Coast Guard gets some well-earned recognition

Posted: Wednesday, May 24, 2000

It's interesting how often we forget the impact certain public sector employees have on our lives. Far too often we complain about rules and regulations, but when trouble comes, they're the first ones we call.

Take our local police and fire departments, or the federal U.S. Coast Guard. We grumble about speed limits, fire regulations, floatation devices, permits and a host of other requirements.

Yet when a burglary happens, a spouse is beaten, the house is on fire or a boat starts sinking, we forget about all those now seemingly insignificant details and call. And lucky for us, they're always there.

We often don't give them enough credit for doing what they do best - putting their lives on the line for us. They sure don't do it for the pay. And we've yet to meet an officer who boasted about pulling his weapon, a firefighter talking about how beautiful the flames looked engulfing a house, or the Coast Guard officer commenting on the imagery from a sinking ship.

Something else obviously drives these people, and for that we're grateful. And every now and then they do get the recognition they deserve. In this case, it's a Coast Guard helicopter crew consisting of pilot Lt. Robert Yerex, co-pilot Lt. James O'Keefe, and Petty Officers third class Christian Blanco and Noel Hutton.

For their bravery, for doing their job, they will receive the nation's highest peacetime flying honor - the Distinguished Flying Cross.

What they did is extraordinary. Last November the crew pulled three fishermen from a sinking boat out of 35- to 40-foot seas in darkness and swirling snow, compounded by 40- to 60-knot winds. A fourth fisherman was never found.

What's just as amazing is it's the second time in five years a crew from the Sitka Coast Guard Air Station has received this award.

So those speeding tickets and boat safety checks and extra fire alarms may seem like a hassle, but let's remember what these men and women really do - protect us and, sometimes, save us.

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