For two cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, the hard work it takes to survive freshman year paid off quickly.
On their first assignment, Derrian Duryea and Tim Early helped to stop suspected smugglers who were trying to bring more than 100 bricks of marijuana and hash into Miami.
And their friends and family will get to watch them in action since the drug bust is featured in the premier of the new docu-series, "Coast Guard Florida," airing on The Weather Channel, on Wednesday, Oct. 10, at 9 p.m.
Within 24 hours of arriving at their summer assignment at Coast Guard Station Miami Beach, Duryea and Early were on a boat with other Coast Guardsmen, headed to meet a crew from Station Fort Lauderdale that had intercepted a 15-foot boat traveling west from the Bahamas carrying drugs.
Two men aboard had attempted to scuttle the boat to destroy the evidence before they were taken into custody, and the boat was quickly filling with water.
The Station Miami Beach boat pulled alongside, and Duryea and Early helped the crew pump out water and load the drugs onto the deck of the Coast Guard ship. It was in that moment, Duryea said, that his dream of enforcing laws on behalf of the Coast Guard came true.
"I made eye contact with one of the drug runners and I'll never forget staring into this guy's eyes, knowing what he almost got away with if we hadn't worked as a team," Duryea, 18, of Ridgefield, said.
The May 6 bust netted 76 bricks of marijuana and 26 bricks of hash with an estimated street value of more than $500,000. One of the suspects was deported while the other awaits trial in the United States.
In the episode, Lt Cmdr. Joseph Abeyta, the Miami Beach station commander, shakes the cadets' hands after the bust.
"Welcome aboard. Nothing like throwing your feet in the fire," he told them.
"Coast Guard Florida" follows the men and women of the 7th Coast Guard District as they keep ports secure and waterways safe, stem the flow of illegal narcotics, secure the southeast border, protect the environment, enforce maritime laws and save those in peril on the sea in 13 60-minute episodes. The series follows the success of its predecessor, "Coast Guard Alaska."
The Weather Channel provided an advance copy of the first episode, in which the cadets meet Abeyta when they arrive at the station, get pepper-sprayed in the face so they will know how to respond should a suspect spray them, and help to bring the drug boat to shore.
"It was a great experience. I couldn't have asked for a better summer," Early, 19, of Lebanon, Ohio said.
The episode also shows other Coast Guardsmen searching a freighter from Venezuela and finding 7 kilos of cocaine and rescuing a man from a sinking sailboat and a diver with a collapsed lung.
The summer before their sophomore year, cadets serve out in the fleet to get a better understanding of the Coast Guard's operations. Duryea and Early, who are close friends and swim together at the academy, both asked to go to Florida because they are interested in law enforcement. When they arrived, the crew from Coast Guard Florida was filming at the station.
Duryea said it's an honor to represent the Coast Guard and the corps of cadets.
"Hopefully this will get a bunch of new people to apply (to the academy) and get more people interested in the Coast Guard and what it does," Early said.
They both said their experiences this summer reaffirmed that they chose the right path in joining the Coast Guard.
"I'm here at the academy for a reason," Duryea said. "In three short years I'll be graduating as an ensign and going out and doing everything and more that I got to see this summer. I learned so much."
"Being on that drug bust, it was the first time we were in the fleet and getting to do our job," Early said. "Being able to do that and see the impact we can have, it just definitely made me feel like I chose the right thing to do."