So others may live.
It’s the creed of Coast Guard rescue swimmers and a promise the Coast Guard makes to those in danger.
It’s also a motto that Petty Officer 3rd Class Brett Bates lives by.
Bates, a competitive swimmer most of his life, joined the Coast Guard in 2007 looking for a way to put his skills to use and help others. By becoming an aviation survival technician, he was able to do just that.
After graduating basic training, Bates reported to Air Station Sitka, Alaska, where he was given the opportunity to train alongside Coast Guard aviation crews and work towards his dream.
He went on to graduate from aviation survival technician “A” school and serve two additional years at Air Station Sitka before reporting to Air Station Houston.
It was at Air Station Houston that Bates experienced one of his most memorable rescues.
One morning before the crew awoke to begin their day, the search and rescue alarm sounded throughout the base.
As Bates prepared to launch alongside the rest of the aircrew, which consisted of Cmdr. Eric Gleason, Lt. Brian Seekatz and Petty Officer Tyson St. John, he began learning the details of the case he was preparing for.
A Coast Guard HU-25 Falcon had located an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon and some debris in the water more than 100 miles off shore. The Falcon also located a life raft with at least one man aboard, but was unable to ascertain if there were more people in the water or on the raft.
The aircrew from Air Station Houston launched in an MH-65D Dolphin helicopter at approximately 6 a.m. and was on scene approximately 45 minutes later.
“We arrived on scene and found the life raft almost immediately,” Bates said.
And although his training had prepared him for almost anything, Bates faced a challenging rescue.
Gleason, the pilot that morning and the commanding officer of Air Station Houston, estimated the seas at 10 to 12 feet and winds gusting to 40 knots. He said the weather they experienced that morning was significant for what is normally experienced in the Gulf of Mexico.
Bates was deployed into the water and was able to fight through the challenging weather conditions to reach the life raft.
“When I reached the raft, there was only one guy there,” he said. “I questioned him about what happened, how he was doing and how long he had been there.”
The man told Bates that at around 3 a.m. that morning, their boat had taken a rogue wave, broken apart and sank within minutes. The man also told Bates that the original crew of the boat consisted of four men.
“He was the only guy that was able to make it to the raft,” said Bates.
Another important aspects of Bates training allowed him to quickly assess the man’s medical condition and determine his condition.
“He was mildly hypothermic and had been in the water for about four and a half hours,” Bates said.
The man also didn’t have any protection against the elements – he was wearing minimal clothing and no life jacket.
Throughout their dialogue, Bates continually was swept away by wind and waves. But even with the weather conditions, Bates made a decision: take the man in the water with him and get him to the helicopter to be hoisted aboard.
Once Bates and the man made it back to the helicopter, Bates was told to make another crucial decision: the helicopter was extremely low on fuel. Gleason asked Bates to make a determination if the man needed immediate medical attention or if time allowed for the helicopter to refuel and continue searching for the other possible survivors.
Bates decided the man did not need further immediate medical care, and he would be much better once he was put into a warmer environment.
The crew took the man to the nearest oil rig, and, after refueling, left the man with the oil rig personnel with strict instructions to contact them if his condition changed.
The crew continued searching for six hours for any additional crewmembers from the sunken vessel, but found no signs of other survivors.
After completing the search, the crew picked up the man from the rig and returned to the Air Station.
As a result of Bates extraordinary efforts during this rescue, he was recently selected as the 2014 USO Coast Guardsman of the Year and was honored in a ceremony with members of the other armed services in Washington, D.C.
“It was a pretty big surprise and a big honor,” said Bates.
Bates, who is now an EMT instructor at Training Center Petaluma, hopes to share he experiences and shape the future of the Coast Guard’s rescue swimmer community.
“It’s a goal of mine to make sure they are set and ready to get into the field,” said Bates.