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Rare boat-to-boat transfer executed on the high seas

Members of the U.S. Coast Guard transport Capt. Paul A. Karsten III (center) via rescue boat to the USNS Invincible, a radar ship that collects ballistic missile data for the Air Force Technical Applications Center at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, as part of the center's nuclear treaty monitoring mission. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard)

Members of the U.S. Coast Guard transport Capt. Paul A. Karsten III (center) via rescue boat to the USNS Invincible, a radar ship that collects ballistic missile data for the Air Force Technical Applications Center at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, as part of the center's nuclear treaty monitoring mission. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard)

Capt. Paul A. Karsten III, (in rescue boat with blue helmet), prepares to transfer from the rescue boat to the USNS Invincible to take command of the mission aboard the radar vessel.  Karsten, a member the 22nd Surveillance Squadron at the Air Force Technical Applications Center, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, was rapidly deployed to replace the acting mission commander due to a family emergency.  Boat-to-boat transfers are rare for AFTAC mission commanders.  (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard)

Capt. Paul A. Karsten III, (in rescue boat with blue helmet), prepares to transfer from the rescue boat to the USNS Invincible to take command of the mission aboard the radar vessel. Karsten, a member the 22nd Surveillance Squadron at the Air Force Technical Applications Center, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, was rapidly deployed to replace the acting mission commander due to a family emergency. Boat-to-boat transfers are rare for AFTAC mission commanders. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard)

A small rescue boat is seen approaching the USNS Invincible in the Persian Gulf with Invincible mission commander Capt. Paul A. Karsten III aboard.  Karsten, a member of the 22nd Surveillance Squadron at the Air Force Technical Applications Center, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, was transferred to the ship after the current mission commander was redeployed on emergency leave. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard)

A small rescue boat is seen approaching the USNS Invincible in the Persian Gulf with Invincible mission commander Capt. Paul A. Karsten III aboard. Karsten, a member of the 22nd Surveillance Squadron at the Air Force Technical Applications Center, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, was transferred to the ship after the current mission commander was redeployed on emergency leave. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard)

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- A rare sight was seen by crew members of the USNS Invincible recently when the ship’s mission commander transferred to the ship while it was out to sea. 

Capt. Paul A. Karsten III received a short-notice tasking to replace the current MC who had a family emergency and needed to rapidly redeploy home.  Since there wasn’t enough time nor pier availability to bring the Invincible into port, Lt. Col. Christopher Terry made the decision to transfer Karsten from a small U.S. Coast Guard rescue boat to the Military Sealift Command vessel. 

Karsten is a member of the 22nd Surveillance Squadron at the Air Force Technical Applications Center headquartered in Cocoa Beach, Fla.  As the sole nuclear treaty monitoring center in the Department of Defense, AFTAC assigns company grade officers from the center to serve as mission commanders on one of its two ships to lead onboard operations in the collection of ballistic missile data. 

One way it accomplishes that mission is through the radar platforms aboard the Invincible. 

“The ship operates on an unpredictable schedule where mission taskings are routinely short notice and require quick reactions to support theater commanders,” said Maj. Benjamin Christensen, assistant director of operations for the 22nd SURS.  “When we learned of the family emergency, our team here at Patrick AFB rapidly jumped into action to get the current mission commander home and get Capt. Karsten out to sea.” 

Those actions don’t come without a great deal of challenging-but-mandatory requirements. 

“We have to ensure we are communicating with everyone involved,” said Terry, 22nd SURS commander.  “The team contacted Combined Task Force 53 and the U.S. Coast Guard in the region for assistance, and Capt. Karsten had to coordinate rendezvous operations with Invincible’s ship master.  And of course, the daily mission must continue uninterrupted, so pulling it off doesn’t come without its own set of hurdles.” 

Terry said he’s extremely proud of the teamwork he witnessed throughout the transfer operation. 

“It’s very rare to for us to execute a ship-to-ship small boat transfer aboard our mobile sensor ships,” he said.  “But when situations like this arise, they give our crew members an opportunity to see how important it is to be flexible while out to sea and what needs to happen in an emergency like this.  We’re grateful to CTF 53 and Coast Guard for their assistance.  It’s all about teamwork.” 

Karsten is expected to be out to sea as the mission commander for a three-month rotation.