Have a plan: lessons learned from Coast Guard

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jeremiah Monk
  • 66th Training Squadron Commander
I recently had the distinct privilege to be aboard a Coast Guard Motor Lifeboat off the coast of Oregon in support of our Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape Specialist Training program. Many of us will have the pleasure to work with our sister services at some point in our careers, but it is a rare opportunity that Air Force personnel get to experience the mission of the Coast Guard firsthand. Having done so, I believe I can speak for the dozen Air Force personnel aboard in saying we gained a newfound appreciation for what the United States Coast Guard does for our country and our citizens, day in and day out.
     En route to our open water training location, our vessel was diverted to escort six civil fishing boats back to safe harbor amidst a quickly-developing inclement weather situation. Waves had begun to swell to dangerous heights at the entrance to the bay, and threatened to capsize any small vessel attempting to sail through. A warning had gone out over maritime radio channels, which these six vessels had either ignored or not received. All of them were completely unprepared, and were caught out at sea without provisions, fuel or a safe route home.
     The Coast Guard crew of our lifeboat instantaneously transitioned from a training to an operational posture, as we settled into our newfound spectator roles. They herded all of the fishing boats into a safe holding area as a second USCG vessel illuminated the night with flares. Our lifeboat then ran point for each boat, breaking a channel through the daunting waves to allow each civil boat a stable path through the breakers. For two hours we watched this drill, and witnessed a safe return to harbor for each of the six boats.
     Naturally, my first instinct was to share this inter-service experience right here in the Fairchild Flyer. But more so, as commanders, we can never emphasize safety enough. I figured I'd take the opportunity to use my experience as a gratuitous excuse to further champion safety.
     Each one of those six boats went to sea on a nice, calm, sunny day. Each one failed to properly plan ahead for developing weather conditions, failed to heed warning signs, and got caught in a potentially dangerous situation. If not for the courage of our fearless crew, those ships certainly could have been lost. Boats, waves, ports and Coasties are hard to come by here in Spokane.... but dangerous weather is definitely not. As we set sail into another winter driving season, I want to remind each of you to make the necessary preparations. Prepare your vehicle and your families for the hazards of winter driving. Ensure your vehicle has chains or snow tires. If you are unfamiliar with driving on ice, find an open parking lot to practice in (like across the street from 92nd Air Refueling Wing Headquarters). Heed warning signs. Carry winter survival gear. Have a plan, and a means to contact help. Even a nice sunny day can turn into a winter ice storm in the course of your trip, but you won't always have someone like the Coast Guard there to help you get back to safe harbor.