Because today is Halloween – a day of spooky ghost stories, haunted houses and trick or treating – we thought we would take a moment and ask Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert Mantell what he feared most. Mantell is a junior surfman responsible for operating in one of the nation’s most perilous maritime environments – Cape Disappointment. Commonly known as Station Cape “D,” crewmembers respond to more than 300 calls for assistance every year. Here, in his own words, is Mantell’s response to “What scares you?”
Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert Mantell.
What scares me? Other than spiders, I would say not successfully completing the mission; one where you did everything that you could and were still unable to pull it off. It happens, you hear about it, but for me I hope I am never in this situation.
Last year I had a case, and through some poor planning and extraordinary circumstances, I ended up towing a large fishing boat across a large breaking bar at night. It was one of those moments where you recognize the situation that you are in and that there is nothing that can be done about it by the time you figure it out, so you just clear you head, put faith in your vessel and crew and focus on your part of the mission. After we got across the bar things started to sink in, and I started thinking about what we, as a crew, had just been through.
Of course everyone was excited. I mean, there is no feeling like successfully towing a boat through breaking seas. But inside I felt different than I had in other surf cases. I was not worried for myself or my crew really; the Coast Guard has provided us with a fantastic craft in the 52-foot Triumph, and the boat crews wear enough foul weather gear to survive even in the event that we find ourselves in the water.
My thoughts were to the three fishermen I had just put in jeopardy. I began to think about how I would feel if something had happened to the boat I was towing, like what if they had been overtaken by a breaker and capsized? What if three souls had been lost on the bar because of something I had done? It really made me think about how important this job is. It’s not that I hadn’t before, but sometimes as you get more comfortable in your job you forget just how dangerous and dynamic things really are.
The reality is that something like this could happen to me at any time. I had never been in a situation such as this in my relatively short service as a surfman. I had been on search and rescue cases in the surf, and for each of those I felt the same as this – very focused and able to do my job – as I had with this case, but there was not much to think about afterwards.
What I’m talking about is the thought of losing lives, or making a decision that results in the loss of a life, even if it was the correct decision. I can keep a cool, yet deliberate hand on the throttle, and I can do everything right and still have to watch someone die right in front of me. How do you explain that to someone when you come back to the docks? How do you look someone in the eye and tell them that you were not able to bring their loved one back, even though you did your best? How do you look at yourself in the mirror every morning and say that even though you did all you could you were unable to bring someone else’s loved one back safely? Above all else that I might encounter as a surfman, this is the one thing that I sincerely am afraid of experiencing.