So Others May Live [Reserve & National Guard magazine]
by Hope Katz Gibbs
Reserve & National Guard magazine, www.ameriforce.net
“There is a legend of a man who lives beneath the sea. He is a fisher of men, the last hope of all those who have been left behind. Many survivors claim to have felt his gripping hands beneath them, pushing them up to the surface, whispering strength until help could arrive. But this, of course, is only a legend.” — The Guardian
COAST GUARD SWIMMERS MADE THEIR way from the Bering Sea to the big screen last September, thanks to “The Guardian,” a Hollywood blockbuster starring Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher.
In it, viewers couldn’t help but be moved by the tale of Ben Randall, an aging Coast Guard swimmer who loses his crew during a midnight mission. He finds himself teaching at an elite training school for rescue swimmers — a program that boasts a 50 percent attrition rate, and only graduates those rare individuals with the courage, strength and stamina to drop out of helicopters into frigid oceans to rescue those in harm’s way.
How accurate is the film?
Very accurate, says Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Matt Laub, one of only a handful of real rescue swimmers hired to work on the movie.
“Andrew [Davis, the film’s director] asked me countless times whether training and scenarios were accurate,” explains Laub, who like the other actors went through Hollywood auditions and eventually landed the part of the fictional character Airman Matt Stokes. “He made sure everything was as close to reality as possible, right down to the fins we used in training.”
The reason for his dedication, Davis explained after the movie was released, was his determination to create a film that accurately portrayed what the U.S. government does in terms of helping people and saving lives.
“I didn’t want to do a film about killing people, or about how great our military is in terms of doing that,” he insisted. “What could happen if, instead of spending billions on weapons, the whole world spent money doing things like what the Coast Guard is doing: aiding and assisting and rebuilding and helping. That’s what I wanted to support.”
With $18 million in ticket sales, the movie found support from the public, as well. Search And Rescue Interestingly, only a few films have been made about the heroic deeds of the Coast Guard, the nation’s oldest maritime agency.
Certainly, plenty of real life human dramas have played out since it was established in August 1789 as the U.S. Lighthouse Service, which fell under the control of the Treasury Department.
Today, the Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security. With more than 40,000 men and women on active duty, its total operating budget is upward of $6 billion. A good chunk of that is spent on search and rescue operations.
Consider these recent events:
Kodiak, Alaska, May 23, 2006— Six survivors are rushed from a Coast Guard HH-65 Dolphin helicopter by Coast Guardsmen and Kodiak Fire Department Emergency Medical Technicians after a DeHaviland Beaver float plane crashed in Hallo Bay. Two Coast Guard C-130 aircraft and two helicopters, an HH-60 Jayhawk and an HH-65 Dolphin from Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak responded to the crash. Both C-130 aircrews and the Dolphin aircrew were diverted from training missions near the area of the crash, which saved precious time. The Jayhawk crew rescued four people in the water, and the Dolphin crew rescued the remaining two. All passengers from the Beaver were transported to Kodiak where they were treated for hypothermia and minor injuries.
Miami, Fla., Oct. 25, 2006— Eighteen hours after 55-year-old windsurfer Greg Lepock lost his way, Florida Coast Guard swimmers rescued him one mile off Big Pine Key. He had been holding onto a crab pot to keep from being pulled by the current. He was reported overdue by his wife, Cindy, shortly after 7 p.m. Upon receiving the report the Coast Guard immediately launched an HH-65 Dolphin helicopter from Air Station Miami and a 25-foot boat. The Coast Guard searched until 4 a.m. when the case was suspended until daylight. At first light, the search resumed and Lepock was located at 8:24 a.m.
San Diego, Calif., Dec. 26, 2006— It was a happy Christmas for two Mexican fishermen who were rescued by crews from Coast Guard Sector San Diego five days after their 18-foot skiff Pelillo overturned off the coast of Mexico. The men, who hadn’t had food or water for nearly a week, were spotted 12 miles off the Coronado Islands on their capsized vessel when the crew of a patrolling Coast Guard helicopter saw a smoke flare. As the helicopter neared, the men stood up and began waving fish at the crew to indicate distress. The helicopter crew stayed on scene with the fishermen until a second Coast Guard helicopter arrived with a rescue swimmer on board to hoist the men.
Juneau, Alaska, Jan. 18, 2007— Severe weather conditions kept William Probst from getting his fishing vessel, the Sea Gypsy, safely into port in Juneau last Jan. 18. By 1:20 a.m. his boat had ran out of fuel, causing him to lose power—and control of his GPS system. As a result, the Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Center in Anchorage couldn’t ascertain his exact location. So along with the Air National Guard launched a search of the general area. After 11 hours, they found the Sea Gypsy, which had floated to the Montague Straight in Alaska’s Northern Gulf. Probst was rescued and flown to a medical facility.
The Coast Guard motto, “Semper Paratus,” means “Always ready.” And in addition to saving lives and participating in conflicts such as the War in Iraq, drug intervention and border patrol are other important missions for Coast Guardsmen.
When it comes to keeping cocaine and marijuana out of the country, personnel are always ready to deny smugglers the use of air and maritime routes in the Transit Zone — a six million square mile area that covers the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and Eastern Pacific.
In the last few years, the Coast Guard has become increasingly effective. Its interdiction currently accounts for nearly 60 percent of all U.S. government seizures of cocaine each year—90 percent of which occur in District 7 in Miami. In fact, in fiscal 2004, the Miami-based Coast Guard was responsible for helping the organization seize a record-breaking 241,713 pounds of the illegal white powder, which is worth approximately $7.7 billion.
Increased efforts have made the difference, according to Rear Adm. Kevin Eldridge, commander of the 11th District: “The bottom line is that better intelligence and increased interagency and international cooperation have resulted in increased seizures.”
The Coast Guard also secures coastal areas and the Great Lakes from smugglers by working closely with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) personnel — another organization located within the Department of Homeland Security. In the last two years, CBP and the Coast Guard have made six seizures that captured $200,000 of hydroponic marijuana and 18 undocumeted migrants. Since December 2002, there have been other significant seizures, including 537 pounds of marijuana, more than $250,000 in cash, 16 boats and more than $200,000 worth of cigarettes.
“Marijuana and cash is smuggled south into the United States, and cigarettes are smuggled north,” explains BMC Furman Alden, officer in charge at Station Alexandria Bay in New York—one of the most active stations in that region.
That’s why he is eager to implement new systems to help fight illegal importation, including Running Gear
Entanglement System. The effective tool helps detain boats that are suspected of smuggling, Alden insists. So does Dick Ashlaw, Border Patrol agent in charge in Massena, New York.
“Smugglers will always have bigger and faster boats, but anything helps, and the entanglement system is a start,” Ashlaw believes.
And so the work continues.
For more information on the U.S. Coast Guard, log onto: www.uscg.mil . For more U.S. Customs and Border Patrol: www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov .
Hope Katz Gibbs is a freelance writer in Clifton, Virginia. After seeing the movie, “The Guardian,” her children were entranced by the drama and courage of the Coast Guard, inspiring her to want to learn more about their real-life activities.