The U.S. Coast Guard has quietly conducted the nation’s business outside the spotlight occupied by its sister services for years.
But every now and then, we are reminded of how underrated and great the Coasties are.
Who can forget that badass jumping onto a narco sub a few years ago while the high seas swirled around him? Undeniably impressive. And this week, The New York Times reported yet another instance deserving of a hearty Bravo Zulu.
It’s a tale of coincidental heroism, but heroism nonetheless.
The Times reported that an unidentified man had the misfortune last week of spending several nights near Nome, Alaska, fending off repeated attacks by a dreaded grizzly bear, a remorseless ursine killer who apparently had his sights set on the poor guy.
The man, in his 50s or 60s, according to The Times, had been staying at a shack at a mining camp for the past week, an inhospitable area with no cell phone service. He had a pistol, but was down to a few rounds, and had gone days without sleep leading up to last Friday. Things were getting dire.
Enter Coast Guard Cmdr. Jared Carbajal, co-pilot Lt. j.g. A.J. Hammac, and their crew, airborne in the steely salvation of their MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter, a beast in its own right.
The pilots told The Times they were en route to a mission when weather caused them to tweak their flight path. That’s when they first saw a shack with “Help Me” and “SOS” scrawled on top. Next, a man frantically waving his arms for help.
Had the crew not needed to alter flight patterns due to cloud cover, the man might still be in the shack.
“If we would have been in the next river valley over, we would have totally missed him,” Carbajal told The Times.
“At some point, a bear had dragged him down to the river,” Carbajal added. “He said that the bear kept coming back every night and he hadn’t slept in a few days.”
“He was kind of struggling,” echoed Hammac. “When we came around, he was on his hands and knees waving a white flag.”
The man had bruises to his torso and a leg injury, but none of the injuries were life-threatening, according to The Times. He was later able to disembark the chopper under his own power.
Serendipity appears to have saved the man, yet it remains unclear what he was doing there in the first place. Would he have been able to put the beast down with those last two pistol rounds if it had returned for another dustup?
Thankfully, we’ll never know — thanks to the Coast Guard.
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.