This is Not a Drill! Regular Training Pays Off During RIMPAC 2012
By Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist, Robert Winkler
–ABOARD USS ESSEX (LHD 2)
For the first time in my nearly 25 years in the Navy, I was witness to something I’d never seen before. I was present during an actual man overboard.
A Marine Gunnery Sergeant standing close to the port side-port tripped and fell over the edge into the warm Hawaiian sea water below. Luckily, there were several people in the area who were witness to his fall and they sprang into action.
The bridge was notified and immediately called away, “man overboard! Man overboard!” Simultaneously, rescue procedures fell into place. A flare was dropped over the side to mark the area of the incident. The aft watch stander tossed a life ring to the gunnery sergeant as the ship began its turn. A Search and Rescue (SAR) helicopter was already turning on deck as the ship was conducting flight operations at the time. It took off immediately, located the gunnery sergeant, and lowered a SAR swimmer into the water. While all this was happening, a Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB), was deployed… it only took six minutes for the Essex crew to get it into the water. The boat made way for the gunnery sergeant and arrived on scene.
The SAR swimmer helped push the gunnery sergeant into the boat only 12 minutes from the time “man overboard” was called away. There he was immobilized on a stretcher in case he was injured. The RHIB came back to the ship, where it was met by medical personnel who took the Marine to Essex’s medical facility and examined him.
While this was going on, the rest of the crew reported to their man overboard stations, where each person on board was mustered.
The entire process was an amazing demonstration of professionalism, by an extremely well-trained crew.
As Sailors, it seems we are constantly conducting man overboard drills while at sea. “Oscar,” a floating dummy, is thrown overboard, and the exact procedures as I described above are acted out on a regular basis, over and over again.
The training works because the crew of USS Essex performed its duties flawlessly, and what could have been a tragedy was avoided. The Marine’s only injury was a dislocated finger.
The quick action and extremely well-executed rescue by the crew of USS Essex made me proud to be serving next to them as they participate off the coast of Hawaii in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2012.