On June 9, Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma was moored in San Juan, Puerto Rico, while on a routine patrol. Four crewmembers headed to a local beach to relax and spend some time away from the cutter. While there, they noticed a couple – Taylor and Laura Ford – trapped in a strong rip current. Recognizing the beach had no lifeguards on duty, Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher Barsness, a gunner’s mate, sprang into action. Taylor Ford was near drowning when Barsness reached him. Barsness was able to pull Ford from the water, calming him and waiting by his side until medical assistance arrived.
Compass wanted to share Barsness’ rescue story and thought the best person to tell it would be Taylor and Laura Ford. This week’s Honor, Respect and Devotion to Duty story is a personal email from Taylor to his rescuer, Chris. It is reprinted below with permission from The Fords with edits for length.
Written by Taylor Ford.
I am writing this email to you, Chris, to thank you beyond what words can ever explain.
I am writing this letter not only to thank you, but also to thank the entire Coast Guard for the extensive training they have provided you in your stint with them.
On Monday, June 9, the second day of our honeymoon, we were out swimming with more than 100 others directly behind the La Concha Resort in Puerto Rico. Before we realized it, Laura Jayne Ford and I had drifted farther out then we expected and also drifted about 50 yards left of where we entered the ocean. Laura made a comment to me that she could not swim forward. I immediately tried to swim forward and realized I could barely move, and knew if I could not, then she was telling the truth.
I immediately went into panic mode and went back to her, struggling all the way. I began to yell for help, fighting the strong current from both directions. She was able to break forward; unfortunately I was not.
Reading this, I need you to understand how the rocks behind La Concha are set up: big rocks sticking out of the water go out about 20 yards and the waves hit it so hard it instantly changes the current.
About 10 minutes of struggling to stay afloat, I was running out of oxygen and swallowing more water every second. I was yelling and on lookers were screaming for someone to help, but no one was coming and no one was helping. At that point, all I could think about was my beautiful two-year-old daughter growing up without a father and yet I could not get anywhere. I was able to start my way to the rocks, but I was still not close enough to pull myself out of the water.
This is where the Hero Chris came to the rescue. Out of nowhere, Chris saw this from the beach, jumps in and rescues me when I was about to drown. He was able, through his training and courage, to get me over to the rocks and save my life.
Chris defines what a true soldier is – and better said then that – what a true Hero is. Chris wanted nothing but a thank you for his Heroic acts. I offered to buy drinks, dinner and whatever else he wanted, and his response was simply, “No thanks. This is my job and what I am supposed to do.”
Unfortunately, this story doesn’t end with Chris’ heroic actions. Upon barely making it back to my room and waking up from a 3 hour nap, I made a phone call to my mother to let her know how lucky I was to be alive. I walked out to my balcony to tell her the story and as unreal and validating as this is to my story, there were two girls going through the exact same thing my wife and I had. Unfortunately, this time, there was no Chris and the ending wasn’t happy.
One of the girls, rumored to be from Texas, drowned under the same conditions. She was able to be finally brought in from shore after 30 minutes of being stuck out there. The first girl survived, but the young girl from Texas did not.
My wife, a registered nurse, and three other physicians performed CPR on the girl for 20 to 30 minutes and never got a pulse.
Thank you, Chris, from my entire family. Please forward this to your bosses so they can recognize what a great HERO they have on their hands.