On Thursday, April 25, the Coast Guard Foundation will celebrate the men and women who serve in the Coast Guard's Pacific Area, which stretches from the shores of the western United States to Alaska and Hawaii all the way to Guam and American Samoa. This is the 20th annual celebration of the service's work in the Pacific.
The 2013 winners of the Pacific Area Awards are the crew of a small boat deployed from the Cutter Halibut, an aviation maintenance technician from Kodiak, Alaska, and the crew of the Cutter Bertholf. See below for detailed accounts of the awardees.
Chester R. Bender Award for Heroism
The Chester R. Bender Award goes to the coxswain and boarding team from the Cutter Halibut, stationed in Los Angeles/Long Beach. The team, consisting of Senior Chief Terrell Horne III, Petty Officer Jonathan D'Arcy, Petty Officer Michael I. Walker, and Petty Officer Brandon Langdon, demonstrated truly heroic action the night of December 2, 2012, during a maritime law enforcement case.
During early morning hours, the Halibut noticed a suspicious unlit vessel among the rock shoreline of Santa Cruz Island, so the cutter deployed the small boat crew to investigate. As the small boat crew approached the unlit vessel and identified themselves as law enforcement, the suspicious boat ignored commands to stop and charged directly at the Coast Guard boat, crashing into them.
Prior to the collision, Walker had maneuvered the small boat to minimize the crash. D'Arcy, demonstrating superb composure and concentration, fired multiple rounds at the suspect vessel in attempt to defend himself and his crewmates. Once it became obvious that a collision was unavoidable, Horne disregarded his own personal safety and pushed BM2 Walker from the path of the illegal boat. Langdon and Horne were both thrown from the boat into the water, with Horne suffering grievous injuries in the process.
The crew's training kicked in, and D'Arcy shifted into his role of EMT, exhibiting remarkable skill and professionalism while he treated Horne. Despite the small boat being severely damaged in the crash, Walker was able to pilot the boat back to the Halibut, ensuring the best chances of a medical evacuation for Horne.
D'Arcy and Langdon's ardent first aid efforts kept Horne alive during this transport, but tragically, Horne succumbed to his injuries at the Halibut arrive in Port Hueneme. These crewmen, despite immense personal danger and grave circumstances displayed fortitude and dedication during an exceptionally difficult case.
Admiral John B. Hayes Award for Unit Excellence
This year's winner of the Admiral John B. Hayes Ward for Unit Excellence is the crew of the Cutter Bertholf, home ported in Alameda, California, which has demonstrated the highest level of professionalism in carrying out its vital national security mission.
The Cutter Bertholf is the vanguard of the Coast Guard's persistent, capable and expanding reach of maritime governance in the Pacific. In 2012, the crew began with an intensive maintenance and training period in preparation for a 144 day deployment. The crew adopted new techniques for efficiency in training, which were ultimately adopted as best practices, establishing standards for sustained fleet maintenance models.
The Bertholf also served as a testing and evaluation platform for understanding the Coast Guard's capabilities and reach in offshore and coastal operating areas. Crew members were central in determining the best of three competing designs.
In addition to these testing successes, the Bertholf participated in a daring search and rescue operation in a deep Pacific gale to rescue two badly injured crewmembers of a British sailboat. The Bertholf safely negotiated 20-25 foot seas for more than 400 nautical miles, averaging a remarkable 18-20 knots. Once on scene, the Bertholf coordinated with two C-130s from Air Station Sacramento, and a helicopter from Air Station San Diego, as well as onshore medical personnel, to safely retrieve the wounded individuals from the sailboat.
The rescue proved on the world's stage the type of heroism and essential services the brave men and women of the Coast Guard provide on a daily basis, risking their lives to save others. Congratulations to the crew of the Bertholf on the Admiral John B. Hayes Award.
Admiral James S. Gracey Award for Professional Excellence
Petty Officer Stephen J. Chopek, a first class aviation maintenance technician stationed in Kodiak, Alaska, is the 2013 winner of the Admiral James S. Gracey Award for Professional Excellence in recognition of his superior performance of duty. Chopek embodies the Coast Guard's core values of honor, respect and devotion duty, consistently showcasing excellence and professionalism in all aspects of his life, both on and off duty.
Chopek is being recognized for his on-duty work during a search and rescue mission when the helicopter he was onboard experienced a mechanical emergency, requiring immediately landing. The helicopter's tail rotor endured high oil temperatures, which, if not addressed right away, would cause the aircraft to lose control.
Chopek led the crew through emergency landing procedures, preparing for the possibility of an at-sea ditching, and ensured a mayday call was transmitted with an accurate location. With Chopek's help, the pilots landed safely among Kodiak's mountainous terrain. As if being forced to make an emergency landing weren't dangerous enough, once on land, Chopek noticed a number of bears nearby the helicopter's landing zone.
The crew quickly vacated the helicopter and made its way to shore, where a Coast Guard small boat met them and took them to safety.
In addition to these actions, Chopek also serves as the chairman of Air Station Kodiak's Enlisted Flight Examining Board, where he conducted 18 flight mechanic and basic aircrew instructor flights, and 12 ground phase sessions with aspiring helicopter crew members.
In his personal life, Chopek further embodies the Coast Guard's core values. He is a coach for the Kodiak Football League, where he led fundraising efforts to help buy equipment for those children who could not afford it. Chopek also volunteers with the local wrestling club, and helped raise money for a local martial arts tournaments. He has also spent countless hours working at the Kodiak Christian School serving as an usher at religious services throughout the year.