EASTON — Coast Guard Rear Adm. Doug Fears of Wittman assumed command of Joint Interagency Task Force South on June 12, in a virtual change of command ceremony at the command’s headquarters in Key West, Fla. JIATFS is a U.S. Department of Defense agency that detects and monitors illegal drug trafficking in international waters and air within the Western hemisphere, in support of regional security.
Fears is the 16th director of the 31-year-old task force, assuming command from the previous JIATFS director, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Pat DeQuattro. Fears pinned on his second admiral’s star on June 8, in advance of the change of command.
Fears graduated from Crusader’s Christian Academy in Salisbury, in 1982. He enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1982 and graduated from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 1989, launching a distinguished career in the armed forces that has spanned 38 years and included multiple duty locations.
Fears is the son of Carolie Valliant Patton of Oxford, and the late Edward Fears; and the grandson of the late and Jeremiah Valliant of Oxford. Fears is married to the former Sara Kathleen Drew, now Kate Drew Fears, of West Ocean City. They currently reside in Key West with their two sons, Joshua Valliant and Noah Matthew.
“I’ve been living in this mission space for my whole career as an enlisted man and officer,” Fears said of his new assignment. “I feel like I’ve got the golden ring.”
He said his command is charged with detection and monitoring of illicit traffic throughout the drug transit zone, principally the east Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. He said that an estimated 95% of cocaine imported to the U.S. goes through some kind of maritime transit, but the JIATFS does not just seek to support law enforcement interdiction of that traffic, but to counter international criminal organizations.
“A one of a kind command — there’s nothing like it in the world,” Fears said of the entity that brings representatives from all of the branches of the military, Customs and Border Protection, the FBI and DEA, the intelligence community, and liaisons from 21 countries together to complete their part of the overall mission to disrupt the illegal trade.
Fears’s new command handles the military component of mission, using ships and planes that are military assets to facilitate the interdiction, which is the law enforcement component.
“It’s a satisfying mission to be in because you can see your impacts immediately,” Fears said.
He said the detection and monitoring leads to interdiction and physically stopping the illegal shipments, which leads to prosecutions and justice being served, and frequently contributes back to improved detection and monitoring. Fears said this “cycle of success” requires all elements to be healthy and robust to yield the desire results.
He learned a different cycle of success as a boy with his grandfather, Jeremiah Valliant, preparing trot lines by baiting them with eel, then piloting the work boat to the right place in the Tred Avon River, a cycle that could in those days yield a bushel of blue crabs in a couple of passes.
Valliant enlisted in the Coast Guard at the start of World War II, and was promoted to E-6 because, as a waterman, he already knew how to handle a boat. He ended his career as commander of the Coast Guard Station at Little Creek, Virginia, and served for 50 years in the local Coast Guard Auxiliary. In addition to crabbing, Fears said his grandfather taught him how to fish, tong for oysters, sail, and drive a boat on a magnetic compass heading. “I would not be in the Coast Guard if it were not for his influence,” Fears said.
Fears was born in Baltimore, and moved to the Eastern Shore in second grade, where he lived in multiple places before he enlisted at 18 with the intention of serving an electronics technician for four years and returning home to join his families boat business in West Ocean City.
“I just fell in love with going to sea,” said Fears, who was serving as a wardroom mess cook when a couple of junior officers encouraged him to go to the Coast Guard Academy.
He is no stranger to billets with significant responsibility, having recently completed a two year stint as President Donald Trump’s Homeland Security Advisor. Fears served on the National Security Council staff during the Bush administration, and again in the Trump administration, and was slated to be the Chief of Congressional Affairs for Coast Guard when he got the call from Tom Bossert, the Homeland Security Advisor at the time, and a former colleague from the Bush years.
Fears said, “I didn’t set out to be a policy guy,” but in the spirit of service became acting HSA at the request of John Bolton, who was the National Security Advisor. Bolton asked Fears to serve a second year as the HSA, and in that time, Fears said he was able to prepare a lot of strategy and policy for areas like counterterrorism and cyber security.
He anticipates that he will serve a couple of years more in the in the Coast Guard, and he is looking forward to settling in full time with his family in their home in Wittman, where his mother’s house in Oxford will be closer by boat than by car.
Although he has not lived full time on the Shore since he was 18, “I haven’t lost my roots,” Fears said.