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Training Key for Real-World Rescue

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS080311-28
Release Date: 3/11/2008 3:54:00 PM

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Byron C. Linder, Fleet Public Affairs Center Det. Japan

USS JOHN S. MCCAIN, At Sea (NNS) -- Sailors of Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) responded to a rescue and assistance emergency the morning of March 10 while the ship was conducting a combined exercise with the Republic of Korea (ROK).

At approximately 6:10 a.m., John S. McCain's bridge watch team observed a fire on a Republic of Korea-flagged ship on the horizon and in response, maneuvered towards the burning vessel.

Lt. j.g. Erik Roberts who was standing the officer of the deck watch, reported seeing thick, black smoke billowing from the aft end of a ROK merchant vessel and a flashing white light coming from a lifeboat.

"I was watching the horizon, when I started to see a flashing white light. Suddenly, I saw a red flash that looked like an explosion followed by flares. I knew something had to be wrong," said Ensign Edward Valdez, junior officer of the deck at the time.

"The port lookout got on the 'big-eyes' and confirmed there was a boat on fire," added Roberts, referring to a large set of binoculars on the bridge wing.

Upon observing a life raft drifting in the vicinity of the burning ship, John S. McCain's rescue and assistance detail departed the ship in a rigid hull inflatable boat and retrieved 11 crew members from the lifeboat. The crew members were then brought aboard McCain.

Following the rescue, several ROK vessels arrived on scene to extinguish the fire on the burning fishing vessel. McCain also had a firefighting team in place for contingency purposes. Damage Controlman 3rd Class (SW) Steven Galarza said team training came together during the emergency.

"I've been aboard (John S. McCain) for about two-and-a-half years, and this was the first actual casualty I've experienced," Galarza said. "All our training really came through. We were in place and ready to help fight the other ship's casualty. Being forward-deployed, things are always happening and I think we train a lot harder."

The rescued ROK crew members were given an examination for injuries by Chief Hospital Corpsman (SW) Kevin Varner who was assisted by a Korean speaking member of the crew and a few ROK naval officers embarked.

"Before the patients came aboard, the ROK LNO's (liaison officers) we have aboard for the exercise were talking back and forth and asking about injuries," Varner said. "None of them said they were hurt and they were all moving around okay. We had Seaman Sung Kim of Incheon, Korea on the flight deck to welcome them aboard."

Varner explained teamwork and precise coordination are necessary following a rescue scenario.

"On the mess decks, we got cots and blankets to wrap up the patient. They were obviously cold, and hypothermia was a concern," Varner said. "We had Gas Turbine System Technician (Electrical) Fireman Jong Shin, a native of Seoul, on the mess decks helping to translate. The culinary specialists provided hot drinks and breakfast to maintain heat and we got them warmed up."

The rescued crew members were finally transported via small boat transfer to an ROK coast guard vessel. Cmdr. John S. Banigan, John S. McCain's commanding officer, said his crew displayed dedication and professionalism.

"I was proud of how quickly and professionally the crew reacted. All mariners have duty to assist others in distress and as a U.S. Navy warship, we always stand ready to help individuals of any nationality who may be in need at sea," Banigan said. "Saving the lives of eleven fellow sailors was a great way to start the day."

John S. McCain recently completed participation in the U.S.-ROK Exercise Foal Eagle and is assigned to commander, Destroyer Squadron 15 as part of the U.S. Navy's forward deployed naval forces operating out of Yokosuka, Japan.

For more news from Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, visit www.navy.mil/local/c7f/.



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