Ingalls Gets Multi-Billion Coast Guard Contract

An $11 billion, 20-year effort to modernize the United State's Coast Guard will begin right here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

The Coast Guard awarded a contract to build new ships and aircraft to Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin on Tuesday. The deal could eventually be worth $17 billion.

The Coast Guard will get 91 more ships, including a new class of Coast Guard cutters which will be designed and built at Northrop Grumman's Pascagoula and Gulfport facilities. Forty-nine existing cutters will be upgraded.

The Coast Guard will also get more than 150 additional aircraft, including unmanned surveillance planes.

The new Coast Guard vessels will replace ones that date back to World War II. President Bush says equipping the Coast Guard with 21st Century technology and more manpower is a must for its enhanced role in homeland security.

Coast Guard members on the Coast have always patrolled the Mississippi Sound, but they say their job seems more important now than ever before.

"We still continue to do what we did before September the 11th. Some of our focus has changed. We think a little more about terrorism and port security, but those have always been part of our mission," Commanding Officer Barry White said.

That's why President Bush wants to build a stronger Coast Guard as part of the nation's new home land security strategy.

For the 35 sailors stationed in Pascagoula, like John Stamoulis, the term "homeland security" just redefines what his job entails.

"I didn't want to go overseas; I wanted to stay here and protect our Coast, and that's what I've been doing now for the last 10 years,." Stamoulis said.

But unlike his first 10 years, the Coast Guard will now see a huge increase in equipment and most importantly personnel.

"I think it will be good for us, get a little more money and get some more people in here and be able to effectively do our jobs," Stamoulis said.

"This is one of the most exciting times the Coast Guard has ever gone through in my personal career," White said. "It's very exciting."

White knows new equipment won't be arriving tomorrow, but he does think the Coast Guards will see immediate changes in the way security information is shared.

"It will give us more continuity with other federal law enforcement agencies that are involved with homeland security," White said.

Local sailors say the upcoming changes for the Coast Guard reminds them the importance of their daily jobs. Commander White is hoping Coast Guard Station Pascagoula will receive a few more patrol boats and some communication equipment with the modernization plan.