Updated: May 24, 2020
The night is dark and windy as large swells consume the Pacific Ocean. Not too much is expected to happen on the rough seas as the weather continues to worsen.
The beginning of my 12 hour shift is forecast to be an uneventful night. I have a supply of rented movies and snacks to help pass the time. The phone rings at the United States Coast Guard Command Center, “My son went fishing yesterday afternoon with his friends. He hasn’t returned home or called to check in, I’m extremely worried”.
The fear in this father’s voice was undeniable. I gather all information possible from the distressed parents as they attempt to recall the last known location of their precious teenage son. My emotions are concealed as I mentally compare this young man to the age of my own children. Night has fallen and so has the temperature of the sea. There is an unlikely chance of finding survivors in an overwhelming sea of contretemps.
The water current, the temperatures, and the fierce winds are relentless on any surviving vessel in its path. I prepare my team, including the flight crew for their mission. The USCG Flight crew ensures all aircraft have been inspected, gassed and logged. The USCG Rescue swimmers are dressed in their wet suits. Warrior vests are stocked and in place as time is crucial. Night vision gear is inspected and packed as darkness falls over the ocean. The pressure is intense as we race to any living survivors.
As the MH-60 Jayhawk flies over the dark fierce ocean, visibility is nearly impossible. The frigid winds pierce all exposed skin on our bodies. Rising seas and large swells conceal any obstacles which lay beneath. My fear is dismissed as my focus is on the young men lost at sea. SAR (Search And Rescue) efforts continue through the night. The seas are larger than any one human can ever fathom. Finding a vessel much less a survivor in these conditions requires the efforts of an entire watch team. Hypothermia will set it soon, if it hasn't already, we must hurry.
Calculating all variables including fierce wind, direction of the current, and speed of the current provides a general idea of where the vessel and/or survivors may be located. Forty-five agonizing moments later, we see a possibility of a vessel. We carefully approach the unknown object, not to cause further disturbance or more waves. We confirm the missing vessel as well as the young men who are holding on to it for dear life.
The hoist is prepared and I am secured to the cables. The growling ocean is untamed and relentless. I communicate with the pilot as I am lowered into the undomesticated waters. I focus on the young men beneath me. Fatigue is apparent as I approach the distressed young men. The look on their faces, a look of panic is deleted as the young men are elated to escape the provoked sea.
One by one, three young men are safely escorted into the MH-60 Jayhawk. Scared, cold, dehydrated, and thankful to be alive, all three young men receive medical treatment onboard. IV’s are placed as we wrap the young men in dry blankets, relieving the hypothermia and shock they have experienced. I brief the USCG Command Center on the status of another successful mission. We deliver the young men to the hospital for further medical assistance.
I return to the USCG Command Center to continue my watch. I document all necessary reports needed for this mission. As I try to free my mind from this horrific event, one that hit close to home, I receive a phone call from the previously panicked father. He thanks the entire United States Coast Guard for the safe return and life saving efforts we took to save his son. His gratitude is unparalleled. His tears are tears of joy, tears of relief, tears of comfort.
I cannot imagine the fear this father felt. What if my own son was lost at sea? I must call home.
I call home to ensure the safety of my family. My wife answers and I am calmed by the sound of her voice. She confirms the safety of our children and a hot meal waiting for my return. I can’t seem to convey the feelings I have felt through this mission as the moment is still fresh. I clutched these young lives in my arms, guaranteeing their safety. I spoke to the father hearing his words of anxiety. I felt his relief as I delivered the words, “we found him”.
My watch has ended and I return to the comfort of home. I am scheduled for another 12 hour watch in 12 hours. I attempt to shed today's events in an effort to rest. I dream of the father's voice, the faces of the young men as I approached them, I feel the pain and anxiety they felt deep within my dreams. I wake with consistency unable to shake today's mission. I eventually wake, rested enough to make today a reality. I hug my children, call my parents and kiss my wife goodbye as I leave for work. Today is a new day. Today I will be the best I can be serving as part of the United States Coast Guard.
The United States Coast Guard is more than saving lives at sea. The United States Coast Guard also protects our borders from immigrants and our country from drugs as well as patrolling our waters for illegal activity. The USCG has allowed me to meet lifetime friends that I will consider a part of my family forever. Semper Paratus!
From Aztec Shore to Arctic Zone,
To Europe and Far East,
The Flag is carried by our ships
In times of war and peace;
And never have we struck it yet,
In spite of foemen's might,
Who cheered our crews and cheered again
for showing how to fight.
So here's the Coast Guard marching song,
We sing on land or sea.
Through surf and storm and howling gale,
High shall our purpose be.
"Semper Paratus" is our guide,
Our fame, our glory too.
To fight to save or fight and die,
Aye! Coast Guard, we are for you!
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