U.S. Navy personnel serving on expeditionary sea base platform ship USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3) called upon their training and teamwork recently to save injured mariners in the Gulf of Oman.
The rescue effort occurred on Dec. 15, when U.S. Navy patrol craft USS Sirocco (PC 6) observed mariners in distress and immediately rendered assistance while conducting a counter-narcotics patrol. Sailors from Sirocco safely rescued five mariners injured in the explosion.
The injured mariners, who identified themselves as Iranian citizens, were later transported to Puller. Two patients were flown by helicopter to Oman for medical treatment, and the other three mariners were later transported to Oman for eventual repatriation.
“The entire crew, both military and civilian mariners, stepped up to perform incredibly that day,” said Capt. Richard G. Burgess, Puller’s commanding officer. “Our team did not waiver for a moment, and acted with professionalism and compassion to save lives.”
Prior to the explosion, international maritime forces suspected the vessel of transporting illicit drugs and later recovered illicit drugs, estimated worth a total of $14.7 million, from the wreckage. Sirocco was operating as part of Combined Task Force (CTF) 150, one of three task forces under Combined Maritime Forces, the world’s largest naval partnership.
As Sirocco rescued the mariners from the wreckage, Puller's crew readied the deck to triage the injured mariners. Once received, Puller’s medical personnel worked urgently to stabilize the patients and arrange for rapid air transportation to advanced care.
Crew members from across the U.S. who serve together on the forward-deployed Puller recalled strong feelings of pride for their work that day.
• Chief Boatswain’s Mate Erick Chavez, of Fraser, Mich., said the crew maintained a steel resolve during the chaotic rescue.
“We had to think on the fly, outside of the box,” Chavez said. “As we approached, we had this burning boat here and you know the adrenaline starts to pump up.”
• Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class Adam McGreevy, of Murfreesboro, Tenn., said the crew’s quick thinking and teamwork overcame a difficult rescue to hoist the survivors onto Puller’s deck.
“It’s a great feeling, you join the military to help people and it’s a great satisfaction when you do,” McGreevy said.
• Seaman Michael Burkus, of Columbus, Ga., said he remains inspired by the whole crew effort.
“Anytime you are able to get in and help somebody, no matter what nationality they may be, no matter what part of the world you’re in, it is always great to know your efforts have helped others,” Burkus said.
• Aviation Boatswain's Mate 1st Class Juan Toncoso Jr., of Brownsville, Tex., described feeling calm confidence during the rescue where “everything was focused on using our training and doing the things we needed to do to assist.”
• Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Seth Linton, of Lakeland, Fla., worked on the medical team whose actions directly saved one of the most critical patients.
“This is real life stuff going on, we got a ship that had burned and people were in the water.” Linton said. “It was great to see everybody work to accomplish this one goal and know it saved lives.”
Puller is forward-deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations to extend U.S. Naval Forces Central Command’s maritime reach in 5th Fleet, by supporting a wide variety of missions including counter-piracy operations, maritime security operations, humanitarian aid, disaster relief and crisis response operations.
The 5th Fleet area of operations encompasses about 2.5 million square miles of water area and includes the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean. The expanse is comprised of 21 countries and includes three critical choke points at the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab al Mandeb at the southern tip of Yemen.