U.S. Coast Guard’s Powell making Canada proud
December 3, 2013 By CBC News
Dec. 3, 2013, Washington, D.C. - Capt. Jeffery Powell is a pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force, but currently has a high-pressure job in America: protecting the skies over the White House and the nation’s capital.
The 40-year-old helicopter pilot is part of a
three-year exchange program with the U.S. Coast Guard and under the
direction of NORAD Powell helps keep the airspace above Washington free
“I am the first Canadian to ever stand watch in D.C.,” Powell said
during an interview at the coast guard’s station at Ronald Reagan
National Airport, not far from the White House. “It’s a big honour to be
here and do the job.”
How did a Canadian from the small town of Clinton, Ont., end up in
one of the most important air defence positions in the United States?
Not on purpose. The exchange program usually puts the Canadian pilot at
the U.S. Coast Guard’s station in Cape Cod, but a last-minute change
redirected Powell to the one in Atlantic City.
From there, Powell and his new American co-workers are sent to the
Washington station for 3 weeks at a time. Powell did his first rotation
in June. They monitor the rings of airspace around the National Capital
Region that make up the flight restricted zone and the special flight
rules area, and if called on because an aircraft is flying where it’s
not authorized to be, they scramble.
They take to the air in MH-65 Dolphin helicopters — not the
Cormorants that Powell is used to flying in Canada — and carry out air
intercept missions. Most often the unauthorized planes are being flown
by student pilots who lost their way or an equipment failure caused some
confusion, but, every incident is considered a threat until proven
“We treat every situation as the real deal because we don’t know
until we get out there and get eyes on it what it actually is,”
explained Lt.-Commander Zachary Mathews, an operations officer at
the Washington air defence facility.
The coast guard’s role in air defence over the U.S. capital is just
one part of a multi-layered system of security that also involves the
defence department, NORAD and other air force partners. Powell’s team
responds to at least one event every day on average.
Flying air defence missions is an entirely different job than what
Powell is used to in Canada. He first worked as a commercial pilot in
southwestern Ontario before joining the Canadian Forces in 2000. When he
joined the military he knew he wanted to fly helicopters and after
completing the training he headed for Greenwood, N.S.
He spent five years doing search and rescue there then transferred to Gander, N.L., where he spent the last three years.
“Flying in Canada and flying in the States, you’d think a lot
of it would be the exact same stuff. It’s not,” Powell said about the
learning curve he’s been on the last few months. “There’s been a lot of
He’s not the only one gaining new skills and experience though.
“From a search and rescue aspect, Jeff brings to our pilots a
tremendous amount of experience. Both cold weather experience and
offshore experience that we may not necessarily see here,” said Mathews.
“That is money in the bank for us, for our pilots to be able to learn
from him, that’s been a tremendous advantage and I think it’s good to
have the camaraderie as well.”
That camaraderie is partly built on a good amount of teasing of the
lone Canadian, but Powell has a good sense of humour and his colleagues
have made gestures to make him feel at home. They ensured, for example,
that a Canadian flag was put up in the hangar next to the American one
when Powell first arrived. The original one was tiny compared to the
stars and stripes beside it, which was the source of much amusement, and
it was quickly replaced with a larger flag courtesy of the Canadian
Mathews said he hopes the exchange program will continue to place
Canadian pilots with the Washington branch of the coast guard and that
this won’t be a one-off.
“Having him here in D.C. serving with us is something we’re proud of,” said Mathews.
Powell appreciates the unique experience he is getting and loves the
vantage point he gets flying over the downtown Washington landscape, the
Capitol building, the White House and the many impressive buildings.
“When you get up and see it, it’s pretty cool,” he said.