KEY WEST, Fla. - U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Charles D. Michel, relinquished command to U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Steve Mehling, in a Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-S) change of command ceremony at The Tennessee Williams Theatre, Key West, Florida, on Friday, June 14. U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Joseph D. Kernan, Deputy Commander of United States Southern Command, presided at the ceremony.
Under the leadership of Rear Adm. Michel, JIATF-S commenced Operation Martillo, the United States whole-of-government approach to countering the use of the Central American littorals as transshipment routes for illicit, drugs, weapons, and cash. Since January 2012, in conjunction with partner nations in Central and South American countries, and several international allies, Operation Martillo has resulted in the seizure of more than 197 metric tons of cocaine, 35,000 lbs. of marijuana, $7.4 million in cash, 140 vessels and aircraft, and 440 arrests.
JIATF-S is just one of three primary U.S. Centers responsible for detection, monitoring, tracking, and hand-off of suspect drug trafficking and illicit air and maritime trafficking events to law enforcement agencies and regional partner nations. Rear Adm. Michel was awarded the Defense Superior Service Medal and recognized for his superb leadership and operational acumen that improved partner nation relationships and increased support to the interdiction of illicit drug trafficking. Rear Adm. Michel recognized the JIATF-S staff for their commitment, “Through their exceptional performance and dedication, the entire JIATF-S team has positively affected cooperation with our international partners, improved conditions throughout the region, and made it increasingly difficult for illicit drugs to reach American soil.”
His previous flag officer tours included Military Adviser to the secretary of Homeland Security and Director for Governmental and Public Affairs, U.S. Coast Guard.
A native of Brandon, Fla., he graduated from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy with a Bachelor of Science degree in marine engineering (with high honors) in 1985. In 1992, he graduated summa cum laude from the University of Miami School of Law as the salutatorian, receiving membership in the Order of the Coif.
Rear Adm. Michel’s awards include the Legion of Merit, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Coast Guard Commendation Medal, the Coast Guard Achievement Medal, the Coast Guard Letter of Commendation Ribbon, and the Colombian “Distinguished Service to the Colombian Navy” Medal. Rear Adm. Michel was the American Bar Association Young Lawyer of the Year for the Coast Guard in 1995, the Judge Advocate’s Association Career Armed Services Attorney of the Year for the Coast Guard in 2000, and is currently a member of the Florida Bar.
Rear Adm. Michel will report next to Portsmouth, Va., as deputy commander, Coast Guard Atlantic Area.
Rear Adm. Steve Mehling comes to JIATF South from Norfolk, VA where he served as Commander, Force Readiness Command, United States Coast Guard. Adm. Mehling’s previous Flag assignments include Commander of the Fourteenth District. He is a career aviator with 17 years of operational flying experience at air stations on the East Coast, West Coast, and Gulf Coast.
Rear Adm. Mehling holds a Bachelor of Science degree with high honors in Mathematics from the Coast Guard Academy and a Master of Science degree in Management from the University of Maryland.
Rear Adm. Mehling is the thirteenth Director of the Joint Task Force, originally established as Joint Task Force Four on 22 February 1989.