Meanwhile, demands for the Coast Guard's 240 cutters, some 1,775 boats, and about 200 aircraft are expanding with the warming arctic and its emerging fisheries, cruise ship routes and commercial traffic.
Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., has called for an evaluation of U.S. anti-narcotics efforts out of concern over the limited successes of the multibillion dollar war on drugs and wants more investment in prevention programs to curb the U.S. market for illegal drugs.
"Drug traffickers continue to find new ways to circumvent our laws," Engel said. "Unfortunately, Congress's draconian budget cuts have made the Coast Guard's ability to collect intelligence on and interdict drug traffickers increasingly difficult."
In 2013, the service lost one of its own to traffickers who rammed their 30-foot boat into the small craft of Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III, 34, near Santa Cruz Island off Los Angeles.
Horne's death drove home the dangers of the war on drugs at sea, said Petty Officer 2nd Class William Pless, 28.
"You never know what you are going to encounter," said Pless, his gun at his side as he looked into the gray mist hovering over the Pacific waters on a recent evening, miles from the Mexican border.