Monday, September 14, 2009

Rescue on the high seas

Before I start, here are some military acronyms I am using to save space:

OPS = Operations

SAR = Sea Air Rescue

DO = Duty Officer

LPO = Leading Petty Officer

SEAL = Sea Air Land

LCM = Landing Craft Mechanized

We were steaming south headed for Diego Garcia. It must have been somewhere between 5 and 6 in the morning when the chief came in the OPS berthing area and woke several of the SAR team up and told us to muster by the armory after we signed out our weapons. The morning had just broke but there was still a wash of fog lying heavy on the water.

The ship had dropped to slow and steady as the chief and the duty officer came into view. The LPO shouted “Attention on deck!” and the DO replied, “As you were.” The DO stated. “We have a small boat about 3 miles south of us and they are giving a distress signal according to the lookout. We are sending a team to the boat to assess the problem and render any assistance needed. Two of the Seal team and two marines have already been assigned but we need two from the SAR team to also assist.” The chief chose me and another PO to help. The other team members suited up and went on the flight deck to ready the SAR helicopter.

We scrambled down to the well deck to meet up with the SEAL and Marine teams. The SEAL team was readying the zodiac. I looked at my partner and we both gave each other the “oh shit” look. The SEAL guys said to us that one was going to drive the boat and the other would be on the bow manning the M60. Your weapons stay holstered unless we say otherwise. We nodded in agreement. We finished packing food, water and medical supplies on board and get the zodiac ready to launch.

The ship came to a halt and we waited for the word to launch. Crew members were starting to collect around the top of the well deck wondering what was going on. We were a bit in the dark too. Not knowing what we where going up against. For all we knew, it could have been pirates out there and their boat had broken down and we were their free ride home.

The zodiac boat crept through the fog, riding the swells which were cresting from 6 to 10 feet. It was not a pleasant ride. Fortunately, I don’t get sea sick but my partner was starting to get a little green around the gills. I wish I could say the approaching the boat was a pleasure. The SEAL team leader told us to ready our weapons once we saw the outline of the boat bobbing up and down at the crest of each wave we topped.

We made a finally approach by circling the boat to assess if there was danger. The team leader slowed the engine down and the SEAL guy on the bow readied the line to toss to the boat occupants. It was not pleasant; the stench of urine and feces permeated the air and made it even more difficult to perform our job with a smile. An older man waved at us to approach and we came closer to the boat. The line was tossed to him and he tied it off as we started tossing food and water to the people on the boat. The team leader started counting heads.

After counting more that 70 people stuffed on the boat, he called to the ship. “We got more than 70 people on this boat and some are in desperate need of medical attention. Some women started trying to pass the small children to us. We had to wave them off for fear of swamping our small zodiac. The fog was starting to lift but the ship was still not in sight. The team leader fired of a flare and then another followed by a third. The ship came across the radio. “We have your position now; we are sending an LCM to assist.” We continued opening boxes of food and water and looked for any one who needed immediate medical attention. There were a couple of pregnant women on board so we wanted to make sure that they got off first with the children.

The LCM came in sight and the team leader waved to them. They pulled aside the small boat and lowered the front end of the LCM down so that the people could get aboard quickly. We started getting the people off the small boat and were making head good headway in the task. Now came the task of getting some of the older people off would take some doing. We had to lift several of them on board the LCM. The small boat was taking on water and we knew it would be long before it would have sunk. With the LCM loaded, they lifted the front gate and started backing away from the small boat now empty and bobbing wildly in the ocean. The team leader made a second call asking for the disposition of the small boat. They told him “Sink it.” You could see a shit eating grin come on his face. These SEAL guys get off on blowing shit up.

He reached in a big bag stashed under the seat and pulls out three smaller bags packed with C4. I was starting to get into it myself. We placed the packages front, center and aft and connect a receiver and battery to the packages. The team leader called to the ship and told them the packages were ready. The ship returned the call stating to wait until the LCM was back on board and we will give you the go signal. We sat bobbing out in the middle of the ocean with the stench of the small boat still racking our sense of smell. It would not be soon enough to sink this thing.

We finally get the go ahead and we all secure everything and take our positions on the zodiac. The team leader starts the boat back up and we head back to the ship. Once we are about a mile away from the small boat, the team leader pulls out a transmitter. He calls to the ship and states, “We are in safe distance, are we clear to ignite?” The word comes back, “Blow, Blow, Blow!” The team leader releases the safety and flicks the switch. Nothing happens. We look at each other with an “Ah shit” look. The Team Leader smiles again and says oops. He inserts a key into the box and turns it. The boat blows up in a giant splash of water and when it all settles down, nothing but a few pieces remain floating on the water, another job well done. That’s all for now folks…

1 comment:

Warped Mind of Ron said...

I can only imagine the feeling of accomplishment and pride at being part of saving so many lives.