period of time our vessel commander surfaced and reported that the situation was worse than expected. According to Jimmy E., a tremendous amount of deck line was wrapped around the drive shafts and had to be removed before we could proceed on our journey. The bottom line was, if left unattended, a problem like this could cause serious flooding inside the UC vessel engine room.
Even with the sea repeatedly slamming the UC vessel down on top of our brave vessel commander, he was able to cut enough deck line free from the drive shafts. This allowed us to limp into the U.S. Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba under our own power. Once permanent repairs were made at GITMO we would complete our mission. When I think of all the people who made this mission a success I have to include our brave vessel commander, members of the United States Navy and the folks at Cold Steel. Thanks for a job well done!
About the author: Nick Jacobellis is a Medically Retired U.S. Customs Agent and former NY police officer who became physically disabled in the line of duty while working undercover as a federal agent.