Jim Howe’s fascination with the sea began at an early age, entranced by his dad’s stories of life in the merchant marine, and reinforced during family vacations to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. There, bobbing in a small fishing boat miles from shore, surrounded by nothing but miles of empty blue ocean, he felt the pull of adventure and the vicarious thrill that drives explorers and daredevils. Jim was hooked after his first boat ride beyond the harbor – there was no doubt that he’d spend a life at sea.
Fortune led Jim to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, a no-nonsense military school that honed the mental and physical discipline that would serve him well during his time in the Coast Guard fleet. As a newly-graduated Ensign, his first duty assignment was aboard the 210-foot cutter Active, which was based in New Castle, New Hampshire and spent most of its time patrolling the North Atlantic, enforcing fisheries laws and rescuing mariners in distress. There, he witnessed Mother Nature’s fury, with the occasional nor’easter whipping up 60-knot winds and 40-foot seas, and learned the essential need for crisp teamwork to get the mission done.
Active made an annual foray to the Caribbean, and that is where Jim caught the law enforcement bug. Drug smuggling was endemic in the region, and Active’s crew made two large drug busts, seizing vessels with a combined total of more than 40 tons of marijuana. Active also patrolled off Haiti in an attempt to deter unsafe, illegal migration to the United States, and Jim’s time ashore in that beautiful but impoverished nation changed his worldview forever.
After two years aboard Active, fortune smiled on Jim again and he was assigned to a small fleet of experimental, high-speed vessels operating from Key West, Florida. These new cutters – dubbed Surface Effect Ships – used a cushion of air between catamaran hulls to lift the vessel partially from the water, greatly increasing its speed. For two years, Jim and his crew patrolled throughout the Caribbean, chasing drug smugglers at breakneck speed, rescuing a disabled vessel in the teeth of a gale, conducting covert operations near communist Cuba, and saving the largest group of Haitian migrants yet encountered by the Coast Guard at sea. These and other adventures are chronicled in Jim’s book Red Crew: Fighting the War on Drugs in Reagan’s Coast Guard, which has received numerous five-star reviews from sailors and civilians alike.
Jim’s next move was to Boston, where he served in the regional Operations Center, coordinating search and rescue and law enforcement operations throughout New England. He also attended night school at Harvard University Extension School, eventually earning a Master of Liberal Arts in Government, his first of three graduate degrees.
From Boston, Jim was assigned as Commanding Officer of a newly-build 110-foot patrol boat, Metompkin, stationed in the historic city of Charleston, South Carolina. Like his previous four years at sea, life aboard Metompkin provide to be intense and adventure-filled: he and his crew survived the fury of Hurricane Hugo, conducted over 400 law enforcement boardings, rescued three fishermen whose boat was beset by storm-force winds and extreme sea conditions, and carried out over 100 other rescue cases, saving dozens of lives. Jim’s second book, now in development, will describe these dramatic missions.
Most importantly, it was in Charleston that Jim met the love of his life, Shira, a teacher, singer, gymnast, and all-around beauty. He was smitten at first sight (and remains so to this day). Since their marriage, Jim and Shira have been blessed with five children, all now grown and following their own paths in life: Margaret, a teacher; Marc, an Air Force pilot; Mary, a singer and actress; and the youngest two, James and Iris, pursuing studies in psychology and architectural stone carving, respectively.
Jim’s last four years at sea were aboard larger, 270-foot cutters, where he served as Executive and Commanding Officer. From there, he headed ashore, attending the Marine Corps War College to earn his second masters degree and serving in Coast Guard Congressional Affairs and as a homeland security policy advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney. After retirement, he served as the senior career official in the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Legislative Affairs and, after two years there, transitioned to the private sector. In 2014, he earned a masters degree in space studies from American Military University and is now working on post-graduate research at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom.
These days, when he’s not at work or hanging out with his family, you can find Jim tinkering with one of the family cars, wrestling with his lawn, working on his research, or scratching out the outline of his next book … that is, unless he’s sneaked away to catch a hockey game, soccer match, or NASCAR race on television.
Above all, Jim is grateful to have been blessed with an incredible family and an exciting career, and to have the privilege of growing up and living in the greatest nation ever known. His passion for America’s freedoms, love of country, and love for his shipmates come through loud and clear in Red Crew – as it will in his future books.