The Coast Guard Cutter Northland is seen at sea, preparing to enter the Chesapeake Bay as it returns from Haiti. The ship was involved in an at-sea rescue of a Haitian vessel as well as a transfer of seized cocaine to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The Coast Guard Cutter Northland is seen at sea, preparing to enter the Chesapeake Bay as it returns from Haiti. The ship was involved in an at-sea rescue of a Haitian vessel as well as a transfer of seized cocaine to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Archived Story

‘Drawn to the mission’

Published 5:40pm Saturday, July 6, 2013

Bright skies, calm waters and the excitement of Independence Day welcomed U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Northland back to its home port at Integrated Support Command in Portsmouth on Thursday.

On board, equally bright and calm, was Lt. j.g. Joe DiRenzo IV, a transplanted Suffolk native who has lived here since 2000, when his Coastie father and Navy mother, Joe III and Karen DiRenzo, were stationed here when he was in middle school.

DiRenzo served as the acting operations officer — third in command on the ship of about 105 enlisted men and officers — during its recent two-month deployment.

Lt. j.g. Joe DiRenzo IV eyes the port as the Northland gets closer to home.
Lt. j.g. Joe DiRenzo IV eyes the port as the Northland gets closer to home.

With only three years under his belt after graduating from the Coast Guard Academy, the Nansemond-Suffolk Academy alumnus was quite young for the position — younger even than the ship he was on. But Commanding Officer Holly Harrison said she was given the opportunity to pick the person she wanted to fill in the gap — and added that DiRenzo didn’t disappoint.

“A lot of people are eyeing him for where he’s going to go,” she said.

And for good reason. DiRenzo recently got the news he has been chosen for his second Fulbright Scholarship since graduating from the academy with his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.

DiRenzo will head to the Norwegian University of Science and Technology this fall to continue pursuing his master’s degree in sustainable energy engineering. He already began his studies there last school year, taking up cross-country skiing in the meantime and returning stateside during the summer to serve on the Northland.

DiRenzo’s choice of university may seem odd, but the Norwegian school is “one of the best for natural gas,” he explained.

“I see applications for natural gas to what the Coast Guard is doing,” he said. “I want to assess the feasibility of using natural gas for Coast Guard cutters.”

His education is important, but it may not give him quite the rush that being at sea does.

As the son of two military parents, DiRenzo said he grew up hearing “sea stories” from both parents.

“I guess I kind of wanted my own,” he said. “I was drawn to the mission of the Coast Guard.”

He came home from this deployment with some great sea stories. The Northland participated in law enforcement and search-and-rescue missions off the coast of Haiti in its most recent deployment.

In one particular case, the Northland was assigned to search for a Haitian merchant vessel that had not arrived in the Turks and Caicos Islands as scheduled. When the Northland located the vessel, named “Hunter,” it was adrift due to a cracked engine block, and the 15-member crew had been out of food and water for two days.

The Northland, together with another Coast Guard cutter, successfully towed the ship back to Haiti.

In another exciting case, the Northland transported more than 1,250 pounds of seized cocaine from Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay to Miami, Fla., where it was offloaded and transferred to the Drug Enforcement Agency.

“It’s kind of a rush when you have big cases and a plan comes together,” said DiRenzo, part of whose job as operations officer is to create the plans for such cases. “It was a good feeling for everybody when we were able to get that boat safely back to Haiti.”

DiRenzo will remain stationed on the Northland throughout the summer until his return to Norway.

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