Read the story of the best friend boaters in trouble ever have

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 17, 2006

If you are a fan of the Weather Channel’s &uot;Storm Stories,&uot; the History Channel, the Discovery Channel or went to see the recent Kevin Costner movie &uot;The Guardian&uot; you have had a chance to see the best friend recreational boaters will ever have in an emergency – the dedicated men and women that comprise Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers.

With the exception of individual TV shows such as &uot;Storm Stories&uot; this elite group of dedicated Americans, whose motto is simply, &uot;So That Others May Live&uot; have received little publicity, whether it be on TV, in major motion pictures or in print.

You probably know about the &uot;The Guardian&uot; (which was an incredible movie to go see with my son who is a Fourth-Class Cadet at the Coast Guard Academy), maybe you have seen some of the documentaries on TV, but there has never been a book published which captures the pure bravery that these service members possess until now.


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Published by Lyons Press, and written by Coast Guard Academy graduate, and Reserve Coast Guard Commander Martha LaGuardia-Kotite, &uot;So That Others May Live: Coast Guard’s Rescue Swimmers: Saving Lives: Defying Death&uot; is a must-read for every individual that owns a recreational or commercial boat. The book captures what it takes to become a rescue swimmer, and reports on some of the most extraordinary rescues in the service’s storied history.

The book captures the quiet professionalism that embodies these individuals. Currently, there are only about 300 designated Coast Guard rescue swimmers Coast Guard wide, of which three are women (the book notes that six women have been rescue swimmers since the program began).

Training is conducted in nearby Elizabeth City, N. C., and is some of the most demanding of all the services – the attrition rate is incredibly high. Typically, 75 individuals are selected annually to attend from throughout the service, less than half graduate.

What I liked best about the book, and why I think it is a must-read for every recreational boater is the manner in which the author is able to pack a ton of information into a mere 280 pages. It is a fast-paced read, with no fluff or puffery. For example, LaGuardia-Kotite’s book reviews the physical qualifications needed and describe how the whole program got started eventually coming online in 1985.

She meticulously describes

rescues that are simply incredible (I tried to think of a better word but this sums it so well)….one in particular I had to re-read several times because it was both powerful and

riveting. This rescue, in fact, is a perfect one to focus on to describe the impact of this book.

The rescue took place in April 1993 inside of a sea cave near Oregon’s Cape Lookout. Battered by high seas rescue swimmer Petty Officer Tristan Heaton did the impossible and LaGuardia-Kotite’s book captured every heart-pounding, fatiguing second.

Because I think you should buy this book I don’t want to give too much away. However, I will leave each reader the following regarding this particular rescue as a way to introduce just one of the many rescues the author describes. Here is a portion of the official citation from the medal Petty Officer Heaton received for his effort during this rescue:

&uot;Arriving on scene, Petty Officer HEATON was lowered to the base of a sheer, 200-foot cliff at the mouth of the cave to assess the situation. Observing a man trapped at the innermost reaches of the cave by 12-foot breakers of a flood tide, Petty Officer Heaton realized that immediate action was required. After briefing the aircraft commander via radio, showing total disregard for his own safety, he entered the boiling surf and swam to the victim. Arriving at the ledge, he calmed the man and told him of the rescue plan. After giving his survival vest to the victim, Petty Officer Heaton coaxed him into the surf for an attempt to swim to the mouth of the cave. Both men were repeatedly dashed against the vertical north wall of the cave, then forced under water by huge rollers. After several minutes, the victim was rendered unconscious, which added to Petty Officer Heaton’s burden. He continued fighting the strong tidal current and, at the pint of exhaustion, reached the helicopter’s rescue basket. Holding both the basket and victim, he was able to put the semiconscious victim inside. Once safely aboard the helicopter, despite debilitating fatigue, he administered aid to the victim enroute to the hospital.&uot;

You have to admit…this act of heroism takes your breath away. There are many more like this in LaGuardia-Kotite’s book!

Before finishing up this week’s column there two other points I must mention which became very clear from this book. First every rescue is truly a team effort between the pilots, flight mechanic and rescue swimmer. This joint effort saves lives. Second, besides bravery, the other attributes that comes out loud and clear from this book are that Coast Guard rescue swimmers are exceptionally humble about what they do and that their greatest gratification comes from saving a life – talk about a powerful combination!

&uot;So That Others May Live&uot; is available in bookstores locally here in Tidewater and through the big online book sellers.

Until next week…Boat Safe…Boat Smart!