Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class William ColClough, 8th Coast Guard District public affairs.
Pick any adjective that describes efficiency and action, and you will find a member of the U.S. Coast Guard who either embodies it or makes it so. At any given hour, on any given day, Coast Guard men and women give their lives freely to those in peril. It is part of the Coast Guard’s organizational DNA, linked and coiled into the fabric of the service’s history.
In the course of their duties, Coast Guardsmen train, maintain and operate with speed, adaptability and skill. The only question is, who responds first when a Coast Guardsman is in danger and requires rescue?
The answer to this question for Seaman David Mertes, a crewmember aboard Coast Guard Cutter Decisive, was a shipmate.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Derrick Dyess was transiting the decks of the ship when he walked onto Decisive’s mess deck and found Mertes bleeding profusely from his right hand. The sight of so much blood was cause for concern and Dyess knew he didn’t have a second to spare.
Grabbing the closest first aid kit, Dyess alerted fellow crewmembers and began triaging Mertes. Recalling first responder training, Dyess donned a pair of gloves, applied direct pressure and elevated Mertes’ arm.
Dyess’ critical actions came at a time when his shipmate needed him the most. But for Dyess it wasn’t about being in the right place at the right time. It was about being a good shipmate.
“To me a shipmate means being a friend, comrade, relying on others and having others rely on you,” said Dyess.
Mertes’ inuries were serious and he sustained three lacerated fingers to the bone. Doctors at the emergency room stitched them and he was referred to a hand specialist.
Knowing the difficult period ahead for his fellow crewmember, Dyess arranged for Mertes to have Decisive crewmembers care for him during several days of recovery. Seamen John Harper, Tye Ballinger and Lucas Bartkowiak all pitched in and escorted Mertes to follow-up surgery appointments.
Deploying close to 200 days in a given year, crewmembers aboard Decisive share a tight bond. While on patrol and several hundred miles from the nearest coastline, they are their own emergency room and fire department. They depend on each other for routine matters, and even for a little lifesaving from time to time. For Dyess, this bond only strengthens the mission.
“There is no room for error,” said Dyess. “Everyone has to be on their ‘A’ game to conduct the mission safely.”
Lifesaving is a mission Decisive’s crew takes seriously. In November 1995, the crew executed the second largest migrant interdiction in history by intercepting a 75-foot freighter overloaded with 516 Haitians. Recently, in September 2011, the crew assisted with the interdiction of more than 100 migrants in the Straits of Florida, many who were without food and water. Now in its fourth decade of service, the cutter and its crew make a decisive asset for the nation. And Dyess is a decisive asset for the crew.